Pennsylvania School Board Blocks Formation of Gay-Straight Alliance

Members of the Chambersburg School Board (in Pennsylvania) this week voted against allowing a gay-straight alliance club (GSA) to form at a local high school.

The school board had been considering whether to allow a GSA to form since January, when they took issue with a potential club’s constitution. Modeled after national GSA policy, the constitution provided that students could select their own club adviser; the school board countered that it was their policy to have the administration select an adviser instead. The debate devolved from there.

At a board meeting Wednesday, audience members told the board that successful GSA clubs in other districts gave LGBT students a safe space, and that this need was not being met in Chambersburg:

Shippensburg educator Stephanie Metz, a Chambersburg resident, pointed out that Shippensburg schools have had a GSA for eight years, even though is it smaller and less diverse than the Chambersburg district.

“Do not promote ignorance by voting ‘no.’ Narrow-minded viewpoints seem to be pervasive on this board,” she said. As a taxpayer, she said she also does not want to see her tax dollars used on a court case, because the equal opportunity for groups to form is part of the constitution.

Audience members also cited statistics demonstrating the higher rates of depression and suicide among LGBT youth. Nonetheless, the board voted 5-4 to deny students the right to have a campus GSA. Their reasoning was baffling:

Carl Barton said he fields parent calls about bullying in the schools, and that those cases fall into the categories of students being bullied because of special needs, physical disability, being overweight or being “anorexic.” He said he only heard of one bullying case loosely associated to the student’s sexual orientation.

Board member Norm Blowers said the club’s structure as proposed is not designed to address bullying.

Students who were present also recognize that the school board is out of line:

GSA President Amber Fogelsonger said one of the board members who voted against the group said that the alliance is similar to the existing multi-cultural group and therefore would be unnecessary.

“This time we’re going to take legal action because they cannot technically deny us, because if there are three other clubs in school that are not school-related, they cannot by law deny our club,” Fogelsonger said.

Here’s hoping these students find the momentum to fight back with swift legal action. I’m certain these school board members have reasons for denying the GSA that they’re not stating, but isn’t that always the way?

About Camille Beredjick

Camille is a twentysomething working in the LGBT nonprofit industry. She runs an LGBT news blog at gaywrites.org.

  • http://twitter.com/WoodwindsRock Emma

    “GSA President Amber Fogelsonger said one of the board members who voted against the group said that the alliance is similar to the existing multi-cultural group and therefore would be unnecessary.”

    Okay, fair enough. Then I’m sure that this would also mean that having a Muslim organization (this is just an example, bear with me) would mean that they don’t need a Christian group because it is too similar to the already existing Muslim group and therefore unnecessary.

    • Wild Rumpus

      They don’t need a Muslim group or a Christian group if they have a Multi Cultural group. Don’t need a Dungeons and Dragons group or a Cheerleading group either because – hey! – all those issues can be addressed at the Multi Cultural Group meetings!

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Damn, that is one awesome logo!

  • LesterBallard

    Sue their asses.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kenneth-Polit/100001819277689 Kenneth Polit

    School districts don’t have a lot of money. Why do they insist on wasting it on legal cases that they can’t possibly win? I can’t fathom how people responsible for educating our kids can be so monumentally stupid.

  • anniewhoo

    I think we need to send people to these school board meetings, and have them ask one question: What are you REALLY afraid of?

    • Anon

      Gay people.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brian.westley Brian Westley

    As the linked article mentions, the school is in violation of the 1984 Equal Access Act, and they will automatically lose any lawsuit.

    • 3lemenope

      Not for nothing, but there is really no way to *automatically* lose a lawsuit. A law’s reigning interpretation can change, and each fact pattern is unique.

      • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

        Not for a defendant. I understand that a plaintiff can, by failing to show up for the court date; but defendants can still win, if the plaintiff doesn’t show standing and present a justiciable and actual controversy. (That is: something real, within the purview of the courts.)

        That said, this doesn’t sound like it has much chance of surviving a motion for summary judgement for the plaintiff. However… I Am Not A Lawyer.

        • 3lemenope

          Quite so. I was assuming arguendo that the parties actually show up. Given that people actually show up, there is no such thing as an automatic win, because everything from there hinges upon the rulings of a judge (including determinations of standing and so forth). Even if the law seems unambiguous and enjoys a stable, long-standing interpretation, crazy shit can still (and occasionally does) happen.

          But I agree, certainly, that things do not look good for district, as it should be.

  • A3Kr0n

    I hope the students win a lot of money to start their new group with.

  • dwasifar karalahishipoor

    Do we know that this was for religious reasons, or are we just assuming?

    • http://twitter.com/JasonOfTerra PhiloKGB

      Is who assuming?

      • dwasifar karalahishipoor

        Whoever decided this is on-topic for an atheist issues blog. I see no connection to atheism in this story, unless it’s known that the decision was for religious reasons.

        • baal

          I’ve yet to see a case where the school board wasn’t motivated to discriminate by religious (almost all christian) teachings. I’ve been watching related issues for years now.
          Evenso, this blog in particular hosts a number of posts of interest more to the LGBT (and allies) community than average. There isn’t a rule that all posts be atheism or atheism related only.

        • Gus Snarp

          You haven’t been around the internet much, have you? The title, about page, or other description of the subject matter of ANY blog are not a complete list of everything it is ever OK to talk about on that blog. The blogger(s) get to decide what they want to cover, and if they want to occasionally write an essay on My Little Pony, they can do that, with no relation whatsoever to atheism. It’s just bad form to tell a blogger they shouldn’t talk about something because it doesn’t fit their blog description. Basically, it’s just a trolling tactic. Which I’ve responded to in good faith. Don’t prove me wrong.

          Besides which, gay rights are a humanist issue, which relates them directly to atheism. They may not be part of any particular atheist’s concept of atheism or what they want to talk about, but they are encompassed by the subject matter of an atheist blog, whether anyone else likes it or not.

  • http://twitter.com/SladeFoster Slade Foster

    It is delicious when bigoted adults get slapped with a civics lesson by smart kids.

  • ecolt

    I love that in this case members of the community came out to support these kids. Too often people keep their mouths shut and give the appearance that bigoted school board members speak for the majority. Good for the people who spoke out – showing there are people who have these kids’ backs just makes the school board look even more out of touch.
    What’s sad is that the students can and should sue the school. The sad part is that schools already have such low budgets that a stupid lawsuit will only raise taxes in the area and probably lead to the school having to cut funding somewhere. Even when the suit is won, the children’s education (and their families’ pocketbooks) will still be hurt.


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