Lake County Middle School Invents Time Machine, Returns With Backwards Views on Gay-Straight Alliances

Opposition to gay-straight alliances in high schools across America isn’t new. From Flour Bluff, Texas to South Carolina, administrators have tried everything from banning all extracurricular clubs to rewriting entire school policies to make sure GSAs prohibited. After the epidemic of queer teen suicides that called policies that value “neutrality” over queer kids into question, one might have assumed that unnecessary demonization of a group that exists only to support queer youth with very minimal obligation on the part of the administration would lose popularity. But it seems that some denizens of Leesburg, Florida are determined to prove otherwise.

A meeting was held Monday to discuss the possibility of banning all extracurricular clubs — that is, groups that were not directly connected to academics or to specific courses. An application for a GSA had already been denied a year ago, and had been pointedly ignored by the principal this year. To be fair, many of the over 100 people who attended a meeting on the school’s policies surrounding a GSA in Leesburg’s Carver Middle School were in support of it. Many attendees reportedly wore red shirts to demonstrate their enthusiasm about it. Unfortunately, those community members who were in opposition to the club still managed to espouse virtually every irrational line of reasoning possible, and maybe even some that hadn’t been thought of previously. Although the students themselves had articulated the need for the group, citing concerns about bullying and a need for support, some community members seemed willing to overlook the ways in which anti-gay bullying is quantifiably bad for kids, or at least ignore the ways in which a GSA might help combat those issues. The connection between anti-gay bullying and GSAs seems to have been totally lost on some.

Others spoke out against the alliance, saying the real issue is bullying. Students, they said, would not find the support they need in a gay-straight group.

“It’s like gangs,” said Lori Pitner, a Tavares resident who spoke in opposition. “More kids in gangs end up killed than are not in gangs. I don’t see this as any different.”

Misinformed residents are one thing, but it appears that the school board may feel similarly, or at least may not be willing to take the stand it would require to support this GSA.

On Monday, [school board members] Howard and Mathias stressed that their decisions are about creating a policy and not based on the gay-straight group. Howard said he does not agree or disagree with the gay-straight group, while [school board member Rosanne] Brandeburg said she has not seen bullying on campuses. [School board member Debbie] Stivender was not present.

The ACLU is backing the students of Carver, calling on the federal Equal Access Act which says that schools can’t grant legitimacy to clubs based solely on what they think students should or should not be discussing. There is no way to tell from this point how the issue will be resolved; the decision on the school’s club policy was left unfinished, and will be brought back up at a later board meeting.

gsalake

This is a deeply frustrating story, and not just because it’s unfair on behalf of the students of Carver Middle School. It’s frustrating because after all of the work that activists and everyday queer folk have put in, all the lives that have been lost, and all the assertions that have been made about how anti-gay discrimination just isn’t a problem anymore, this is a story that could have been read verbatim two years ago. It does, in fact, read very similarly in many ways to this story from almost exactly two years ago in March of 2011. In two years, we’ve seen several states legalizemarriage equality, and even seen the President “evolve” on the issue, but the situation for gay teens in much of America remains unchanged. 14-year-old Bayli Silberstein, an out bisexual student who’s led the effort to have a GSA established, has registered her surprise and disappointment at her school’s reaction. “I expected more from adults… I didn’t think they would be so judgmental about this.” Until those in charge of many schools in America decide that the wellbeing of gay students is important enough to take some risks on, it seems like Bayli and many others like her will continue to be disappointed.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Senior Editor and the editor who presides over books and news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

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17 Comments

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    “It’s like gangs,” said Lori Pitner, a Tavares resident who spoke in opposition. “More kids in gangs end up killed than are not in gangs. I don’t see this as any different.”

    what. the. fuck.

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    i’ve had an interesting experience with my high school’s GSA; its quite a different scenario than in this article. basically, because i do not identify as gay or bi, i am discriminated within the group. understandably i no longer go to the meetings (as they make me feel put down and voiceless, the opposite of what they should do!), but i do sit back and wonder at their ignorance. good for them for trying, at least?

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      the ignorance of who? your highschool’s gsa or the people in the aforementioned article? I think gsa may actually be named incorrectly, I’ve found them to be clubs that are a safe place for lgbt people. Perhaps gsa was originally used to give non-lgbt a sense of security because of the promise of assimilation. I’m not really sure what you were expecting when you joined the group though.. I don’t pose this question in a threatening way

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    I understood that gang comment to mean that this woman assumed joining a GSA would make you a target for bullying. As if bullies in a school require that you be in a gay-straight alliance before deciding to bully you for being gay. It’s pretty scary how far they are willing to stretch “logic”and how quickly adults forget what childhood was like when making choices on behalf of children.

    I also loved the claim that because the one board member says she has never seen bullying there is not a need to create a safe space for people being bullied. Because it’s only true if you’ve seen it. Because kids only like to torment their peers if an authority figure is present taking notes.

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      I found that comment by the school board member odd. Where I went to school, board members were rarely seen in the schools, only showing up for special occasions or ceremonies. Unless she meant more “I haven’t been told by my principals that there’s bullying issues in their schools” which seems like a little bit of a better excuse, though still not a reason to not allow GSAs.

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    Oh, central Florida. You make me so ashamed to come from you.

    When I was in high school in Polk County, my friend Brittney and I approached our trig/calc teacher and art teacher about forming a GSA when we simultaneously came out our junior year. They suggested a diversity club would be a better idea, since it would somewhat mask the negative attention and resistance we would receive as a GSA. Of course, when my friend Chris and I ran for homecoming carrying a sign with a huge rainbow and John Lennon quote, a lot of students got the idea. I want to directly contact these students and express my support.

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    Oh god, I went to Carver Middle school in the 6th and 7th grade. I’m not surprised, Leesburg, Lady Lake, and Fruitland Park are full of mostly rednecks, religious freaks, and elderly people. A friend of mine and I, at the time of my attendance, were interested in Wicca. Wicca, for those who dont know, is a silly albeit harmless new age spirituality that celebrates nature. Well, Erica (the friend) left a book under her seat (the desks have baskets under them because at the time, we werent allowed to have lockers due to kids bringing weapons to school… talk about a bullying problem) and when the next class came in, they turned the book over to a teacher who then, upon discovering what it was, started reading it to the class and making fun of it. Religious discrimination anyone? But that wasnt the worst of it. The teacher sent it to the principle, who then called Erica up to the office and questioned her. She identified me as also being interested in Wicca, and I was called up to the office. Pulled out of CLASS and interrogated about my religious beliefs. We were then further questioned by a POLICE OFFICER, and our parents called. Our parents, of course, already knew we were into wicca. My mother was the bloody one who got me interested in all that new age stuff to begin with, and she was so livid when she found out she threatened to sue the school.

    I see things haven’t changed… If you’re not a straight, white bible thumper, you’re a threat to Lake County.

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    geez this banning of all clubs seems so Umbridgian. the kids should form a secret gsa and call it the D.A. for Diversity Awareness (codename Dumbledore’s Army – he was gay! it totally fits!)

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