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Residents passionate over club issue

February 11, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- Twenty-one people permitted to address the Waynesboro Area School Board on Tuesday were evenly divided on whether to form a Gay-Straight Alliance at the high school, but those in opposition of the club presented the board with a petition containing 484 signatures.

The board accepted the petition and heard from district residents, yet it prohibited those living outside its boundaries from speaking. Board president K. Marilyn Smith cited existing policy, which states that only the board has the discretion to allow comments from non-residents and allow comments lasting longer than five minutes.

About 100 people took every chair, sat on the floor and stood in the board's meeting room. The overflow crowd spilled into the lobby and a second-floor conference room equipped with an audio feed.

Several speakers turned the podium and microphone into a pulpit, sharing select Bible verses they said illustrate God's condemnation of the homosexual lifestyle.

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"I've home-schooled my children because I don't want them a part of this," said Janet Thompson, of Midvale Road.

"This idea of a so-called club should not have even been considered," echoed her husband, Jay.

On the other side, Bob Parisien, of Charmian Road, choked up when he talked about how his nephew won't return to school because of the intolerant climate.

The students trying to form the club argued that its mission dealt not with sex, but with unity and the eradication of bullying.

"We're just trying to promote tolerance and to be there for people," said Nathan Goldman, a senior.

On a 6-3 vote by the school board, Diza Rule, a student at Shippensburg (Pa.) Area Senior High School, was permitted to speak about the GSA club at her school.

"We are not about sneaking, lying and having an undercover agenda," she said, saying that all participating students must have parental consent.

"You don't have to have a club to tell people to be tolerant and civil," said Amos Miller, of West Sixth Street.

Miller said club members would plant a seed to draw other young minds into a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender movement with which he disagrees.

"This is not an innocent group of kids wanting to get together. This is a huge movement sweeping the country," said Fawn Stitely, of Tritle Avenue.

The Rev. Herb Busick, a pastor at Antrim Faith Baptist Church, said that the board's decision had the ability to bring God's blessing or His curse on children.

"God's clear that all sin is sin. There are always consequences for the lifestyles we choose," Busick said.

The 2007 National School Climate Survey found that more than 80 percent of GLBT students had been verbally harassed and more than 40 percent had been physically harassed, student Michael Garrett said.

Teenagers with GSAs reported feeling safer, he said.

"Schools have the responsibility of providing a safe environment and one that limits self-destructive behavior," Garrett said.

North Potomac Street resident Naomi Arthur said it bothers her to think of the affected students labeled as delinquents.

"We all have the right to live our lives how God gave them to us," she said.

Applause from many citizens who remained in the room lasted a full minute when the board made its decision at 10 p.m.

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