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Gay-Straight Alliance Clubs under fire

by Dale Thompson

Gay-Straight Alliance clubs are under fire again. Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan is planning a bill for the upcoming legislative session that bans Gay-Straight Alliance Clubs from public schools. In October, Provo High School formed a Gay-Straight Alliance club, adding to the growing numbers of similar high school groups throughout the state. Just before Christmas Buttars announced his intention to create a bill that would eliminate these clubs. Buttars has gone on the record, along with Eagle Forum leader Gayle Ruzicka, declaring that these types of clubs do not belong in public schools because they discuss an alternative sexual lifestyle. The issue first made headlines in 1995 when East High School began a Gay-Straight Alliance club. The Salt Lake City School Board responded by banning all extra-curricular clubs. After a drawn out legal battle the board reversed its decision in 2000. These clubs meet under the protection of the Federal Equal Access Act which states: “It shall be unlawful for any public secondary school which receives Federal financial assistance and which has a limited open forum to deny equal access or a fair opportunity to, or discriminate against, any students who wish to conduct a meeting within that limited open forum on the basis of the religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the speech at such meetings.” Opponents of Buttar’s bill feel that these clubs are beneficial to students and should not be eliminated. Park City High School has a Gay-Straight Alliance Club with nearly 30 members who meet two or three times a month. PCHS Principal Hal Smith said he does not usually comment on legislative issues but decided to give his opinion on the subject. “I feel very strongly about this. It’s the wrong way to go. These students are great young people. It is not a place in which they talk about sex. They’re there because they have some commonalities with the other people there,” he said. Smith expressed a great deal of pride in the students who belong to the Gay-Straight Alliance Club at the high school. “Our kids do a great job. They’re well spoken, they do a lot of community service projects, and they’re being positive role models for a society that should be open to differences.” President of the PCHS Gay-Straight Alliance Club, Derek Painter, is upset by Buttar’s bill. “I am angry that he is willing to propose this legislation and I am angry that people would be willing to support him,” the senior said. If the bill basses, Painter feels a great deal would be lost at PCHS. “The high school would definitely loose an activist voice. A lot of the clubs are geared towards personal activity and recreation.” Painter rebukes the notion of the Gay-Straight Alliance Club being a forum for discussion about sex. “I think we’ve never really talked about sex in the club. A lot of the things they say about us are unfounded,” he said referring to Buttars and Ruzicka. He noted the club is a place of acceptance for those who are part of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community. Painter added that it also gives straight members an opportunity to meet students who are politically like-minded. “A lot of people wouldn’t have a place to go if it weren’t for our club,” he said. The issue carries a certain weight for Painter who offered, “As one of our students said, this is the Civil Rights Movement of our age.” Derek Painter spent Monday at the legislature where talked with Gayle Ruzicka and Chris Buttars. The story will appear in Saturday’s paper.


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