Attack on Gay-Straight Alliances Reveals Religious Right's Ugly Anti-Gay Heart

Many Religious Right activists and leaders feign hurt and indignation at being described as anti-gay. They're not anti-anybody, they insist, they are just in favor of "traditional values" or "biblical marriage." But others make it clear that they see homosexuality itself as the problem, and want to do anything they can to prevent LGBT people from gaining cultural acceptance and legal recognition, and their words and actions reveal the ugly anti-gay heart of the Religious Right movement.

One of these activists is Brian Camenker, a Massachusetts-based activist who operates the anti-gay hate group MassResistance. During a one-day anti-gay summit that preceded the World Congress of Families in Utah last October, Camenker disagreed with activists who call for "speaking the truth in love" to LGBT people and their allies. He said that there is scriptural justification for being "insulting and degrading" given that "we are in a war." He said the Old Testament has a "very brutal" set of rules for treating "people who want to tear down society, who want to push immorality, who want to tear down the moral structure of society." According to Camenker, "God says those people who want to do that must be destroyed."

Now Camenker is praising the work of Liberty Counsel, one of the Religious Right legal groups pushing anti-LGBT and "religious liberty" legislation at the state level. This year, Liberty Counsel and MassResistance worked with parents and school board members in Franklin County, Tennessee, who opposed the creation of a Gay-Straight Alliance club at the county high school. Some of those parents waved Christian flags at a school board meeting to counter the rainbow flags of GSA supporters.
Liberty Counsel helped the school board write new rules for school clubs that Camenker gloats will "severely restrict - and eventually cause to terminate - the activities of the 'gay' GSA club recently put into the high school." OneNewsNow, a "news" site affiliated with the anti-gay American Family Association, called the new rules "a way of eliminating the club, while avoiding a costly lawsuit."

Liberty Counsel's press release was more circumspect, saying it had helped the school board update a policy that "was inadequate to provide the necessary supervision for this group that promotes homosexuality and gender confusion." But the intent was clearly to interfere with the creation of a safe space for students who have been struggling with their sexuality or want to support LGBT friends.

The new Franklin County regulations require, among other things, written parental approval to participate in a club, sign-in sheets documenting every attendee at a meeting, school administrators attending meetings once a quarter - all things that might well discourage questioning or vulnerable students. "When forced to be completely accountable, open, and transparent with what they're doing with kids, and not having free access for their adult activists, these 'gay' clubs don't last long," Camenker sneers.

The reason that the school board and Liberty Counsel have to go to convoluted lengths, rather than simply refusing to allow the creation of a GSA, is that federal courts have ruled that the Federal Equal Access Act - pushed into law by Religious Right activists to protect the rights of students to form Bible clubs - also protects the right of students to form GSAs if their school district allows other non-curricular clubs. In 1999 and 2000, People For the American Way Foundation, working with Lambda Legal and the law firm of Irell & Manella, represented students in Orange County, California, to win the first court order that applied the Equal Access Act to require a school district to allow a GSA to meet on the same terms that it allows other high school non-curricular clubs to meet.

Aside from the legal requirements, the positive benefits of Gay-Straight Alliances for schools and students have been well documented. A 2014 study published in the International Journal of Child, Youth, and Family Studies and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research found that high schools with GSAs "may reduce the odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among both sexual minority and straight students." According to a news release from the University of British Columbia:

LGBTQ youth and heterosexual students in schools with anti-homophobia policies and GSAs had lower odds of discrimination, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, primarily when both strategies were enacted, or when the polices and GSAs had been in place for three years or more.

UBC researchers had previously concluded that high schools with GSAs or other anti-homophobia polices reduced binge drinking and other problems with alcohol and drug use.

A few years earlier, a study published in Applied Developmental Science found that middle and high school students with access to a GSA were less likely to experience depression and less likely to drop out. As ThinkProgress noted, "Participation in a GSA was associated with fewer problems with substance abuse, depression, and lifetime suicide attempts."

This is what Camenker and his Religious Right friends are so proud of denying students.