Sunday, March 8, 2009

GSA clubs in UT High Schools

At the beginning of the year when I realized what a challenge my four algebra 1 classes would be due to behavior problems, I wondered what I had gotten myself into.

Now I am grateful. One of my classes is still from hell, but in two of my other classes, I have the greatest group of gay kids and their straight friends that I could ever hope for. About a month ago, I mentioned to a few of them that they could start a gay-straight alliance at the school and I would be willing to be the superviser. Immediately I had them all on board, along with other students in the class that overheard and volunteered to help. The next step was to figure out exactly what the students need to do to get it going.

At my school I have become the best of friends over the last few months with one of the school guidance counselors (who help students register for appropriate classes and make sure they are on track to graduate from high school, attend college, etc.) We first saw each other at the candlelight vigil at the SLC library the Sunday before election day. Amongst the 600 plus people in attendance, we happened to sit near each other and recognize each other, even in hats, gloves, scarves, etc. We have since decided it was not by chance. The next day at school, I went to her office to talk to her. I told her my story, and she told me about her gay brother and her efforts at being a gay advocate over the years. We met for dinner and helped each other through the tough days that came following the election and the passing of prop 8. She and I decided together to interview for Reed's documentary. Anyway, the point of bringing her into this is that she was going to start an GSA at the school last year, so she gathered some necessary information, but never followed through  with asking some students if they were interested in getting it started. She passed along a couple of binders to me with information she had gathered.

Last week, this group of students and I split up the materials, perused the student handbook, and started getting an idea of what we need to do to get this going for next year. I also decided to go talk to the administrator over clubs and ask her where to start with all of this.

The first thing she told me is that we need to come up with a name for the club, because we cannot call it GSA. I asked why, and she said it was against district policy, which, she added, made total sense to her. I mentioned that it didn't make sense to me, but that I would follow any policies I had to to get it started.

I sent a message to Scott, telling him about the district's homophobia. He decided to do some research of his own. Surprisingly enough (NOT!) some of the state policies on such clubs were introduced to Utah Law by our very own favorite Senator Buttars. The way Scott put it from some of the reading he did (and now he can't find the exact article for me), it seems that Senator Buttars is of the opinion that the only reason for GSA clubs to exist is for high school students to "recruit" students into homosexuality so that they have more students to have gay sex with. Bah.

Anyway, this whole story brings me to the purpose for my post: I would like some help coming up with a name for our club that does not mention any words that make people think of sex (like gay, straight, homosexual, etc.) yet lets students know (especially closeted mohos) what the club is about and that it is for them to have a safe place, friends and support that they desperately need.

Some of the official district policy is listed below

b. Names for Non-Curriculum Clubs

The administrator shall deny authorization of a club’s name, or require changes prior to granting authorization, if the administrator finds that the proposed name:

i. Does not reasonably reflect the nature, purposes, and activities of the club,
ii. Could result in undue disruption of school operations,
iii. Could subject students to harassment or persecution,
iv. Implies violation of (1)(A)* of this section, or
v. Implies inappropriate association with outside organizations or groups.

1A referred to in item iv. I think is the following (I have bolded the item that probably applies here):

a. Purpose and Activities of Non-Curriculum Clubs

i. The administrator shall deny authorization to any club or require changes prior to granting authorization if the administrator finds that its purpose or activities could:

A. Violate the law or administrative rules or advocate such imminent violation. This restriction does not apply to appropriate discussions concerning the changing of laws or rules, or to actions taken through appropriate channels or procedures to effectuate such changes.
B. Harass or denigrate any person or advocate such imminent action.
C. Intend to cause a person to fear to freely exercise or enjoy any right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States or the state of Utah, or advocate such imminent action.
D. Advocate or approve sexual activity outside of marriage, or involve presentations in violation of laws or regulations governing sex education or privacy rights of individuals or families (See High School resource Guide for Parents and Teachers on Teaching Human sexuality).
E. Include any effort to engage in or conduct mental health therapy, counseling, or psychological services for which a license would be required under Title 58, Chapters 60 or 61 of the Utah Code.
It seems from reading this that there is nothing that specifically says we can't use GSA, but if the administrator said we can't, then she must think that it somehow violates the policies outlined above, and thus she would not approve it. Anyway, with this complicated information, does anyone have any good ideas? Brainstorm with me please!


El Genio said...

The word diversity seems to be fairly neutral - might be able to work it in with something else to make sense.

Evan said...

Angelo State, which is where I go to school, has a club called HERO (Helping to Educate Regarding Orientation).

I don't know if I like the full name, but the acronym is cool. I'm guessing maybe our campus, which is pretty conservative, had issues with a GSA titled club. I still haven't been to a single meeting, due to work. Here is their myspace (a myspace or facebook page for the group might also be a good idea):

Marlo said...

The university I attended called their GSA organization the Ally Club. They even held trainings each semester to become an "Ally" - straight person who could be counted on as a safe source of support if needed by persons of other orientations. A number of professors had the "official" sticker on their doors - a rainbow triangle with the word Ally printed on it.

Anonymous said...

Have you contacted the GLSEN chapter in your State? GLSEN helps GSAs get started and maybe they have helped schools in your area.


Sarah (Serendipity) said...

Thanks everyone for sharing names and ideas.

Phillip, I am in the process of contacting many different sources for ideas and information. I have a bunch of stuff from the Utah Pride Center, and Scott is going to contact them personally as well.

A neighboring high school uses the name RAIN: Rising against intolerance now.

It seems that the key to this (in order to get it approved) is to focus on equality or tolerance rather than anything that even closely resembles LGBT.

Also, the students are supposed to do everything (name, write charter, submit to the school, elect officers, plan activities.) My job as "supervisor" would only be to provide adult supervision and make sure they are following the rules.

I have given a copy of the district policies to a responsible and interested student and told him it is in his court. After reading a bit of the info, he is concerned about a couple of the policies (like each student member of the club requiring parental permission) and wondering if it is even worth the effort. I empathized with him, but told him that I thought it was worth it, and somehow we would make it work.

Now I understand why my counselor friend didn't actually get it going last year.

Anonymous said...

I went to talk at a GSA run by a soft-spoken waif of a girl.

She started off by having the members introduce themselves. She introduced herself first. "Hi, I'm Jenny and I'm a lesbian" then each member when it his or her turn introduced themselves as a friend of Jenny's.

The name of the group was GLASS (never asked what the acronymn stands for) but I always called the group "Friends of Jenny" after this one very brave young girl.


Sarah (Serendipity) said...

D. told me that his GSA in high school was also called GLASS. "Gay Lesbian and Straight Supporters."

We definitely can't use anything like that here in Utah.

Anonymous said...

I'm so excited about how this is all coming along, I can't wait until next year, it's really going to be worth it!

-Chris from your 1st period:D

Sarah (Serendipity) said...

Thanks, Chris. :) I was thinking of you when I put the rainbow peace sign on this post.

I'm glad you think it will be worth it, because it is definitely going to require some work on your part.