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gay-straight alliance

Don’t Believe Everything You Read – Verify It

Today, I saw a link to a story posted by FCKH8.com about a high school student in Tennessee who was at risk of being suspended for trying to start a gay-straight alliance (GSA).  FCKH8.com suggested that everyone call or email Principal Moser at the school to tell him not to suspend the student.

According to the story, Nathan Carroll wanted to start a GSA at high school and circulated a petition to get support.  When Carroll brought the petition to Principal Moser, the principal threatened to suspend him if he tried to create a GSA because the petition created a “disturbing the educational environment.”

My FCKH8 Shirt

Now, I love FCKH8.com. I support their mission. I love their videos and I have a FCKH8 t-shirt.  I’m glad FCKH8 publicizes stories about discrimination that occurs based on sexual orientation, but this time it looks like they didn’t do their homework before posting this story and encouraging everyone to complain to the school.

Thanks to FCKH8.com, I had Principal Moser’s phone number. So I called him. He was a very pleasant man.  According to Moser, Carroll created a petition to get student support for a GSA.  Many students supported the idea and others who were very opposed to the idea. The disagreement between the factions began to cause disruptions in classrooms that were interfering with the teachers’ ability to teach. The principle told the students on both sides that petitions would no longer be allowed in school because of the disruption they caused, and violating this directive could result in a suspension. Moser told me that he told Carroll about the process that all school clubs are required to go through in order to be created and that if students went through that process, then the school could have a GSA. I thanked Moser for his time, and I told him that I hoped the teachers used this situation as an opportunity to teach students how to appropriate communicate when there is a disagreement and people with strong beliefs on both sides.

I’m sure the real truth of this situation is a combination of the students’ and the principal’s perspective, but I looked at this situation much differently after I hung up the phone.  If Moser’s version is mostly accurate, he seems to have acted reasonably for the situation. The school isn’t against having a GSA; it just has to be done through the proper channels.

I went back to FCKH8.com’s Facebook page and posted a comment about my experience. Many others who left comments said that they had emailed the school. There were many posts that took the news story at face value, assumed that it was completely accurate, and called the principal homophobic and insensitive among other things. There were several dozen people who had reposted the original news story on their Facebook profiles.

There are enough bad situations involving discrimination based on sexual orientation in schools that we don’t need to look for problems where they don’t exist. Today’s experience taught me how important it is to verify information and to give the other side an opportunity to explain their perspective before posting comments or repeating information online. If you’re posting inaccurate information, you’re adding to an existing problem, and it’s that much harder to fix.

PS – If everything Principal Moser told me was a lie, please tell me.

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Discrimination Against GSA in West Bend

I was listening to Dan Savage’s Savage Love Podcast last week and I heard about a sad but inspiring situation in West Bend, Wisconsin.  East and West High Schools has had an unofficial Gay-Straight Alliance for over a decade and is currently being denied the recognition of being an official school group.

Some schools have Gay-Straight Alliances or si...

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Prior to this year, student group recognition was fairly informal, and it appeared that every group that requested recognition received it.  This year a new process was imposed that required a group to show that they have curricular tie, national or state affiliation, student appeal and a volunteer adviser to receive recognition by the school.  The GSA complied with every requirement of the application process and their application was approved by the school district administrators.   All they needed was the approval from the West Bend Board of Education.

The students of the West and East High School GSA did a very ballsy thing – they hired an attorney who assisted them throughout this process.  When the group went before the school board, their attorney warned the board members that legal action for discrimination could result if they denied the group’s request for official recognition.  They walked into that meeting and basically said, “We’ve complied with your requirements.  We know we have rights, and if you deny us our rights, we’re going to sue you.”  I love it!

The school board unfortunately voted against granting the GSA recognition.  Randy Marquardt, president of the board of education, voted against recognition and does not understand the need for the school to recognize the GSA.  He allegedly said the board should not vote in the group’s favor to avoid a threat of legal action.

The GSA complied with the school’s requirements for recognition, and therefore they have earned the right to be an official school group.  The co-presidents of the GSA have filed a federal lawsuit against the West Bend Board of Education for violations of their First Amendment rights and the federal Equal Access Act that grants all non-curriculum student groups equal access if a school recognized at least one non-curriculum student group.  The students claim that they are being denied the privileges afforded to recognized student groups such as using the school’s PA system, posting flyers and posters in the school, using the school’s resources and equipment, raising funds for group activities, and being included in the school yearbook.

These students should be applauded for their determination and for refusing to sit in the back of the proverbial bus.  Their group’s mission is “to combat bullying and harassment through education and advocacy and to provide an emotionally and physically healing learning environment for people of all gender and sexual orientations.”  The GSA has only asked for a declaration that the board of education violated rights, a court order requiring the school to recognize the GSA as student group, less than $20 of damages and attorneys’ fees.  They are not asking for anything spectacular, only for what is fair.

To the students in West Bend, keep fighting the good fight. I was pleased to hear that the community for the most part seems to support you.  Please let us know what we can do to continue to support you and your cause.

If you want to send Randy Marquardt a message urging him to allow the GSA to be an officially recognized student group, you can email him at rmarquardt@west-bend.k12.wi.us or call him at 262-306-2601.

UPDATE: On Monday, June 13, 2011, in a re-vote the West Bend School Board approved the request for an official GSA at West Bend High School.  It appears that the school board caved because they were advised that if they fought the lawsuit filed against them, that they would lose.  Randy Marquardt had the audacity to say that the board was bullied by the GSA and that he still does not approve of giving the group recognition as a student club.  Regardless of why the board approved the GSA, it was the right thing to do.  Congratulations kids!

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