Monday, May 22, 2006

Gay-Straight Club Activity At Eagle River High School

This story snuck in under the radar of everyone except the Alaska Star, which published it on May 8th, 2006. On April 26th, the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Club at Eagle River High School held a "Day of Silence" to raise awareness and increase acceptance of students and staff who may feel discrimination based on their sexual orientation. Click here for the full story.

"Please understand my reasons for not speaking today," was the first sentence on a an 8 by 11 inch placard worn by each of approximately 20 members of the GSA. "I am participating in the Day of Silence, a national youth movement protesting the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies." The placards added that gays and lesbians are forced into silence to avoid harassment, prejudice, and discrimination, and asked readers what they would do to end the silence: "I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward fighting these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today."

The student-led club is advised by school staff members Denise Trujillo, technology director, and Clinton Holloway, a language arts instructor. They set up a table during the lunch hour, where students could make a pledge to not only stop any harassment they've participated in, but to also challenge other students to stop.
"One of our goals is to make Eagle River High School a safe and welcoming place for all kids," Trujillo said. "There has to be respect for everyone. There are lots of different people that make up a student population." Trujillo said hallway sneers or snide comments such as, "that's so gay," or "don't be gay" or "you're a fag" create an inappropriate environment. "Those are hurtful comments, and they should be eliminated from the school," she said.

Courtney Parker, a senior and club member (pictured at left), said that though she is heterosexual, some of her friends are not. She said she wants them to feel comfortable when they come to school. "I got involved because I have friends who are gay and have been the targets of slurs and discrimination and people saying things to them," Parker said. "I want them to be free to be who they are at school and to be able to love who they want to love."

When asked if other ASD high schools had GSA clubs, Roger Fiedler, Anchorage School District (ASD) public affairs spokesperson, said he didn't know for certain, but added that the clubs with national affiliation have been an available option for several years. "It truly varies from year to year, based on student interest at a particular school because the club is just like any other extra curricular club in that it is driven by the students," he said.

Commentary: First, I'll answer Mr. Fiedler's question. Yes, there is one other ASD campus with a Gay-Straight Club - Dimond High School. Chugiak used to have one, but I cannot determine at the moment whether they still do. Because Eagle River High School has a club, and it is in close proximity to Chugiak, it's likely that the Eagle River club also serves the needs of interested Chugiak students. No other ASD campuses have such a club.

Gay-Straight Alliance Clubs have been upheld by judges, who have ruled that if a district or school wants to ban Gay-Straight Clubs, they must ban all extracurricular clubs. Consequently, most school districts begrudgingly accept these clubs in order to avoid penalizing students who belong to other extracurricular clubs. Legislative efforts to write litigation-proof bans in Virginia and Utah have failed so far. See my previous posts, "Shutting Down The Gay-Straight Clubs in our High Schools" , "Utah State Legislature Attempts To Shut Down Gay-Straight Clubs In Utah High Schools" , and "The Ten Percent Myth" for more extended discussions on this issue as well as reports on the afore-mentioned legislative efforts.

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