A Gay/Straight Alliance Group Gets Approved by School Board, but Not Before Opponents Say Idiotic Things

I live in the suburbs of Chicago where we don’t always hear the anti-gay rhetoric a lot of you hear in other parts of the country (we’re at least somewhat close to approving same-sex marriage in the state). Maybe that’s why Patrick Guinane‘s reporting in my local paper stood out to me.

It involved the approval of a Gay/Straight Alliance group at Lockport Township High School. The club had been on probation for two years — as are all new clubs — and it was time for the school board to decide whether or not to make them official.

The good news is that the board voted to approve the club 4-3.

The bad news is what the dissenters said at the meeting:

… board member Samantha Neitzke asked: “When did school and sexual orientation cross over?”

She argued issues of sexuality should remain family concerns.

“My concern was why does this belong in a school?” Neitzke said. “It’d be like if you had an obesity club.”

Board member Samantha Neitzke

I guess that’s easy to say when you’ve never been bullied by other students because of your sexual orientation (or weight, for that matter).

Furthermore, educating students about tolerance and giving them a safe place to talk about issues that matter to them — which is the purpose of GSA groups — fits right in with what schools ought to be doing.

Board member Michael Lewandowski, who joined Neitzke in voting against, noted that alliance meetings drew only about 15 attendees. Of the district’s roughly 3,700 students, only 84 signed the petition two years ago to start the club, Neitzke said.

“When you ran for school board, all you needed was 50 signatures, right?” responded board member Lou Ann Johnson.

OH, SNAP!

Board member Michael Lewandowski

Board member Charles Travis cast the final vote against the club:

Board member Charles Travis

“I’m not against gay people or whatever, but I have to follow my religion,” Travis said.

Paraphrased: “I’m not against gay people, but I have to follow my religion, which is totally against gay people.”

I guess Travis’ religion — anyone want to take a wild guess which one it is? — forbids gay and straight students from socializing.

The good news is that a majority of the board members — as well as the school’s principal and the district’s superintendent — have their heads on straight. They’re doing what’s best for the students instead of what local pastors want.

The other three could learn a lesson from them.

Or get voted out in the next election.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Don Gwinn

    “I’m not against gay people or whatever, but I have a good excuse for why I’m against gay people or whatever.”

  • Mr. Pantaloons

    “Ordinarily, I wouldn’t say gay people should be treated like second-class citizens. But my interpretation of my religion says they should, and hey, ‘to obey is greater than sacrifice,’ so I’m washing my hands here to the same result.”

    • Paul Hitchford

      Being gay is not a choice. But being a “faggot” is.

      • Mr. Pantaloons

        Better question: Does the label “faggot” become any less despicable or more necessary even if that’s true?

      • KeithCollyer

        so is being a dick

      • unclemike

        But why would one choose to be a savory English meatball?

        • Spuddie

          Its cuisine like this which prompted both the British Empire and current immigration policy. Brits looking to either conquer nations with palatable food to bring back or letting them come to the UK on their own accord.

      • Drew M.

        Being an imbecile is not a choice. But being a douchewaffle is.

        • CelticWhisper

          Protip: Don’t make the mistake of trying to ponder the literal interpretation of that term. You won’t want to go out for breakfast for the next 3 months.

          • Drew M.

            I guffawed!

      • Nancy Shrew

        I’m going to be charitable and assume that you meant something along the lines of “Being gay is fine until you demonstrate that fact” which does seem to be the case with a lot of people (e.g. “Just don’t hit on me!”).

        • Whirlwitch

          Which would still make him a bigot and a total asshole, but I haven’t got anything more charitable either.

      • StevesWeb

        Thank you, but I prefer to be called a militant atheist faggot, please.

      • Matt D

        Ooohhhh, I’m learning how to be a man from a cowardly stranger online? Wow, technology is something!

  • observer

    “‘I’m not against gay people or whatever, but I have to follow my religion,’ Travis said.”

    Aww, you poor man, being burdended with having to treat other people as lesser human beings. [/sarcasim]

    • Gander

      And the Constitution as a lesser document.

  • borbor

    Having covered local town and city school boards as a reporter for years, I can tell you that to be a school board member you have to have at least one axe to grind plus one or more personality disorders.

    • C Peterson

      Small government tends to bring out the gadflies… in my experience, homeowner associations are the very worst. But school boards are frequently bad.

      You’d be interested to cover our school board (I’m a member). Nobody has any axes to grind, because our system makes it pointless. We use a system called Carver Policy Governance. Amongst other things, that means we govern, we do not administrate. As a board, we establish ends policies (what we want the school to achieve; there are seven ends policies), and we establish executive limitation policies (methods the administrator, who is the only person we control, cannot use). That’s it. We do not create means, only ends. The administrator may use whatever means to achieve the ends, as long as they don’t violate the short list of executive limitations. This system makes it nearly impossible for a member to push a particular agenda, because agendas are almost always centered around means. Our board would never be allowed to vote on what clubs were allowed, because that would be the administrator’s job. All we do is make sure our administrator is achieving our ends policies.

      • eonL5

        I hadn’t heard of this system, and thank you for the description. I’ve sometimes considered running for school board, but haven’t for the reasons stated… too many nasty, in-fighting jerks with personal agendas. It’d be cool if all school boards practiced Carver.

    • http://confessionsfromthepeanutgallery.blogspot.com/ YankeeCynic

      Local government is so vicious because the stakes are so low, as the old popular saying goes.

  • http://www.holytape.etsy.com Holytape

    “‘I’m not against gay people or whatever, but I have to follow my religion,’ Travis said.”It’s like my religion is nothing more than bronze-age tribalism. I mean it really really stinks. Did you know that my religion tells me to stone rape victims? I don’t want to, but, hey, it’s my religion. And so I have to. I just wish there was something I could do about it.”

    • paulaween

      “Hey man, I was just following orders.”

    • Marmotjmarmot

      I’ll bet that coat was woven with two types of fiber, and it doesn’t look like he is a stranger to shrimp. But I guess we can ignore all that. Because it’s not relevant to modern society.

  • allein

    “I’m not against gay people or whatever, but I have to follow my religion,” Travis said.

    If you can’t keep your religion out of it, then you shouldn’t be on the board of a public school.

  • Rain

    “… but I have to follow my religion,” Travis said.

    Actually, no you don’t. Jesus broke from his religion, so it’s not like there is no ironic precedent for it.

  • katiehippie

    I think there’s a stupid perception that gays talk about sex all the time. Samantha thinks that is the purpose of the club? Total ignorance.

    • Adam Patrick

      This is what I’ve consistently noticed. I’ve been to several GSA meetings and I’ve rarely heard anyone talk about sex.

      • katiehippie

        Hey! They are just like everyone else! D’oh!

      • Intelligent Donkey

        Just invite some Conservative Christians. They’re obsessed with gay sex. They can’t shut up about it.

      • Randay

        Nietzke says sexuality should remain familiy concerns. For teenagers? When did any of them learn about sexuality from their parents? Maybe future groups should call themselves “Marriage and Family for All Alliance”.

  • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

    Most of the comments center on Travis’ remark quote above. It’s such a simple decision: (A) Do what people want, or (B) Do what God wants. I actually have sympathy for any person in the position he described.

    • Rob Bos

      “B” is a problem, because “what God wants” varies pretty dramatically, even within his religion. There are plenty of Christians, of all denominations, that accept and even embrace gay people. “what God wants” is often a matter of opinion, and of which Christian concepts you subscribe to. What the Mormons are loathe to accept, the Unitarians might accept, and vice versa.

      So it’s not as simple as that. Saying that someone is Christian these days says very little about their actual beliefs and what version of “God” they believe in. They all select from the buffet, these days. One person takes a little homophobia and some trinity, the other gets some big helpings of “personal relationship” and “salvation by works”. One likes the “don’t eat pork”, another takes “love thy neighbour as thyself”.

      • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

        I agree that many flavors of Christianity exist. This, however, is not relevant to the point. Though versions of Christianity vary greatly, Travis has only one in his head — the one that informs his decisions. If it includes a God which severely punishes disobedience, and a warning against homosexuality, then the decision quite simple.

        • Rob Bos

          Just gotta convince him that B doesn’t apply, I guess.

        • Buckley

          Then he ought not be making public decisions based on his private religious beliefs

      • sane37

        Listening to your imaginary friends is generally a bad idea. Acting on their advice is worse.

    • Taz

      (B) Do what God wants.
      He’s voting on restricting other people’s liberty, not his own. He should be much more concerned with the secular laws of his country. If he wants to observe religious strictures he’s welcome to, but it’s wrong for him to insist that other people observe the same religious strictures.

      • AxeGrrl

        He’s voting on restricting other people’s liberty, not his own

        Bingo.

        I’m continually baffled by the fact that that needs to be pointed out to people.

        Seriously, what do the people supporting Travis not get about this point?

    • Wingedbeast

      (C) Do what his job and the law require him to do, which is leave his religion out of his administration over students of various differing beliefs.

      • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

        I agree that his religious beliefs should disqualify him from service in such positions. But your choice C is a form of A.

        • Wingedbeast

          If his religion was in conflict with his job, he waw lying when he claimed no conflict in this vote. So, (B) wasn’t an option either way.

    • C Peterson

      He represents his constituents in a secular government. He does not represent his god. If he can’t govern (or in this case, administrate) without leaving his religious beliefs out of things, he has no business holding a public office.

      He should not necessarily do what the people want, and he should certainly not do what he thinks his god wants. He should do what he thinks will best serve, and best represent his constituency.

      • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

        I agree that his service to God should disqualify him from any secular position. He shouldn’t even be there with the opportunity to make such a decisions.

        • Taz

          Nobody (except you) has said his religious beliefs should disqualify him from any position. In fact this is explicitly forbidden by the Constitution. You’re trying to erect a strawman.

          • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

            First, I want it to be perfectly clear that I shared my opinion without attempting an erection.

            The type of disqualification I have in mind is very much like the recusal of a judge with a conflict of interest. Anyone intent to make religious decision while serving in a secular position seems to have an obvious conflict of interest. @daf2335999abd273bbfc3a4d6ce22c68:disqus expressed essentially the same perspective, so I’m not alone on this.

    • duke_of_omnium

      I don’t … “God” invariably wants whatever the worshiper wants “him” to want.

      • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

        If he has been encouraged to fear a nonexistent being, then he might properly be considered a victim. But this seems to be an unpopular idea around here.

        • Marmotjmarmot

          Christians are not victims in America. For too long not only have they been given a free ride at everyone’s expense, its been a free ride in a stretch limo with a police escort. The tide is slowly turning to a more rational view point and now ‘we’re being victimized! Atheists are tying to do ___ to ___ and It’s infringing on my rights.’ No, they are not. All we want is the constitution to be followed. As should they.

          • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

            I wasn’t referring to the whiny, pseudo-persecution we hear from religious people prevented from forcing their ways on others. I meant things like religious indoctrination and fear-mongering.

            • Anna

              I mostly agree. A lot of good people are trapped in bad religions, and many of them are sincerely frightened of going against what their god says. I don’t think it’s usually a matter of being bigoted for the fun of it. That said, my sympathy for such people begins to wane when they turn from victims into victimizers.

        • duke_of_omnium

          If his non-existent being really requires him to do things that he’d rather not do, then he needs to exercise better taste in deities. “God made me do it” is about as silly and as invalid an excuse as “The devil made me do it”. And if he’s that crippled by his brainwashing, he should leave polite society and go to Texas.

          • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

            I’m curious. Do you consider yourself to be an atheist and / or skeptic? Were you once religious and / or theistic?

            • duke_of_omnium

              Yes, yes, yes (I outgrew it – when I became a man, I put away childish things. Like religion). And when I was religious, I knew that stating that God demanded my bigotry, against my will, was the grossest sort of blasphemy.

              • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

                I think I understand, now, why our opinions differ. Thanks for sharing.

        • Spuddie

          Bullshit. People use religion as a cover for personal bigotry because they think doing so makes their views beyond criticism. The thinking being, if its religious belief, who are we to question it?

          • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

            Yeah, you’re probably right. No one actually holds religious beliefs. They’re all lying to employ the institution of religion to further their own personal bigoted agendas.

            • Spuddie

              I know you were being sarcastic, but it it is very true.

              For example, there is nothing more pathetic and dishonest than someone trying to violate various anti-discrimination laws by saying that their bigoted and discriminatory behavior is part of their religious belief. The (flawed) reasoning that religious belief protected under the 1st Amendment acts as some kind of talisman to ward off criticism for their repugnant behavior. It isn’t.

              Of course if people are to be believed, nobody is really a bigot, they all have their religious belief to blame for such things.

    • StevesWeb

      Wouldn’t God have to exist before She could want something?

      • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

        Is that a serious question?

    • Spuddie

      Its more like, (A) do what the voters want

      or (B) make up some excuse not to do it out of bigotry and blame religion in order to pretend my views are not subject to criticism.

    • Gus Snarp

      I think it’s actually:

      (A) Do what the law requires.
      or,
      (B) Do what your pastor tells you.

      The decision should be relatively easy for anyone with the faintest grasp of the Constitution.

  • emb

    Travis, have you ever heard of the lemon test?

    • Intelligent Donkey

      If you pass the test, you’re invited to a lemon party?

  • onamission5

    I have been looking in my bible for the verse which commands school board members to disallow LGBT students from forming clubs in US public schools, but I can’t find it.

    • allein

      I’m sure it’s in there somewhere.

      • Stev84

        Probably somewhere in Leviticus. Hidden between the hundreds of other petty rules.

  • nell2

    Slaves, obey your masters in all earthly things… Colossians 3:22

    I wonder how Mr. Travis feels about his religion being used as a justification by anti-abolitionists for the perpetuation of slavery in 19th century America.

    • StevesWeb

      The most common response I’ve noted when this is raised is to vehemently deny that any Christian religion ever supported slavery.

      • DT

        And I’m sure the few denominations on the right side of marriage equality will be used by the Christians of the future for cover later.

  • Ryan Hite

    Whoever said you had to follow your religion? It’s all a lie anyways.

  • Tom

    “I’m not against gay people or whatever, but I have to follow my religion,”
    Such a stance is, quite simply, the death of thought. It is bitterly ironic that a school board member should take it.

    • sane37

      You don’t have to think to be a school board member.

  • StevesWeb

    “They’re doing what’s best for the students instead of what local pastors want.” A perfectly accurate way to frame this issue. Well said.

  • dairyking887

    We’re living in challenging times in the United States. Like it or not, things like the Cold War and relative cultural homogenization (and support for cultural homogenization) of American society made discussions like this scarce until recently. It’s unlikely the Founding Fathers, albeit with their diverse takes on Protestantism, could have foreseen the diversity of belief and culture that we now have in this country. As a result, it’s unlikely that their (“America’s”) mythologies are capable of dealing with what is now happening. Many European Americans are struggling with this reality by returning to the safety of what they perceive as a traditionalist (“true” “pure”) evangelical Protestant belief system. It is what many European Americans have as their core, regardless of how offensive that may seem to modern rationalist or culturally diverse sensibilities. The thing that I find most ironic is that discussions like these are a byproduct of Enlightenment sensibility, which is itself a byproduct of European Protestant Christianity. This ensures that we can all live in an ironic cesspool until some greater organizing mythology comes along to take “America’s” place.

    • Tom

      It doesn’t help that the founders themselves have become somewhat mythical figures over the centuries, to the point that objective discussion and critical evaluation are virtually impossible in the presence of many founder worshippers. There are similarly many who virtually worship the constitution as if the physical document itself comprised magic incantations that had some kind of inherent power, instead of simply being a record and, more importantly, a reminder of the direction the people resolved that their new society would take.

      Flag worship is the most visible symptom of this mindset, but it’s far from the worst.

      • dairyking887

        I completely agree with your sentiments regarding the Founders, Constitution, and American flag. These things have become a safe haven, an “ancient” godlike presence, if you will, for many Americans to turn to, when tough existential questions arrive. And yet, what are Americans to do? Short of creating a new mythology, which the human brain seems to need, there seems to be nowhere to go. I blame this inability to find a new mythology for many of our current national arguments and problems. There are some interesting directions in evangelical Christianity, which try to separate the mythical content of Scripture from the scientific discoveries/observations of the material/natural world, which is one possible solution. (In other words, moving away from a literalist interpretation of the Bible.) I don’t know if I find the argument compelling enough, though.

  • Dave G.

    I absolutely hate it when people don’t conform to liberal values.

    • Spuddie

      Especially when they do so by making patently stupid (and bigoted) statements.

    • http://an-expatriate-in-cambridge.blogspot.com The Expatriate

      It’s not a matter of liberal or conservative. It’s a matter of right and wrong.

  • Mick

    “Or get voted out in the next election.”

    The local preachers will be hailing them as brave little soldiers in the army of the lord, so I’m guessing they will be returned with more votes than before.

  • Dave The Sandman

    “… but I have to follow my religion,” Travis said.

    To which the correct response would be to inquire whether Travis ever does any form of work on the sabbath, or ever eats shellfish.

    A response to either query in the positive should be followed by the questioner screaming Heretic and lobbing a large stone at Travis’ head.

    As he lies in a bleeding heap at your feet you then lean over and say… “Sorry Travis, I have to follow your religion too. Except I don’t cherry pick which bits like you do.”

    • Artor

      I’ll bet hard cash that the suit he’s wearing in that pic is not the same fiber as the shirt underneath, the blasphemer. Why, I do believe the penalty for that is stoning, according to his religion, which he has to follow.

    • Gus Snarp

      I would say the correct response would be that while he may feel compelled to follow his religion, as an elected official he is required to follow the law first and foremost, even if it conflicts with his religion.

  • val

    Vote those idiots out! If you live in the area, make a note of the next school board election on your calendar.

  • Jason Hinchliffe

    I had no idea being gay was the equivalent of being overweight. Its good to know my homosexual friends can find solidarity at the all you can eat rib houses.

  • Ogre Magi

    and people wonder why I hate christians so muc

  • Buckley

    I taught in this school district and had to do observation hours at the high school in order to get certification and I worked in this community. I can say from first hand experience that this community, and its near neighbor Orland Park is exceptionally conservative, economically and socially. This region of Chicagoland sends a Republican to the Illinois General Assembly. It doesn’t surprise me in the least. But there are liberals there too so I guess it’s only a matter of time before the clash.

  • fnostro

    The majority may have their “heads on straight” but have you ever noticed whenever there is a vote on these issues that it’s never an overwhelming victory? It’s always 4-3 in favor, never 6-1 or unanimous. So yes, while reason occasionally prevails I’m still waiting on the day when a vote is note even required.

    And just to chime in, if you site on the board of a public school, and you let your religion sway your decisions, then you need to be replaced.

    • Gus Snarp

      There may have to be a vote for any school club. But you’re right, the vote should be a unanimous matter of course, just like it probably was for the chess club.

  • http://an-expatriate-in-cambridge.blogspot.com The Expatriate

    Is board member Lou Ann Johnson the same Lou Ann Johnson that Dangerous Minds was based on?

  • Michelle Lloyd

    Samantha owns a pet grooming service, nuff said

    • Gus Snarp

      No, I don’t think that says anything at all, let alone enough.

  • Norman Dostal

    the black guy against equality is paticularly disturbing


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