Saturday, April 07, 2007

Judge Says Gay-Straight Alliance Can Meet At School Pending Outcome of Lawsuit

For several years now I've given thought to school clubs and organizations that refer to gay students. Usually these clubs have a name similar to a Gay-Straight Alliance. I've waffled on this issue over the years but am now ready to state, categorically, my opinions on this topic.

But first, go read this story out of Florida. Highlights, if you don't like to follow links:

MIAMI — A high school club that promotes tolerance of gays must be allowed to meet while a lawsuit is pending, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore r
uled Friday that Okeechobee High School must grant the same privileges to the Gay Straight Alliance that it grants other clubs, as mandated by the federal Equal Access Act.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Okeechobee school board in November on behalf of the high school's Gay-Straight Alliance after school officials said the group was a "sex-based" organization that would violate its abstinence-only education policy...

In his ruling, the judge said the school showed no evidence to back its concern that the group would encourage students to share "obscene or sexual explicit material," and that the school had made that assumption based on the group's name.


My opinion: the judge is absolutely correct in this ruling.

I understand that people disagree on this topic; like I said, I've waffled on the topic in the past. But I've come to believe that homosexuality is not "what you do", it's "who you are". I understand the argument that the "who you are" can lead to "what you do", but I now view sexual identity as something akin to race--it's part of you, something you cannot change. You can change what you do, but you cannot change who you are. It's a fundamental part of your identity.

This does mean that I view effeminate guys, butchy women, lisps, flamboyance, and similar stereotypes as a fundamental part of identity. I believe that some (but not all) of those behaviors are learned or exaggerated. But the core of homosexuality, the type of people you're attracted to, is not something over which you have conscious control.

I also believe that homosexuality is "caused" neither entirely by nature or nurture, but by a combination. I don't view sexuality as binary--either gay or straight--but a continuum. Everyone falls somewhere on that continuum naturally, but environmental factors can certainly have an influence--certainly on those who are at neither extreme of the continuum.

While the science on this topic certainly isn't settled--heck, in my childhood, homosexuality was still classified as a mental disorder by the APA--the above seems a reasonable explanation to me.

So now on to GSA's, or Gay-Straight Alliances, at our public schools.

Students should not have to hide who they are at our schools. That doesn't mean that everyone needs to accept everyone, far from it. I subscribe to the concept of tolerance, which is very different from acceptance. But I don't think it's a very big secret that gay students are picked on in schools, and that the very language and vocabulary used by so many of our students today is particularly onerous to gay students. Yes, other students are picked on, too, and we in the education field need to be prepared to stop all forms of harassment. But let's be blunt: gays are singled out at least as harshly and as vigorously as other groups, and often more harshly and vigorously. And they're singled out for who they are, not what they do.

GSA's are not "meat markets". They don't exist as clubs where students can hit on each other and trade porn, as the school district in the above-linked story presented. Come on, the internet is a much more efficient medium for such activities. These clubs, by their very name--Gay-STRAIGHT Alliances--exist to help all students build bridges to each other. Again, by their very name if not by their activities, they promote tolerance. Some may cross the line into homosexual advocacy, something I would not condone, but the primary purpose of such clubs seems to be to help students learn to tolerate each other and to treat each other as individuals, not as members of labeled groups.

Speaking as a conservative, I see that as a good thing. We conservatives seek individual rights, not race-, ethnicity-, or class-based privileges for favored groups. We conservatives believe in treating individuals equally. In my not-so-humble opinion, that's part of what separates us from the liberals. So to my fellow conservatives who have religious or other objections to homosexuals, I say this: we must not seek out and discriminate against individuals because of who they are. Those who would attempt to ban GSA's only confirm the worst stereotypes about conservatives, and truly do nothing for the cause; in fact, it makes us appear hypocritical.

Should you opt to leave comments, please do not try to drag in pedophilia (which is at least as common in heterosexuals as it is in homosexuals), bestiality (animals cannot consent), polygamy, etc. They are not germane to this topic. I understand that some view homosexuality as a sexual perversion; as I said before, I view it as an identity, as part of who you are and not what you do. Let's not make this a place to rehash the time-worn arguments about homosexuality, religious morality, etc. Let's focus on what our political conservatism demands of us in this situation, and the best way to promote true tolerance for each of us as individuals.

9 comments:

rightwingprof said...

I have no problem with such groups at schools. I do have a problem with school administrations kowtowing to certain groups and pushing out others. The two a different issues.

Law and Order Teacher said...

I agree with you to an extent. While groups of all kinds should be welcome in schools, they should not attempt to inflict acceptance of lifestyles on those made uncomfortable by them. This, too, is a violation of individual rights. Acceptance is a two-way street. The same would apply to Fellowship of Christian Students groups. Each group should be about fellowship, not advocacy. Diversity is a good thing as long as groups do not become oppressive to those who disagree. Acceptance, yes, advocacy, no. As for the other part of your post I'm rolling that one over in my cranium. That may take awhile. As I tell my students, I can tell when they are thinking because smoke comes out of their ears. This room is filled with smoke.

Mike said...

Darren:

Interesting post. Your being vs. acting dichotomy is particularly useful.

Truth be told, many straight educators would be shocked and scandalized by the perfectly legal, harmless sexual preferences and behaviors of their straight colleagues should they become known. Of course, rational, professional people do not make such things known, not to colleagues, and certainly not to students. Unfortunately, when one is known to be gay, people make certain assumptions about their private behavior, often informed by porn stereotypes and feverish imaginings.

Ultimately we should teach words such as tolerance and acceptance and explain their meaning and application in our daily lives. Perhaps it's best to focus on this idea: Let us judge and interact with others based upon the way that they treat us and others, and not upon fantasies of their private, unknowable behavior.

What, after all, is the difference between a good, decent, kind and competent straight teacher and a gay teacher possessed of the same attributes? As long as both scrupulously respect the appropriate boundaries in teaching professionally, where is the problem? Any teacher acting on sexual urges or talking about their sexuality with their students has stepped over the line. Being gay does not render the mere fact of such a violation of professional ethics more or less harmful.

And as to allowing such clubs on campus? The law is clear. If the school allows any, they must essentially allow all. The other option is to make space for none.

Scott McCall said...

SAVE FROSTY!

Nigel said...

Bravo.

I was hoping that you were going to offend me or something at some point in that million word post. But alas, no. How dull. It's always more interesting when I disagree.

Bah humbug.

NYC Educator said...

Well, I'm very happy on those occasions when I can agree with you, and I think you've taken a very well-reasoned and thoughtful approach here. Also, I think you have to take both liberals and conservatives individually, because there are those of us who will follow our consciences even if they diverge with the ideologies others perceive we follow.

thank you said...

Me being gay, I'm glad you said what you did. I've never heard it said like this and I hope people listen.

Lee Dixon said...

Okeechobee, Florida High School GSA Controversy

I am retired from the Okeechobee County School District, which is now the site of a controversial lawsuit regarding the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) club. I served as an Assistant Superintendent for 20 years and only retired last summer. I served 30 years altogether in the district, starting as a beginning teacher at Okeechobee Junior High in the fall of 1976.

The other new teacher in my school that year was Toni Wiersma, the current principal of Okeechobee High School. Toni taught Math for a few years and then was an excellent and highly regarded school counselor for much of her career.

One of her AP’s happens to be a mentor of mine, who taught Math on our team during my second year of teaching. Debbie Gillis was the best teacher I ever observed in 30 years and was one of five state finalists for Florida Teacher of the Year. I was mentor to Toni’s other AP, Mike Radebaugh, who started his teaching career after managing our community program for disabled adults. Both AP’s are strong educators and student advocates.

Indiana University graduates and lifelong Hoosiers, my wife and I were concerned about the possibility of finding a racist and socially repressive community when we moved to Okeechobee. We found Okeechobee to be a far more accommodating community than we expected. Yes, there were a few bigots... but they had no significant power in the community. Actually, the level of racism we found was less than we observed in Indiana, although the schools had not been integrated a full decade. Blacks and whites actually interacted on a daily basis. My Indiana suburban/rural high school had fewer than 10 black students...children of the area’s two black physicians and one black farmer. It was annexed into the city schools after I graduated and more black students attend. It has never been successfully integrated. A nearby town in our home county, the home of presidential candidate Wendell Wilkie, had a well known unwritten rule against black people being in town after sunset. I remember the night that my father called the sheriff to investigate the men in white sheets at the local livestock sale barn (fortunately a false alarm... it was halloween). Dad was concerned about the two black families that lived nearby.

Talk about an accommodating community, I was promoted through the administrative ranks and served for many years despite my lack of religion. I am an agnostic. I never went out of my way to advertise this fact, but it was not a secret and I suffered no harassment. Many friends have offered their testimony, but they have done so out of love and respected my beliefs.

Okeechobee is very proud of the integration of Seminole Indians throughout the short history of our town. Seminoles attended the “white” public schools for decades before the schools were “integrated”. About 20 years ago, the Seminoles fought a brief, but important political battle to guarantee their right to attend our schools... although their reservation lies within another county. The Okeechobee School District fought alongside the Seminoles in this endeavor, despite the stress of constant enrollment growth and the struggle to build enough classrooms.

The integration of African Americans in Okeechobee went relatively smoothly, compared to most Florida communities. Many nearby schools were badly hurt, and their communities destroyed, by the emergence of “white flight” schools. This did not happen in Okeechobee. No significant private middle or high school has ever survived in Okeechobee. OHS serves rich and poor, and all racial and ethnic groups.

The integration of a new ethnic group, the fast growing Hispanic community (from rural Mexico), occured over the last 20 years, without major problems despite the language barrier. Many illegal aliens are included among student and parent populations. The school district follows the law and supports the education and well being of the children.

The district has also been strongly supportive of teen parents, including inclusion of pregnant teens in regular school classes to insure academic integrity, which was missing in the original alternative type teen parent programs.

I support the district’s stance against formation of a GSA. There is support in law for this position, both at state and federal levels, although the outcome at the federal level may indeed be a toss-up. The federal law has not been tested at the Supreme Court.

Our schools support clear state laws designed to discourage premarital sex. Notice the lack of a qualifier such as “heterosexual” or “homosexual”. There is no contradiction with this position of our state and local government agencies and the fact that many students have sexual experiences in high school and before marriage. The government discourages, by the passing of laws and imposition of penalties, other behavior such as teenage drinking. The fact that many teens drink alcohol does not mean these laws, and the government actions in support of the laws, are wrong.

There is no history of systemic harassment of gay students at Okeechobee High School. There have been very few openly gay students even to this day. The student that is suing the school district cites the school prohibition of inappropriate public showing of affection as an example of discrimination and a reason the school needs GSA. The school consistently, but not perfectly, enforces this rule against inappropriate public showings of affection... heterosexual or homosexual alike.

I personally know some of the students (and their parents) who have recently complained about harassment of gay students. It is not true that harassment has been condoned by the school or that there is rampant harassment.

I was harassed by my peers throughout my school career. Especially by my friends. I was fat. I did not complain to teachers or administrators or my parents. No doubt some gay students or those percieved to be gay, have had similar experiences.

GSA is not just a club to support tolerance. Please don’t drink the kool-aid on this one. There is support from a very active gay community that does not police itself well and has no respect for parental control of children before the age of majority. Examination of GSA web sites will reveal problemmatic links that illustrate this problem.

No harassment is allowed at Okeechobee High School... harassment of anybody, by anybody.

Darren said...

Please don't assume that I've "drunk the kool-aid" because I disagree with you. As I said, I have considered this topic for many years now, and my stance comes from a long-term reasoned analysis. It is not a position I came by quickly or lightly.

Again, we have two different beliefs here. I view sexual *orientation* as part of who you are, whereas you view it as what you do. I don't know that those two positions can be reconciled. There ain't no good guy, there ain't no bad guy, there's only you and me and we just disagree. Unlike some other topics, I don't think either outcome of this case would be abhorrent--although I've already identified where my sympathies lie.