Gay-Straight Alliance Banned in North Carolina, Challenge Expected

The Rowan-Salisbury School Board in Charlotte, North Carolina voted unanimously on Monday, April 10 to “ban all sexually oriented clubs—gay, straight or otherwise—and to address any student's emotional issues concerning sexuality with guidance counselors.”1

The decision was made in response to efforts by students at South Rowan High School to form a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). The students began the process at the start of the 2005–06 school year in order to create a safer school environment for all students, straight or gay. The students faced resistance from both the principal and school board, but by March both had acknowledged that the club had a right to form. The board, however, decided to revisit the issue and its most recent decision states that “sexually oriented clubs…materially and substantially interfere with the orderly conduct of educational activities in school.”2

Local advocates consider the idea that GSAs are “sexually oriented” absurd.  GSAs throughout the country have formed to provide information and support to students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), have family and friends who are LGBT, or who simply care about creating environments that are safe and non-discriminatory towards LGBT people.  Mette Anderson, executive director of Time Out Youth, a nonprofit organization for LGBT youth in the Charlotte area, responded to the ruling saying, “that is clearly homophobia.  It's the fear of something they don't understand…Every student has a right to safety in school.”3

Supporters of the GSA also point out that there are five other GSAs in existence in neighboring counties, none of which have caused “substantial interference” to educational activities. They are suggesting that a court challenge to the decision is the next step. “This is not the first time this has happened,” said Anderson.4

In recent years, students in many communities have brought legal challenges against school districts attempting to block the formation of GSA's. The challenges focus on the Equal Access Act of 1984 which allows clubs like a GSA the right to form and meet at schools as long as any other club is allowed to do the same. Twenty years ago the law was championed by right wing lawmakers hoping to protect the rights of Christian student organizations to meet at public schools. Federal court cases in conservative states such as Kentucky and Utah have upheld the right of GSAs to form at public schools.5

Despite the clear precedent, members of the school board and greater community voiced concerns and complaints about the club. The board's decision may have also been influenced by the activities of Operation Rescue/Operation Save America, a conservative Christian group known for harassing patients and blocking the entrances to abortion clinics. The group held a rally outside the board meeting and put out a press release condemning the GSA as part of the “radical homosexual agenda.”6

There was little space for students supportive of the club at the board meeting, and one young woman reported that she left early because she felt unsafe.7 Club members are weighing their options with the help of the Charlotte-based Conference for Community and Justice, but have not yet decided whether to challenge the ban in court.

References

  1. Associated Press, “Advocates Expect Challenge to Ban on N.C. Gay-Straight Alliance,” Fayetteville Observer , 12 April 2006 , accessed 13 April 2006 , <www.fayettevillenc.com/article_ap?id=83646>.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Kirsten Valle, “South Students Can Challenge Gay Club Ban, Goups Say,” Salisbury Post, 12 April 2006
  4. Ibid.
  5. Steve Lyttle, “Schools Reject Gay-Straight Club,” Charlotte Observer, 11 April 2006, accessed 13 April 2006, <www.charlotte.com/mld/charlotte/14315844.htm>.
  6. Operation Rescue/Operation Save America, “Radical Homosexual Agenda Reeling in Charlotte,” Press Release published 11 April 2006, accessed 14 April 2006, <www.operationsaveamerica.org/press/press/060411radical-homosexual-agenda-reeling-charlotte.htm>.
  7. “School Board Member Expects Ban of Sexually Oriented Clubs to be Challenged in Court,” WSOC TV News, 10 April 2006, accessed 13 April 2006, <www.wsoctv.com/news/8608165/detail.html>.

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