Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pennsylvania School Board Members Vote Against Allowing Gay-Straight Alliance

Photo via Chambersburg Public Schools
By Brody Levesque | CHAMBERSBURG, PA -- After being told that LGBTQ youth were three times more likely to take their own lives as opposed to their straight peers, five of the nine Chambersburg Pennsylvania School Board Members still voted against allowing a Gay-Straight Alliance to be established at the local high school Wednesday night. The board members were also informed that the same demographic(s) of students felt more disenfranchised and bullied than any other peer groups.
A motion to form the Gay-Straight Alliance at Chambersburg Area Senior High School had been previously tabled in January. A spokesperson for the school board said that at the time the board had concerns regarding the wording of the proposed GSA's constitution.
According to the GSA's proposed student President Amber Fogelsonger, the group's constitution's wording was taken from the National GSA which specifies that the club would select its advisers. Disagreement over that aspect of the wording came as school board members argued that it is set policy that school administration recommend the advisers and the board votes on it. 
In Wednesday's board meeting, advocates for the GSA asked the board to allow the club to form during the public comments session.
"Students need a place to talk safely," Matthew Basillo, one of the advisers planning to mentor the new club, told board members. Basillo added  “Is this need being addressed? It’s not. They need a place to feel safe, dispel myths, grow and prosper."
Basillo also warned the school board that teens who are gay, bisexual or transgender "often do not have anyone outside of school who understands them and supports them."
Stephanie Metz, an educator in nearby Shippensburg, Pennsylvannia who is a Chambersburg resident, warned the board of the consequences that could come from banning a GSA. She said, according to the Chambersburg Public Opinion, that she doesn’t want her tax dollars to be used on a court case because the Constitution allows equal opportunity when it comes to student club formation.
"Do not promote ignorance by voting 'no.' Narrow-minded viewpoints seem to be pervasive on this board," she said.
The 1984 Federal Equal Access Act requires secondary schools to allow a variety of student-run religious and non-religious voluntary clubs that meet during “non-instructional” time. This law was later upheld by the U. S. Supreme Court. 
Kevin Faust, a Chambersburg graduate who served in the military for several years and now is a student at Penn State Mont Alto, also gave his opinion on the topic. He is a member of the Allies Club, which is the college version of GSA.
"The LGBT community is widely disenfranchised," he said. At Allies, the members do not identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, he said, but the goal is to be "empathetic and inform,” adding, "Stop the indifference. Give them their club.” 
At least one board member, Kim Amsley-Camp, who voted to allow the club, seems to be well aware of what’s at stake here. Public Opinion also reported that Amsley-Camp said prior to the vote that she contacted the Pennsylvania Association of School Boards about the GSA club and was informed that the district has to allow the club under the Equal Access Act.
The alternative, Amsley-Camp was told, is that the school has the option to allow no clubs at all. It seems that the board wouldn’t care much for that plan, since Chambersburg Area Senior High School has not one, but two Christian clubs open to students.
Fogelsonger said after the vote;
"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."