SC School Administrators Find Gay-Straight Alliances Scarier Than Zombies

Summerville High School and Fort Dorchester High School are lucky enough to have a Gay Straight Alliance even though they’re located in the the relatively socially conservative state of South Carolina. Unfortunately, they almost stopped having one recently when the school board tried to shut it down after student complaints about its existence. Of course, they couldn’t just shut down the GSA because they didn’t like it; this is 2011, the era of strange/dubious excuses to mask homophobia.

Instead, they asserted that student clubs are meant to have a “curricular orientation,” and shouldn’t be focused around “personal identity.” One board member goes so far as to say that non-academic clubs distract students from their studies. So instead, the administration tried to shut down every non-academic club or organization, which included the Zombie Appreciation Club, the Prom Committee, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Video Games Club, among others.

The school was thwarted in its efforts, but only when someone realized that their plan would also require terminating things like the National Honor Society and the Student Council. And Habitat for Humanity. That doesn’t mean the school won’t revisit the issue later on, though, with budget cuts expected for this year.

Under the guidelines of to the 1984 Federal Equal Access Act, which was formed to protect students’ rights to form religious clubs, if a secondary school which receives federal money allows one non-curricular club, it must allow all the others, including Gay-Straight Alliances. However the club must be initiated at the request of a student.

Of course, specific attempts to derail the ascension of high school Gay-Straight Alliances are nothing new. In 1999, the students of El Modena High School in Orange County, California, sued the school board after they voted unanimously to prevent the kids from forming a GSA. Judge David O. Carter of the United States District Court for the Central District of California ruled in favor of the students.

Other school districts have circumvented rulings requiring GSAs to legally meet at public schools by making GSAs “non-school sponsored” which can mean different things such as not being allowed to use a school intercom system, not being in the yearbook, not having club funds in school accounts, not being a part of other school events which do welcome gay kids, not having a spot on the student government.

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The first GSA was formed in 1988 by a straight student who wanted to raise awareness about anti-LGBT bullying and harassment. Over 1,000 schools had registered GSAs by 2001, and by 2008 over 4,000 GSAs had registered with GLSEN. Schools that have attempted to thwart the formation of GSAs generally lose in court.

There comes a time when you have to ask: what IS it that adults hate so much about gay kids? I mean, it’s not like they don’t also hate gay adults. If kittens could be openly gay, there are people who would hate them too. But the extent to which they seem willing and even eager to deprive all students and young people of the resources and support that they deserve, including straight kids and in this scenario possibly even their own children, is absolutely outrageous.

Obviously it’s no secret that this country is chock-full of homophobes. But it seems like school administrators should at least be inspired by legal precedent and a changing social climate to at least refrain from imposing their personal agenda on their work life. Are these decisions just holdouts from decades of prejudice, or are there new concerns gestating in the minds of America’s educators? Is there discomfort with a new generation that’s more comfortable talking about queer identity than any before it? Is it a general paranoia about teen sexuality?

We’ve been talking obsessively about the bullying of gay kids for months now, and seem to have come to a group consensus that the people who hurt gay kids in school just for being gay are afraid and angry and lashing out at a marginalized population that represents what they fear about themselves, and that because our culture supports them in their belief that gay kids are something to be afraid of, nothing is done about it. What does that pattern mean if, as we’ve been seeing, the bullies are increasingly likely to be the adults who are meant to be caring for and protecting these kids?

Maybe the question isn’t why no adults stepped in to save kids like Seth Walsh; maybe the question is why adults are so panicked by queer or read-as-queer kids that they lose the ability to even see them as children who need their care or recognize the benefits of GSAs. A degree of homophobia that engenders mistreatment of any and all children, not even just gay ones, is undeniably a problem in our system; even if you personally don’t care what happens to kids like Tyler Clementi, if you care about your own, then this is your issue too.

In short, to the adults that make decisions at schools like Summerville High: What is wrong with you? Maybe you should figure it out before damaging an entire generation.

Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over 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." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1126 articles for us.

21 Comments

  1. I think many people uncomfortable with queer kids are the same people who understand queer identities as being all about “sex.” There is a double standard in which straight relationships can include puppy-love, but queer relationships are understood as deviant and hypersexual. These adults may feel that they are dealing with “adult sexual behavior” and forget that they are truly dealing with the emotions and identities of children it is their job to protect.

  2. I think it is just pure straight homophobia. These adults would try squashing any sort of positive queer support anywhere if they could, they just so happen to be school administrators and this is their opportunity to do just that. They don’t “get” it – that even without healthy community support, even with hostility, kids and adults will still be gay. Harassing us, denying us equal treatment, or pushing us out to the margins is not going to “cure” us or make us go away.

    What they believe is if they make as difficult to be queer as possible, then we’d all stop doing it. What they need to fathom, though, is that it does absolutely nothing to that end, and only results not only in inflicting more suffering on us, but also on themselves, as they are wasting their precious time, energy, mental efforts, and emotions on something that does nothing good for anyone.

  3. my high school’s g.s.a. is the best thing. it’s run by this really caring art teacher with crazy wicked hair, and although we spend most of the club talking about degrassi (eh?), we have had some really great discussions about bullying and coming out and everything. straight people learn, gay people learn, we’re all aligned and shit — c’est magnifique.

    for some reason, every. single. year. some hypersensitive parent will try and shut the club down. right now the principle has a standing letter that basically says “if you don’t like the g.s.a., don’t come.”

  4. “even if you personally don’t care what happens to kids like Tyler Clementi, if you care about your own, then this is your issue too.”

    i think this is really important, because i think it was mentioned in another article on autostraddle, you don’t even need to be gay to be perceived as gay. and once someone perceives you as gay, you can be bullied to the grave regardless of actual sexual orientation.

    • I live in Alberta as well!! *waves*

      I have a friend who is a teacher at one of the high schools here, and he attempted to put up posters for Wear Purple Day. He was told by the principle they had to be taken down, so as not to “offend other students”. He continues to refer to his classroom as a Safe Space, and kept the posters up there, but it saddens me that the possible “offense” of some students (read: parents) means that others cannot get the support they need – and DESERVE – from the school system, and the adults who are supposed to be teaching kids their life skills for their adult lives.

      Canada seems to be better than some places, but maybe we’re just better at keeping it quiet?

  5. A did a little snooping around on Facebook and found this on Barbara Crosby’s public profile. From a note published on her wall:

    Clubs in DD2 schools
    by Barbara Crosby on Tuesday, 01 February 2011 at 05:00

    As usual, we failed to get anything passed on the non-curriculum Gay Alliance Clubs. My heart is broken, but I feel I still need to let our community know what is happening in the schools. I was elected by the people to be transparent and to keep them abreast. But, more importantly, I am a child of God who believes his Word is truth. Newspapers don’t reach all, so I will have to redirect my mission. Thanks for your support and efforts to keep our children safe.”Blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence.” Jeremiah 17:7

    • Ugh, this just confirms my belief that school boards are full of crazies who bother to run for school board. It is a really low cost way to enter politics and I think more SANE people need to run. these people have so much power ( just look at the Texas curriculum) and voters tend to just fill in random bubbles on a form. We should just fill as many school boards possible with queers and gay supporters. If you are of age and at all bothered RUN ( I’m sure the victory fund would give you some money for posters)

  6. My friends and I started a GSA at our school this year. Luckily, even though we live in conservative Orange County, we’ve got a couple of super supportive and understanding teachers. Thankfully, we’ve encountered less homophobia than we expected.

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