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What Adults Can Learn

In '93, a Gay-Straight Club Formed at Fountain Valley With No Ill Effects. Why Not Use It as a Model?

March 01, 2000|CHRISTINE BARON

Again a high school is in the news because members of the school board and the community are trying to prevent students from forming a gay-straight club on campus.

When I read about the controversy this dispute is causing, it's hard not to identify. In 1993 my school, Fountain Valley High, established the first such group in Orange County. Despite the groundwork that we so carefully laid, no one seems to have learned anything from our experience, and the whole painful process is repeating itself.

If the current participants would take a look at other schools, like ours, that have had a positive experience with a gay-straight club, they could avoid a lot of anxiety.

When the group at our school, the Alliance, first tried to form, the response was almost identical to that going on at El Modena High. Although most of our students, teachers and parents did not have a problem with the group, a vocal minority caused quite a ruckus. After numerous hearings, our school board courageously voted to allow the Alliance to co-exist with our other equal-access groups. Once this happened, things immediately settled down, reporters lost interest, and TV crews packed up their cameras. Apparently, common sense and cooperation don't make for good sound bites.

Now that the Alliance is an accepted part of our campus life, it's far too easy to forget the tactics and rhetoric of those who originally opposed it. There were dire predictions about what would happen to our school and our students if this group were allowed to meet. These warnings were carefully spelled out in graphic terms by irate speakers at school board meetings, in fliers circulated on campus and through angry anonymous phone calls to our principal.

The range of ills that could befall our campus, we were warned, was manifold. Most of the warnings centered around five issues.

First, it was claimed that students would leave the school in droves because the existence of a group like this would be so disruptive.

Next, we would become known as a "gay" high school, and no one would take us seriously, in sports or academics.

Others went on to predict that this would be the first step in a "gay takeover" of the school.

Another popular fear, as farfetched as it may seem, was that heterosexual students would become homosexual if they attended any meetings of this group.

Finally, there were those who insisted a gay-straight club would do nothing in terms of helping the students who joined.

Let's look at how each of these predictions played out.

First, not only did no one leave our school, but we also continue to gain students every year and are now at a higher enrollment than when the Alliance began.

Next, we did not become known as a "gay" school, but we did gain a reputation as a tolerant school.

In sports, our school continues to win an impressive share of Southern Section and league championships. Academically, in terms of test scores and college placement, we remain the top school in our district, and one of the strongest schools in the state, with a nationally ranked advanced-placement program.

The "gay takeover" of campus organizations did not materialize either.

When the Alliance was first formed, a large number of gay and straight students attended the meetings to show support for the beleaguered group, numbering as high as 50 for a while. Once established, however, the size of the group diminished to about 15 students, a number that has stayed constant for the past seven years. The Alliance is one of about 30 clubs at our school, which include everything from National Honor Society to the Off-Road Club and the Bible study group.

Again, it seems ludicrous to even respond to the threat that straight students would "turn gay," but let's do it anyway. There have always been some heterosexual students in the Alliance to support their homosexual friends and to promote tolerance in general. In seven years not one of these heterosexual students has decided to become homosexual. They seem well aware that sexual orientation is not a matter of choice and something that's certainly not going to change by attending a series of high school lunch meetings. The students in the group who are homosexual have been living with that reality for some time, and that's why they joined such a group in the first place. It didn't happen the other way around.

This leads to my last point, that the Alliance did in fact end up supporting those who needed it. Former members with whom I've stayed in touch have gone off to various colleges and are leading productive lives. They are not depressed or suicidal--no small thing, as any young person who has struggled with this issue will tell you. Not only did the support group make them feel less alienated in high school, it made them more confident afterward. This is not to say their lives are always carefree. The point is they are coping better now because they had some support early on.

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