Steven Parham created a gay-straight alliance at Hanahan High School in Charleston USA to combat bullying and harassment head on
Gay –Straight Alliances springing up in schools, colleges and universities all over America. Some are getting the full approval of the school board, whilst others are having to fight all the way. It would seem the fight to even get a place of safety off the ground for some of the most victimized students in American schools is going to be a long and hard one.
The Gay Straight Alliance at Hanahan High School could be a lot of things. It could be a club, a social organization, or a resource. But it couldn’t be what Steven Parham needed: a safe haven at least not technically.
Last summer, a string of high-profile suicides highlighted the need for support systems for students who feel bullied. But Parham’s effort last fall to form Hanahan’s GSA came from his personal experience.
He was bullied in the halls, and his car was vandalized. Parham asked his dad if he could transfer schools, but his father told him it was only one more year and he needed to stick it out. So Parham decided that if he wasn’t going to find a better school, he was going to make Hanahan High a better school.
"I wanted a place for people to go and feel safe," he says. "I wanted the whole student body to come together and be one."
In a meeting with the school administration, Parham came prepared with the bylaws for the group. He was told they couldn’t use the words "safe haven" because the school was supposed to be a safe haven. They couldn’t talk about sexuality, either. Steven grudgingly met the requirements, and the group first gathered in December and grew to include more than a dozen students at one time.
"Not only could I talk about the issues I faced, I learned about issues facing other people," Parham says. "I found that other people were being bullied too, but they never stood up and talked about it." Some gay students likely avoid the meetings because they’re not out to their family or their friends, there is a culture of fear in the school, if you are seen with the gays, you’ll likely be targeted as such, with hate coming your way, from students and staff alike. "People walk by and see you in the room and they classify you as gay," Parham says. "People have walked up to a couple of straight people in the group and said, ‘You’re part of the gay group so you’re gay.’" Parham said. Charleston City Paper
To not call a club a safe haven is one thing, even though the school itself proved to be far from a safe haven for it’s gay and lesbian pupils. But, to not mention sexuality in a group that is intended to break down barriers of people with different sexuality seems absurd, short sighted and incredibly narrow minded for so called educators.
However, at least they granted permission for such a club or group to exist, many are not that lucky, for example the West Bend School District has refused to recognize the club or approve a Gay Straight alliance there. It’s caused much anger and division but now the students are gearing up for a legal fight.
Attorney Waring Fincke represents the GSA chapter in West Bend. In a 3-3 vote, the GSA lost an administration backed proposal to recognize the group as a district sponsored club, reported local media Fox6.
West Bend School Board Member Dave Weigand is one of the three votes against recognizing the GSA. He said, "They do have a procedure they would have to follow, and in my mind their application did not meet the criteria.".
Weigand says the support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning teens did not establish an acceptable link or tie-in with the school district’s curriculum. He says, "Co-curricular activities exist for a reason. We do allow them, and they should be appropriate for the age group, and keeping with the general community standards.".
It would be nice to say that South Bed is unique in its non-acceptance of a GSA, hiding behind rules, real of imaginary or made up to prevent students from forming something that can only be classed as a good and uniting club or group. But they are not, there are many schools, school boards and governors up and down the USA and Canada that are trying to prevent such alliances. One thing is common place, they all say they are not homophobic, but they don’t want it in their school! They are all for equality, as long as that equality doesn’t apply to gay people, which to us sounds chillingly familiar to the words that MLK had to fight against.