A beleaguered Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) may continue to meet in a Franklin County, Tenn., high school — for now.
School board officials met this week to determine whether they will disband all clubs at Franklin County High School (FCHS) or allow them to operate subject to certain conditions.
The New Civil Rights Movement reports that the proposed rules would require all non-curricular clubs to keep membership rolls and attendance logs. Students would have to show a signed parental permission slip in order to join, and school administrators must approve all visitors to the club. Clubs would also be prohibited from “soliciting” students to join.
But one board member objected.
“Prior to January, there was never any discussion by this board, or to my knowledge, discussion among any administrative employees, about seeking approval from parents before children participate in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes or P7 (a Pentecostal Christian club),” said Adam Tucker, an attorney. “It’s a double standard.”
That argument didn’t persuade his peers: The board appears set to pass the new standards at a later April meeting. Though the standards are onerous, they are legal if applied across the board, and for members of FCHS’ GSA they’re a superior alternative to the board’s original proposal to shut down all non-curricular clubs at the school.
As previously reported on this blog, some locals vehemently opposed the GSA. Their efforts attracted the attention of at least two known hate groups with ties to the county. Individuals connected to the White Boy Society, a white supremacist biker gang, and MassResistance, a Massachusetts-based anti-LGBT group, actively protested the GSA at public school board hearings.
MassResistance’s leader, Brian Camenker, travelled to Franklin County for the protests; he is a graduate of nearby Sewanee, the University of the South.
“It's vile... all of this sexual weirdness targeted to this community, businesses... nobody’s seen this before, all this anger,” he told Fox17. “They’re coming to intimidate people.”
He added that the GSA is “the worst thing that could happen” to LGBT students and said, “They tend to attract kids that are troubled for other reasons. It doesn’t solve any problems, it makes them worse. These groups coming here (Franklin) is not about the kids here, it’s about hatred for Christian values.”
This isn’t MassResistance’s first battle with schoolchildren. In 2007, they protested an Acton, Mass., high school’s production of The Laramie Project; the play dramatizes the last days of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was murdered in 1998. (To add another wrinkle: The daughter of a MassResistance staffer starred in the play. The teenager subsequently came out as a lesbian and her parent promptly whisked her away to a Christian boarding school.)
The Southern Poverty Law Center considers MassResistance a hate group, and its extremism very nearly carried the day in Franklin County.
If the school board indeed adopts the rules it presented to the public this week, it will have balanced its obligations to the Equal Access Act and to students who wish to continue organizing clubs. However, schools must be careful. If they consistently approve speakers for Christian clubs and not for the GSA, they may violate the First Amendment.
GSAs have a clearly-established right to exist. It’s time for groups like MassResistance and their allies to admit this and move on.