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Tuesday, 4 April, 2000, 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK
Gay tolerance club row grows

A gay student's attempts to form a high school gay tolerance club in the United States is causing growing controversy.

Anthony Colin wants to set up a Gay-Straight Alliance Club at El Modena High School in Orange County, California, as a forum for all students to discuss issues related to sexual orientation.

When the Orange Unified School District Board quashed his proposal in December, he sued.

He accused the school of violating the Equal Access Act, which requires schools to treat non-curricular student groups the same, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation.

Earlier this year, a federal judge granted him a temporary injunction, allowing the club to meet on the school campus, while the 16-year-old student's lawsuit against the board goes through the courts.

But as both Colin and the school wait for this to happen, the row surrounding the issue has intensified across the country.

Battle lines

Colin said: "This whole thing has stopped being about my club. It's become this debate about sex."

Since 1989, students have formed more than 700 Gay-Straight Alliance Clubs at US high schools.


students
Some parents do not want students to be able to attend gay tolerance clubs
They are supported by the Gay, Lesbian and Student Education Network (GLSEN), but many parents are angry that the clubs exist.

Battle lines between parents and club organisers have been drawn in California, Louisiana, Indiana, Florida and Utah.

One Salt Lake City school district eliminated all student clubs rather than allow a gay club - a ruling against which an appeal is being made.

Michael Kozuch, faculty advisor for the Gay-Straight Alliance Club at Newton South High School in Newton, Massachusets, said club members spent much of their time hosting dances, going to conferences and showing films - "just like other student clubs".

Transsexuals

"They don't talk about sex. They talk about trying to educate people about homophobia and discrimination."

But the Family Research Council, based in Washington DC, said the clubs were "much more radical than people think".

Pete LaBarbera, an analyst for the council, said: "Some of the clubs have had school-wide seminars where they bring transsexuals in to talk about their lifestyle. The reality is there is much more going on than meets the eye."

Sarah Austin, the 16-year-old president of a Gay-Straight Alliance Club at a school in Decatur, Georgia, said: "If this was elementary school, this would be an issue.

"But high school students, and I mean all high school students, have been having sex since the beginning of time.

"And if they're not having it, they are thinking about it. If you don't know that, you really don't know what's going on at schools."

'It needs to be decided'

Back in Orange County, there have been heated school board meetings, including one last month after which a female El Modena student was arrested for allegedly biting the principal of another high school.

Jack McNiff, the parent of an El Modena pupil, said: "It's my job to talk with my children about their sexuality. It belongs at home, not at school."

But 15-year-old student Emily Burningham said: "I think it needs to be decided and over with, so people can get on with their lives.

"I don't like being known as the girl who goes to school with a gay club."

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See also:

08 Dec 99 | Education
Battle over gay tolerance club
24 Nov 99 | Education
Gay tolerance booklet for schools
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