VICTORVILLE — Mock gay marriages of 18 students at Silverado High School on Friday drew dozens of angry community and parent protesters to a campus already plagued by controversy.
The lunchtime "wedding" ceremonies of six female couples and three male couples in the school's outdoor central gathering area were part of a demonstration by members of the school's Gay-Straight Alliance in support of same-sex marriage and to mark National Freedom to Marry Day today. The day was declared by a gay and non-gay partnership advocating same-sex marriage.
The simulated weddings roiled a school community that had weathered racially motivated fighting between black and Latino students during an assembly Feb. 4.
Chilly weather and persistent rain did not deter about 40 parents, community members, children and several students from protesting the mock ceremonies for several hours in an umbrella-covered huddle outside the school as the student demonstration proceeded inside. "It's not that I have a problem that they are doing it on campus -- they don't have to do it so publicly," said Therese Shore, whose son Andrew Stading, 17, is a Silverado senior.
She said her son was reprimanded by school officials Friday for wearing a custom-made protest T-shirt bearing slogans such as "Gay is not the way" as well as an obscene slur about homosexuals.
"I don't want them shoving homosexuality down my child's throat," Shore said.
Andre O'Harra, a father of three Silverado students, held up a sign reading "I Don't." He objected to a taxpayer-supported school allowing such "ceremonies" to take place.
"I think the school and the district made a terrible, terrible judgment," said O'Harra, whose wife organized the protest.
Silverado Principal Susan Levine's office declined to comment about the demonstration. The superintendent of the Victor Valley Union High School, Greg Lundeen, referred to the district's statement, which called the demonstration "a lawful exercise of the right of free speech guaranteed to public school students under state and federal law."
State Sen. George C. Runner Jr. (R-Lancaster) and his wife, Assemblywoman Sharon Runner (R-Lancaster), wrote to the school district, saying they were outraged by the decision to permit the demonstration.
The 30 or so members of the Gay-Straight Alliance said they had expected the worst and were surprised how smoothly it went.
"I almost cried, I was so proud of them," said alliance co-sponsor Eileen Walker, an English teacher.
"I'm just so glad nobody got hurt," she said.
Walker joined a dozen or so alliance members in sharing a homemade wedding cake after school.
Many of the demonstrating students' faces were painted with gay-pride rainbows, and some sported handcrafted rainbow lanyards.
"I'm happy with the way I am," said sophomore James West, 17, as club members laughed and hugged around him. "What else matters?"
On a sidewalk in front of the school, out of the sight and earshot of the student demonstrators, the protesters were peaceful and quiet, although they received a few honks of support from passing cars.
Some of the protesters objected to school rules barring religious demonstrations on campus.
"I'm Christian. I'm not allowed to bring my Bible, preaching to people," said Christina Wilson, 15, a Silverado sophomore and Pentecostal Christian who missed class Friday to protest with her mother, Robin.
Wilson and others carried signs with such slogans as "God objects." Wilson was also concerned about the welfare of one of her friends, Jerry Martin, 16, who participated in the mock marriages.
Martin said he was "scared out of my mind" before he took the stage. He said he and other alliance members had been threatened with paintballs and violence if they went through with the planned ceremonies. Teachers reported no incidents, although alliance members said an egg was thrown at them.
Martin's said his mother took part in the protest outside the school.
"It kind of hurt," he said.