Friday, March 03, 2006

Shutting Down the "Gay-Straight" Clubs in our High Schools

During the previous decade, the gay rights lobbies began pushing for the establishment of "Gay-Straight Alliance" extracurricular clubs on high school campuses nationwide. Locally, these clubs were first established at Dimond High School and Chugiak High Schools. The advertised purpose of these clubs was to increase "tolerance" and "understanding" between those who are straight and those whose struggles with sexual identity and attraction to their own gender lead them to believe they're "gay".

There are four problems with the existence of Gay-Straight clubs:

1). They place ASD in the position of implicitly advocating sexual activity amongst students.

2). They place ASD in the position of implicitly recognizing homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle.

3). They place ASD in the position of implicitly recognizing homosexuality as equal in societal value to heterosexuality.

4). Gay students who are told that homosexuality is no different than heterosexuality could be more vulnerable to adult homosexual predators.

(However, to preempt misunderstanding and hysteria, it is important to note that there is no evidence that the leadership of the Anchorage School District condones homosexuality or any other form of sexual misconduct. The Superintendent has reacted strongly and vociferously against sexual misconduct in numerous past public statements.)

School districts which attempted to fight this trend found themselves in court. The Salt Lake School District attempted to shut down a Gay-Straight club at East High School during the 90s. They were sued and the judge ruled that if the district shut down the Gay-Straight club, they must shut down all extracurricular clubs. The district promptly shut down all extracurricular clubs for a short time. However, this unfairly penalized the vast majority of students who belonged to other extracurricular clubs. So the district ultimately relented, and permitted the Gay-Straight club to resume activity simply for the sake of the other clubs. Thanks to the court decision, any other school district desiring to prevent the establishment of a Gay-Straight club would face the same dilemma.

Until 2005. A bill, HB 2868, was introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates to resolve the dilemma. The bill would permit school boards, using a provision in the United States Code, to prohibit schools from allowing any clubs which advocated sexual activity amongst unmarried students, and to shut down any clubs which actually or, by their implicit nature, advocated sexual activity. Under this provision, school boards could shut down Gay-Straight clubs because the terms imply sexual activity. Passing 95-0 in the House of Delegates, the bill got tabled in the State Senate's Education and Health Committee.

Now, Delegate Matthew J. Lohr has introduced the measure again in 2006, this time as HB 1308. Here is the full text:

House Amendments in [ ] – January 30, 2006A BILL to amend and reenact § 22.1-79.3 of the Code of Virginia, relating to local school board policies regarding certain activities.
Patron Prior to Engrossment--Delegate Lohr
Referred to Committee on Education
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:
1. That §
22.1-79.3 of the Code of Virginia is amended and reenacted as follows:
22.1-79.3. Policies regarding certain activities.
A. No later than January 1, 2001, local school boards shall develop and implement policies to ensure that public school students are not required to convey or deliver any materials that (i) advocate the election or defeat of any candidate for elective office, (ii) advocate the passage or defeat of any referendum question, or (iii) advocate the passage or defeat of any matter pending before a local school board, local governing body or the General Assembly of Virginia or the Congress of the United States.
This section shall not be construed to prohibit the discussion or use of political or issue-oriented materials as part of classroom discussions or projects or to prohibit the delivery of informational materials.
B. Local school boards shall develop and implement policies to prohibit the administration of questionnaires or surveys to public school students during the regular school day or at school-sponsored events without written, informed parental consent for the student's participation when participation in such questionnaire or survey may subsequently result in the sale for commercial purposes of personal information regarding the individual student.
C. No local school board providing access and opportunity to use school facilities or to distribute literature may deny equal access or fair opportunity to use such school facilities or to distribute literature, or otherwise discriminate against the Boy Scouts of America or the Girl Scouts of the USA.
Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to require any school or school division to sponsor the Boy Scouts of America or the Girl Scouts of the USA, or to exempt any such groups from school board policies governing access to and use of school facilities and distribution of literature.
D. In the exercise of their authority to protect the well-being of students pursuant to and in compliance with 20 U.S.C. 4071(f), local school boards in their discretion may prohibit school facilities from being used by any student club or other student group that encourages or promotes sexual activity by unmarried minor students.
E. The Office of the Attorney General shall [ have the discretion to ] intervene on behalf of local school boards and shall provide legal defense of the provisions of this section.[/QUOTE]

Paragraph D is the meat of the bill. However, paragraph C is also useful because it forestalls any attacks on the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. Once again, the House of Delegates passed this bill, this time by a 70-29 margin, and it has been referred to the State Senate's Education & Health Committee.

Even if the Anchorage School Board wanted to ban Gay-Straight clubs, if they did so, they would face litigation and, based on the earlier decision by the Utah judge as a judicial precedent, most likely lose. They would need the additional protection conferred by state legislation similar to Virginia's propose HB 1308. If you want to shut down the Gay-Straight clubs on ASD campuses, contact your state lawmaker, and provide the lawmaker a copy of HB 1308 as model legislation to be used to accomplish this purpose. I also encourage community members to quiz school board candidates over the stand on this issue.

Applicable References:

1). News Story from the Virginian-Pilot, dated 1 March 2006

2). Virginia's HB 2868 from 2005

3). Virginia's current HB 1308

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