"To equate Bible study groups and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes with Gay-Straight Alliances is tantamount to comparing the Sistine Chapel with a strip joint." - Kenric Ward, opinion page editor of the Vero Beach Press Journal, in TCPalm.com
For the past several months in Okeechobee, Florida, a group of teenagers has been battling their administration, which seems determined to contravene their inalienable right of free assembly and break the Federal Equal Access Act, by denying them the right to form a Gay-Straight Alliance student club at their high school. Ordered by the courts to actually obey the law (conservatives HATE when courts do that!), the school system has finally given in.
But let's not let that be the last word, thought Kenric Ward, opinion page editor for the Vero Beach Press Journal. In an astounding piece, Mr. Ward calls such clubs a "counterproductive sideshow" that are "pushing intolerance" to promote "libertine lifestyles" (good alliteration there, Mr. Ward - I'll give you that). While I am fully willing to believe that Mr. Ward's not-yet-fully evolved views may be because of his proximity to the Everglades (from whose ooze he may have recently climbed), I can't dismiss them as the ravings of a single troglodyte. Instead, they represent a classic example of how right-wing extremists continually try to mislead the public about the nature and purpose of GSAs.
To establish that I know of which I speak, let me be clear: I was there when the first GSA was formed. The young woman who came to my office at Concord Academy in the fall of 1988 with the idea of starting the club was the straight daughter of a lesbian who was, as she put it, "tired of hearing my family get put down around this school." She wanted to start a club to do something about it. And the first Gay-Straight Alliance was born.
I attended GSA meetings as their advisor for five years thereafter and I can't recall sex coming up once. Instead, students talked about the difficulties they countered, the intolerance they witnessed, and what they could do about it. And they ate pizza sometimes. Once they were even forced to eat spaghetti that I had somehow burned, which may actually classify as a hate crime. (I am not much of a cook. Sorry, kids, I still feel bad about that.)
I wish I could report that the conditions we faced nearly two decades ago had changed. But the 2005 GLSEN National School Climate Survey found that three out of four LGBT students still face routine verbal, physical, and/or sexual harassment at their school because of who they are. In Mr. Ward's state of Florida, the Harris polling organization found, in the 2005 report From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in Florida, that harassment based on real or perceived sexual orientation was the second most common kind in Florida's schools, just behind that based on physical appearance and well over twice as likely as the third cause, racial harassment. And 41 percent of Florida's students said bullying and harassment were serious problems in their school.
"Counterproductive sideshow"? 'Fraid not.
Students can't learn when they, instead, fear for their safety. GSAs have been shown to demonstrably improve students' sense of safety, thus helping students to focus on learning which, as Mr. Ward points out, is why we have schools. It's as simple as that - as disappointing as that must be to Mr. Ward and those of his ilk, who seem to slobber over the idea that something more lascivious is going on (easy, there, boy). But hey, that's the problem with facts. They don't always get into the predetermined story some journalists and political folks want to tell. Since the facts don't seem to work in getting these folks to quit distorting what GSAs are about, how about some scripture? "Thou shalt not lie." (Exodus 20:16) It's a pretty basic commandment--I only wish that opponents of GSAs would start obeying it.