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Huntsman swipes at student clubs

Efforts by state lawmakers to crack down on extracurricular clubs at schools could threaten an organization that is a refuge for gay and lesbian students in Park City, say advocates for the gay community.

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. irked homosexuals by signing legislation that requires students obtain parental permission to join school clubs.

For years a far-right group of legislators in cooperation with Utah Eagle Forum chief Gayle Ruzicka have pushed their Capitol Hill peers to ban school clubs that cater to homosexuals.

Now Huntsman has signed into law a bill that could result in the groups being investigated for activities that occur at meetings they conduct on school grounds.

"Personally, I wish Gov. Huntsman would have not signed the bill," said 19-year-old Derek Painter, former president of the Gay-Straight Alliance at Park City High School.

However, Painter, who was Park City’s 2006 valedictorian, credits the governor for softening language in the legislation before signing a substitute version of House Bill 236.

"It’s hard to justify feeling bad about someone giving parents a little bit more control over the clubs their kids go to," Painter said.

But the measure will limit membership, he lamented.

"While I believe that it’s nice to give parents some control, it’s definitely going to have a very big impact on our kind of club," Painter explained. "I’m concerned that the people who possibly need it most, maybe because of a hostile home atmosphere, will in this light not be able to come to the clubs."

Meanwhile, the people who show signs of bigotry are sometimes most confused about their sexuality, observed John Krenkel, a teacher at Park City High who helped found the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance.

"High school kids and their attitudes toward homosexually is confusion. Confusion reigns," Krenkel said. "Any program in school which teaches tolerance and acceptance of diversity is a good club. Kids need that."

But a school-club setting isn’t the appropriate place to discuss sexual orientation, Ruzicka says.

"Why would you have a club that deals with sex? That’s just crazy," she said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "I don’t think that children in high school should get together and talk about sex or sexual preferences."

Ruzicka said she worked closely with state Rep. Aaron Tilton, R-Springville, and Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, to help ensure passage of HB236.

"We are all about parental involvement, we are a pro-family organization," she said about the Utah Eagle Forum. "The constituents we heard from were the ones who want to know what’s going on in all clubs in the schools."

Still, the clubs provide a haven for students struggling to identify their sexual orientation, Painter countered.

"We wouldn’t need gay and lesbian clubs if the community standards were not so hostile toward gay and lesbian people, and organizations," he said. "When they get to high school and they really start to experience what it is like to be a gay kid in high school it is really nice for them to have a group."

The new law could mean school board members have authority to more strictly regulate clubs with which they disagree, Painter said.

"I have trouble with the concept of community standards of decency," he said, adding, "we do what we can to actually advocate against the community standard because we think that the community standard is wrong."

Homosexuals lack positive role models in society while growing up, he contends.

"They can feel a little bit more validated as human beings than they can with people who don’t necessarily understand, sympathize or empathize," Painter said. "That’s where I think the power of the GSA is."

Kevin Van Tassell, a state senator who represents Park City, supported HB236. Rep. Mel Brown, a Republican who represents Park City in the State House voted for the bill while Democratic Rep. Christine Johnson, who represents areas of the Snyderville Basin, opposed the legislation.


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