While the national debate over gay marriage escalated following the Vice President’s and President’s remarks of approval, Marion County campaigns for Superintendent and School Board can expect a similar rush of interest in LGBT issues. A lawsuit was filed in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation of Florida on behalf of two Vanguard High students who had sought to form a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), but were denied by School Superintendent Jim Yancey.
The Ocala Star Banner reported on the lawsuit which seeks to gain the youth group’s approval from Yancey, and recover legal fees.
Gay-Straight Alliance is a national network that is organized for “empowering youth activists to fight homophobia and transphobia in schools.”
Yancey’s reasons to deny the local group’s club application, which met all qualifying requirements, were reported in the noted Star Banner article:
The students had made official requests to Vanguard’s principal, who rejected them. They appealed to Yancey, who also refuted the club’s establishment because “the student club’s purpose is not age appropriate,” the lawsuit stated.
“We don’t have those kinds of conversation [sic] about sexual orientation in our school district,” Yancey said in a phone interview on Thursday. “Those are more appropriate for more family atmospheres and for adult conversations.”
This adds Marion County to the list of school districts that have denied Gay-Straight Alliances from forming and have ended up in court.
The Act provides that if a school receives federal aid and has a “limited open forum,” or at least one student-led non-curriculum club that meets outside of class time, it must allow additional such clubs to be organized, and must give them equal access to meeting spaces and school publications. Exceptions can be made for groups that “materially and substantially interfere with the orderly conduct of educational activities within the school,” and a school can technically “opt out” of the act by prohibiting all non-curriculum clubs.
Given the GSA’s mission, the administration will have a difficult time defending refusal of this group’s request.
Now we can expect “the conversation” about sexual orientation in high schools will be taken up not only in court, but also in the political campaigns for school offices that are heating up, as a recent post here noted the high public interest in the School Superintendent race.
The loudest local voices can be expected to endorse Yancey’s decision, but as is common, the loudest voices aren’t always the wisest. One would be hard pressed to think of a better place for these conversations to take place, and for a better mission statement than the Gay-Straight Alliance.
To imagine that such conversations will occur in ‘families’ or ‘among adults’ in any kind of helpful fashion completely misses the point, and even denies reality. The place where the issue is being engaged is in the high schools, precisely not at family tables and water coolers, and obviously it is in high schools (at least) where the conversation on how to engage gay-straight relations needs to be facilitated.
Further, that something regarding human sexuality is not ‘age appropriate’ among high school students is utterly implausible.
However, to call it a “hot potato” that any intelligent administrator would prefer to avoid is perfectly on target. The phone would ring off the hook if such a group gained approval.
Just watch how the candidates will squirm, posture, and prevaricate when this challenge comes up. That irksome tax question is going to be preferable in the future.
To see how ‘families’ and ‘adults’ handle the issue, be sure to attend the next candidate forum or watch the Letters to the Editor page of the Star Banner for a sampling. It should bring forth a level of ugliness that indicates the need for a GSA in every high school at the very least.
Settle this case, save a bundle of money, and move forward in a way that encourages our students to learn about the world around them, not dwell in a fantasy of denial or drown in narrow-minded demagoguery.