This Christian School Board Member Opposes Gay-Straight Alliance Week, but Not For the Usual Reason…

Last night, I got an email about Chris Howell, a member of the Gaston County School Board in North Carolina. Howell is raising a fuss because a bunch of high school students in his district want to cause divisiveness among the students and distract them from learning…

Wait. No. That’s not true.

Actually, members of Highland School of Technology’s Gay-Straight Alliance club want to celebrate a “week promoting tolerance between gay and straight teenagers.” But Howell is opposed to it:

Chris Howell

Howell, a youth pastor at Flint Groves Baptist Church who was elected to the Gaston County Board of Education in November, raised concerns after recently learning the school would sanction Gay-Straight Alliance Week starting April 15.

He said he has been contacted by parents and Highland staff who feel the planned observances will infringe on students who should be focusing on the school curriculum.

“They’re allowing a school-sponsored club to conduct activities during the day that will have a virtual guaranteed outcome of splitting the school and creating division,” Howell said.

Yes, how *dare* those students divide the school into the kind, respectful, tolerant students… and the bullies…

Their nefarious activities include dressing up in tacky clothing, having club members hand out awareness ribbons to students who want them during lunch, and taking part in the Day of Silence. As someone who witnesses first-hand several student-group-sponsored spirit weeks every year, these are run-of-the-mill events and you’re not at all left out by not participating.

Anyway, this story had all the hallmarks of a battle between progressive students and a stodgy Christian conservative in a position of power. And my first impression was that Howell was going to follow in the footsteps of all those right-wing blowhards who belittle LGBT students and their allies.

But the more I read about Howell, the less convinced I became of that.

Howell, who holds conservative Christian views about homosexuality, says this isn’t about the values of the GSA. In fact, he’s fine with students having a GSA club. He may oppose their values, but he’s not trying to infringe on their rights. In essence, his argument is that the GSA has a social agenda that other students may oppose, so they should limit their activities to outside the school day.

But, c’mon. That can’t be it. What about members of a Bible Club? What if they wanted to hold a week of activities? He would love that, wouldn’t he?

No, he wouldn’t:

I stated that I believe “Bible Club” shouldn’t have a week of activities during the school day just as much as the GSA shouldn’t. School should be an environment of learning….from 8:00a – 3:00p this should be our focus as a system. I wonder why none of the people are ripping me for not wanting a “Bible Club Week”?

Holy shit. Consistency! We never see that around these parts…

Howell still misses an important point, though: The GSA’s “agenda” isn’t one of promoting homosexuality (whatever that means) or even promoting “anti-Christian” values. They promote tolerance and inclusion and kindness and respect of all students (regardless of sexual orientation). It’s an anti-bullying group, in many ways, and Howell himself said he would be okay with that:

Howell said he has no problem with such a week being allowed for SAVE, FBLA, or even an anti-bullying student group such as Rachel’s Challenge.

In addition, to treat one club differently from all the rest because of religious reasons (like the Bible Club) would open the door to all sorts of legal problems. So Howell’s suggestion to limit spirit weeks to groups without “agendas” has no real footing.

For what it’s worth, Howell is also wrong about the notion that a spirit week would distract from the school day. The truth is they are awesome ways to get students excited about school.

They promote unity among students — it’s exciting to see your classmates rally behind a cause you also believe in. Sure, there will be causes promoted that you don’t like — welcome to the real world — but your group can always stage your own events another time.

They teach students to stand up for causes they believe in — whether it’s LGBT rights, faith, abortion, or advocacy for some political issue, it’s a way for kids to educate themselves and their peers about these causes and start important discussions that don’t (and often can’t) occur in the classroom.

They don’t take away from instructional time — if students wearing strange clothing stopped me from teaching, I would never get anything done, in any class, ever. I, too, would oppose any “week” that became an obstacle to me doing my job, but these events, if done correctly, don’t do that.

They enhance school spirit — kids get excited, they attend more after-school activities, they get more involved with different clubs, they take leadership roles in these clubs, and they get more out of their high school experience.

At least in the GSA’s case, none of their activities make learning a secondary priority.

The administrators in the district, to their credit, are taking the perfect approach: They’re saying all student groups are welcome to host a week of activities, and the GSA is no different:

“This club has a right like any other club we have to have a week and have some activities, as long as it doesn’t interfere with instructional time,” said [Highland Principal Lee] Dedmon. “It’s a club that exists to promote equality and let the kids know these things are out in the world. The world is a changing place and everybody needs to know there’s different stuff out there.”

“We would do the same for any other club,” [Dedmon] said. “I don’t know how much more fair we can be.”

“My understanding of what’s taking place at Highland is it has little if anything to do with an agenda as far as sexual preference is concerned,” said [Superintendent Reeves] McGlohon. “What they’re trying to do is simply build understanding to talk about tolerance and those kinds of things.”

So Howell is wrong. But he’s not crazy-Christian-bigot wrong. His rhetoric is nothing like that of hate groups that oppose any instance of LGBT students admitting they exist and there’s nothing wrong with them.

I reached out to Howell for comment last night and we had a brief conversation about the points I raised here. He hasn’t changed his opinion on anything yet, but if he does, I’ll post an update.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    Dude, he even looks douchey!

    • http://twitter.com/docslacker MD

      Is it the soul patch?

      • Thackerie

        Not entirely. But it sure helps promote the douchey image.

      • kevin white

        He also has a natural Troll face.

        • Verimius

          Does making fun of Howell’s appearance fit into the category
          of an ad hominem attack?

          • Pseudonym

            I don’t think it was intended to be an argument about the issue, so no. As Carpinions right points out, it’s out of line and off-topic, but technically not ad hominem.

            A better example of ad hominem is the “gaydar” comment above.

          • kevin white

            Just making an astute observation. He does have a very natural version of the Troll Face. I could put his face on the Trololo videos and still get the same reaction. I’m not really making fun of his appearance as much as i am making parallels to memes… Ok, i admit, i’m making fun of his face, it’s kinda humorous. then again, i break mirrors with my appearance.

    • Carpinions

      Seriously, I would appreciate it if this little circle jerk would keep criticisms of this person relevant, rather than insipid. If this was a story about Howell becoming an atheist, you wouldn’t be here saying he looks “douchey”.

    • Thegoodman

      These types of comments in regard to women are instantly criticized and the poster is demonized. I think we should refrain from stuff like this in regard to both genders.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

        Yes, because, “this guy looks like a douchenozzle” is totally the same as “LOL, STFU bitchez”…

        • http://www.facebook.com/judith.fursdon Judith Fursdon

          Attacking the way a person looks adds nothing to the argument against them, but it does make the attacker look petty – whether it’s against a woman or a man. Why lower ourselves to that, when there’s already a perfectly good argument against what he says?

          • george Carlin

            The attackers are petty. They are trying to push a political agenda in school. That is disruptive. The GSA has a political agenda. If it was just a tolerance thing for all students that would be fine. The GSA even comments on political controversies like the Zimmerman trial in a very uninformed way. Why should schools be a recruitment tool for a political organization.

  • sunburned

    So he is wrong…mainly because he doesn’t understand the dynamics of high/middle schools. Perhaps we was home schooled and doesn’t understand that people can learn AND participate. Though he has a point about the bible club, it wouldn’t work because it would require actual participation…..

  • CelticWhisper

    (Tiny aside: Looks like the [More...] following the image isn’t actually a link.)

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      It’s not supposed it be… it’s just something I add in to the front page excerpt so people know there’s more to the article and they should click through to read the rest!

      • CelticWhisper

        Ah, okay. I could’ve sworn some of them were links in the past, but someone might have slipped some psilocybin ‘shrooms into my roast baby last night.

        Just wanted to make sure that all is as it was intended to be.

        • kevin white

          I would like you to know that i just spit milk out of my nose after reading that. Thanks. Now i have to clean my keyboard.

          • CelticWhisper

            Could be worse. That happened to me with ginger soda before. That shit BURNS.

            • 3lemenope

              Tomato soup with barley.

              Permanent damage.

        • TheBlackCat13

          I’ve occasionally run into bugs on some threads where the buttons are turned into links.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    I fucking hate this d-bag for this quote, “Should we have a Sons of the Confederate Army Week next?” So according to christians LGBT people are the same as pedophiles and those into bestiality and gay-straight alliances are the same as a very misguided, at best, and racist at worst group? Many members of the sons are in other hate groups as defined by the SPLC

    I like how he doesn’t understand that they are not promoting being gay, get annoyed by cretins that say that, and that he doesn’t understand how a bible club week of events wouldn’t be constitutional. The event would most likely involve proselytizing and would be an endorsement by the school of christianity.

    • Carpinions

      I do have to agree with this criticism. Why is it that whenever this pushback against LGBTQ groups comes up, the defense for not allowing it, while sometimes being somewhat logical, always lumps the LGBTQ community in with a really ugly counter-example? It’s like all the LGBTQ bigots spouting off in the media about gay marriage: “What will be the next thing that’s allowed? People and animals marrying???!!!! NAMBLA!!!” It’s like they go out of their way to come up with the worst possible analogy to try and shut the equality side down in a really passive-aggressive way.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Yeah, not buying it.

    He probably just found a way to try and get the activity shelved that doesn’t sound like complete asshatery and is using it to get less negative feedback…Make opposing basic decency look okay.

  • GCT

    ““They’re allowing a school-sponsored club to conduct activities during the day that will have a virtual guaranteed outcome of splitting the school and creating division,” Howell said.”

    Where else have I heard about groups that foster diversity, tolerance, and inclusion supposedly creating division? It seems familiar…

  • http://twitter.com/Chimako_27 Chimako

    My son is a senior at Highland. They go thru this every single year. The batshit fundies get angry because they don’t want to be seen as bullies who hate gays (which they are). My fundie nephew in the same grade, same school is spouting this same divisive crap. It’s basically because they are upset that people who support the GSA seem to feel that the people who dont are big meanie heads, which IMO they are. It *is* divisive. It points out very emphatically the people who are completely indoctrinated in the “gays are bad” theme. I, personally, think that’s a good thing since it makes them *think* about *why* they have that view. I know more than one kid has rethought thier indoctrination after the GSA week. It’s worth the controversy for that reason to me and my kids.

  • John_in_Vegas

    Why does my gaydar go off the chart whenever I see a picture of these types? I need to take some tylenol.

  • Stev84

    Gotta love the blame the victim “Why are you so divisive by pointing out how bad we are” thing

  • Pattrsn

    Deep rifts I say, deep rifts! GSABullies! Witch hunts!

  • Thegoodman

    It will be terribly divisive to allow young adults to represent themselves. I recommend a “Drone Spirit Week!” where every student gets the same haircut, wears the same clothes, and participates in the same side of debate topics all week. That will promote unity.

  • http://profiles.google.com/conticreative Marco Conti

    The consistency of this guy is indeed unusual. I have to give him kudos for that.

    I also think that the process of organizing and implementing activities such as this one (or the Bible Club for that matter) should not be seen as a waste of time outside the school curriculum.

    In fact, I would argue that the skill set necessary to head or even just be part of such activities is something that will come in handy in adult life.
    Evben just watching how other students go about organizing and implementing their activities is an educational moment that I argue for some may turn out to be more useful than many other things in the curriculum.

    So I disagree with the guy, but I do appreciate his consistency. He should correct that if he doesn’t want to be kicked out of his club.

  • http://westcoastatheist.wordpress.com/ Katie Graham

    What about Red Ribbon Week?

  • george Carlin

    The GSA is a political organization which pushes an agenda. It should not have a week of activities in the school to push their agenda on students. If the want to have rally’s have them outside of school time.

  • george Carlin

    Schools won’t even allow Valedictorians to mention God in their speeches why should the GSA get a week to push a political agenda.


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