Tennessee Student Discouraged From Forming LGBT Club
Openly gay Wilson Central High School senior Chris Bauman says that his application to form a gay support group at his school has met with a mixture of silence and opposition since he submitted the application over a month ago, despite federal law being clear that if the school allows other groups it must also allow students to form a Gay Straight Alliance or equivalent forum.
Bauman wants to create the club due to a number of bullying related suicides in the state of Tennessee.
However, he says that a month on from submitting his application, complete with a list of names of students wanting to join and teachers willing to support the group, his application has met with silence and, after meeting with the school’s principal last Wednesday, he has even been given the impression that administration would prefer him to drop the idea.
Quotes garnered by The Tennessean suggest that Bauman may be right:
One Wilson school board member, who also is a school resource officer with the sheriff’s office, raised religious objections. “That’s not saying anything negative toward those people, that I’m any more valuable than they are,” school board member Greg Lasater said. “They’ve got a right to education just like the normal, the regular ‘John Doe’ kid out here would have.
“If I had to vote, just from my own Christian values — nothing against those folks — it would be hard for me as a board member to support it,” he said.
The request went up the chain from the school’s principal to Director of Schools Mike Davis and finally to the county attorney for review.
Davis said he doesn’t see how the proposed club would add value to the school. He also said he doesn’t want exclusive clubs. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, for instance, is open to non-athletes, he said.
“There are some students who believe their sexual orientation is gay or lesbian, and there are kids who believe that they’re not,” Davis said. “I don’t know that that’s something we can address at the public school level.”
Under the Equal Access Act of 1984 it is illegal to prevent students from forming particular groups if other student groups are allowed — for instance, if a school allows a sports club or a chess club they must allow other clubs like a GSA. Therefore this is not a matter of what Davis feels will add value to the school but rather of complying with federal law.
Also, a gay support group does not preclude straight people joining. In fact, GSAs positively encourage straight allies to join in order to better facilitate tolerance, mutual respect and understanding.
Tennessee House lawmakers are of course expected to take up the now infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill this week. The legislation would ban mention of sexuality through K-8 except in teaching about reproduction. There has been concern that the legislation would itself hamper efforts to combat anti-LGBT bullying because it would prevent teachers from being able to effectively discuss sexuality outside the narrow confines of reproduction. Get the latest on the bill here.