By NANCY WHYTE
Parents had a great deal to say -- both negative and positive -- to the Avonworth School Board Monday night concerning the proposed Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) Club.
Students first described and requested the GSA Club at the March school board meeting, and approval for the club, commencing April 19, appeared on the work session agenda for probable passage at the regular school board meeting, spring-break-delayed, on Tuesday, April 18.
Opposition to the club was expressed at Monday’s meeting by several individuals. One mother stated she was “saddened” when attending the school production of “Beauty and the Beast,” to see a full page ad about the club in the play’s brochure. She explained that research clearly indicates that the brains of teenagers are not fully developed, and she did not want to see students influenced to make choices that they might regret later. She said sexuality was a private matter, and how it is discussed or expressed should be something decided at home and not by a school.
Another parent said that she had “great concerns” about the proposed club and wondered what topics would be discussed, and who would be conducting the “education” at the meetings. She said that the student handbooks had restrictions concerning “appropriate dress” and “public displays of affection” and questioned how those rules could coincide with proposed club. She asked “How far will the school district go -- open bathrooms, with the opposite sex in bathrooms?”
As a mom and taxpayer, she said, she could not support her tax dollars funding such a club.
Another parent suggested that the district should make an increased effort to eliminate bullying. “Kids are targeted. Kids can be mean. It’s horrible to have anyone feel left out.” She said that there is a bullying problem and the “school has not done a good job.”
One parent said that she was there to support kids and to help them think things through, but she was opposed to the GSA club. “Let’s reach out more than we speak out,” she suggested.
Other sentiments expressed included that the club could bring “dire consequences” and “moral decay” if such “choices are acted upon” and “lead to things that are not healthy” and that “school is not the right place for topics sexual in nature.”
Other moms spoke out in favor of the GSA club. One mom said that LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, questioning) individuals are at increased risk for being bullied. She cited statistics that suicide is the second-highest cause of death for teens and that LGBTQ individuals are four times more likely to commit suicide than individuals not in that cohort. She said that the GSA club would provide a safe space where students could share experiences. “No one has to join the group; kids who don’t identify that way don’t have to go to the meetings.” She added that no one is asking anyone to condone anything, but “respect” was the key word.
Several students spoke out in favor of the GSA club. “I think it is a good idea,” one senior girl stated, “Kids who don’t know where they fit on the spectrum can feel awkward and isolated.” The club “would not teach someone to be gay,” she added.
Another student said that she had several friends who are LGBTQ and that the club would provide a safe place for them. “They are not confused.”
Board president David Oberdick thanked everyone for speaking. “We appreciate you taking the time to come and let us know your thoughts and comments,” he said.
Then the board returned to the agenda to discuss other proposed items. But later in the lengthy 2-1/2 hour meeting, the conversation returned to the controversial club.
Board members had positive comments.
“I think it (the GSA club) is a good thing for the school and for the kids,” Jeff Carraway said. “Everyone needs to feel accepted.”
Many students are “desperate ,” and “seeking to find themselves,” Patrick Stewart commented. “Social media has ratcheted it up. The club can create an environment where kids will feel safe and wanted.” He summarized, “It’s not my choice to judge.”
Beau Blaser said it “looks as if it will be a supportive club.”
Vicky Carlson said she agreed with the education aspects of the club as long it stayed in the club and did not expand into classroom curriculum sexuality.
Ralston also spoke in favor of the club. Then he explained that “students do not check their rights at the door.” The district could choose to have no clubs or the district could choose to allow all clubs for which there was a strong student interest and a sponsor for the club. But the district could not pick and choose which clubs to allow, he said.
A parent who stated, “There sounds as if there is a lot of support for this group that I’m against,” asked a specific question about whether someone might be able to use a bathroom labeled for a different gender.
“Yes,” answered Ralston and asked the board president to explain the recent U.S. District Court ruling.
Oberdick briefly summarized Judge Mark Hornak’s decision (rendered Feb. 27 in the Pine-Richland case) that the three transgender students could use the bathroom of their choice and that the Pine-Richland policy that required students to use the bathrooms matching their biological gender or to use unisex bathrooms was “discriminatory.”
While the case undoubtedly will continue to be heard in courts, for now, legal precedent has been established. Thus, according to Ralston, an Avonworth student may use a bathroom matching the gender with which one identifys.
“I agree to disagree,” the parent stated. “We act really innocent about this club, but we risk everyone who is still ‘normal.’”