One of the ways that young LGBTQ people and their allies are finding a place in society is through the creation of gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in American schools. I'd like to focus on a GSA in Pennsylvania's Susquehanna Valley region as an example of LGBTQ progress, as well as Religious Right homophobia.
Big Springs High School in Newville, PA has been at the center of a controversy over the creation of a new GSA. A group of pro-LGBTQ students organized the high school's first GSA, spreading the word through a Facebook page entitled Bulldog Pride: Be On the Right Side of History.
According to the Carlisle Sentinel, Big Spring superintendent Richard Fry admitted that GSA organizers met all of the school district's requirements for starting a club (i.e., establishing a budget, adopting by-laws). If the school board denied the GSA's application, it would legally require the district to ban all of the high school's clubs, Fry warned.
On Monday, July 23rd, the Big Spring School Board addressed the matter at a public meeting, where several attendees condemned the GSA. The Carlisle Sentinel quotes a woman named Linda Bowles as calling the proposed GSA "another broke in the demoralization of America."
“It was the plan and intent of our founding fathers for Godly people, and thereby Godly principles, to be intimately involved in the political, judicial and educational realms. The founders believed that only the Godly would understand the unalienable freedoms provided by God and thus protect them in our government. They never intended for Christian principles to be divorced from public affairs ... People now believe that they have the right to pursue whatever makes them happy without consideration of divine moral laws that for centuries have defined right from wrong.”Also at the meeting was Pastor Kevin Dunlap of Plainfield Church of God, who received permission from the board to say a prayer at the podium during the meeting's public comment period. According to the Carlisle Sentinel, Dunlap called homosexuality as a sin, warning that those who engage in homosexual behavior will be punished with death and separation of God.
The Big Spring School Board held another meeting on August 6th to decide the fate of the proposed GSA. The Newville Valley Times-Star reports that almost 300 GSA supporters attended a rally before the meeting, organized by Big Spring alumna Garrett Cline. Leaders of other regional GSAs attended the rally, as did Rev. Jean Kuebler of Big Spring United Lutheran Church, who led a prayer around the high school flagpole. Inside the school board meeting, Garret Cline lamented the crisis of homophobic bullying and LGBTQ teen suicides across the country, stressing the importance of the GSA. Other Big Spring alumni traveled from as far as Pittsburgh, PA and Brooklyn, NY to voice their support the GSA.
Fortunately, pro-LGBTQ voices won the day. On August 6th, the Big Springs School Board voted 4-3 in favor of fulfilling the GSA's application to be a school organization, drawing praise from GSA supporters and condemnation from detractors. Predictably, Religious Right voices in the community were unhappy with the decision. For example, a man named Paul Reese decried governmental "rebellion" against God at the 1:55 mark of this CBS 21 video.
"The role of government is to punish wrongdoers, those who violate God's law, and when government goes contrary to God's law, that said government is in rebellion against God."An unidentified woman criticized the supposed LGBTQ "lifestyle" at the 0:48 mark, saying "And [Jesus] said 'go and sin no more.' He didn't say go and keep doing a willful lifestyle."
The Big Spring High School GSA victory is one of many struggles for progress taking place across the country. Each day, proponents of equality face off against Religious Right supporters on issues such as LGBTQ equality, reproductive rights, education, and church-state separation. Struggles like these remind us of the pervasive presence of the Religious Right in our society, as well as growing support for a different, better vision of our world. In cities and small towns everywhere, the struggle continues.
Kudos to the Big Spring GSA supporters for all their work toward LGBTQ equality!