Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Utah Tries Again to Stop GSAs

My first novel, Geography Club, is the story of a group of kids who feel like they can't start a gay-straight alliance at their school due to anti-gay prejudice. So they start a fake club with the most boring name they can think of--the "Geography Club"--in hopes that they'll be left alone.

Expect a number of "Geography Clubs" to appear in the state of Utah in the years ahead.If you recall, Utah tried to ban gay-straight alliances a few years ago. They ran into problems, however, due to the Federal Equal Access Act of 1984 which mandates that no school club can be singled out for discrimination (the law was originally passed to protect clubs of a religious nature).

So what was Utah's solution to this new wrinkle? Ban all extracurricular clubs. I kid you not. Legislators in that state decided it was better to have no clubs than to allow GLBTQ students to meet on school campuses.

As you might imagine, that didn't work out so well. So now Utah legislators are trying again:
Under the new Utah law, every club will have to complete an activity disclosure statement that itemizes what it will do, and discusses how many members it will have, and whether tryouts are required. It mandates that any student joining any club needs a parent’s signature — though most public schools in Utah require that already — and specifically bans any discussion by any club of “human sexuality.”

The law defines that term to mean “advocating or engaging in sexual activity outside of legal recognized marriage or forbidden by state law,” and “presenting or discussing information relating to the use of contraceptive devices.”
This annoys me for about sixteen different reasons, but the biggest one is this continual insistence on the part of the anti-gay folks to equate "gay" with "sex." I've sat in on dozens of GSA meetings, and I personally led one for two years, and I've literally never seen sex discussed.
And yet, "sex" is often in the eye of the beholder. I am absolutely positive that any discussion of gayness will be seen, in the minds of these folks, as a discussion of "sexual activity." (Some of these folks have very dirty minds.)
Worse, this just gives bigoted and/or fearful administrators an excuse to harass these clubs which, incidentally, have a legal right to meet, talk, and use school resources.

“This is all about gay-straight alliance clubs, and anybody who tells you different is lying,” said State Senator Scott D. McCoy, Democrat from Salt Lake City, who voted against the law.

State Senator D. Chris Buttars, a Republican from the Salt Lake City suburbs and the law’s co-sponsor, said in an interview that he saw the need for the measure after parents from a high school in Provo, Utah, protested the formation of a gay-straight club in 2005.

I'm often told by well-meaning people that there is now very little anti-gay prejudice. As evidence, they usually cite a movie or a show on television, or the fact that some gays in some states have some small approximation of the rights of heterosexuals. Things have definitely gotten better, but I know from my travel and my email, that anti-gay prejudice is still widely felt, especially by teenagers (though, interestingly, these days it seems as if more of the prejudice comes from adults than from their increasingly tolerant peers).
Still, there is an upside to all this. As anyone who works with teenagers knows, they immediately know when something is rotten in the state of Denmark. They know when someone is trying to restrict their rights, and they take understandable offense:

Gay community leaders and legal experts say the name of the law should be “Unintended Consequences.” Some gay community advocates said the effort to crack down on gay-straight clubs may have backfired and in fact strengthened Utah’s gay community.

Teenage leaders at some gay-straight clubs got politically involved and testified at the Capitol. One of the State Legislature’s three openly gay members successfully pushed through amendments that could limit the law’s effect and even perhaps increase visibility of gay-straight clubs in the 14 Utah public high schools that now have them, by requiring that all clubs get equal treatment on bulletin boards and in school newspapers.

In other words, students in Utah high schools are getting a great education in social justice, political activism, and the importance of intellectual freedom. And you can bet that that's not what these anti-gay Utah legislators wanted at all.


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