CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Despite hearing testimony that LGBT youth were three times more likely to take their own lives as opposed to their straight peers, Chambersburg, Pa., school board members on Wednesday voted against allowing a gay-straight alliance to be established at a local high school.
A motion to form the Gay-Straight Alliance at Chambersburg Area Senior High School had been previously tabled in January. A spokesperson for the school board said that at the time the board had concerns regarding the wording of the proposed GSA’s constitution.
According to the GSA’s proposed student President Amber Fogelsonger, the group’s constitution’s wording was taken from the National GSA which specifies that the club would select its advisers.
Disagreement over that aspect of the wording came as school board members argued that it is set policy that school administration recommend the advisers and the board votes on it.
In Wednesday’s board meeting, advocates for the GSA asked the board to allow the club to form during the public comments session.
“Students need a place to talk safely,” Matthew Basillo, one of the advisers planning to mentor the new club, told board members. “Is this need being addressed? It’s not. They need a place to feel safe, dispel myths, grow and prosper.”Basillo advised the school board that LGBT teens “often do not have anyone outside of school who understands them and supports them.”
Stephanie Metz, an educator in nearby Shippensburg, Pa., and a Chambersburg resident, warned the board of the consequences that could come from banning a GSA. She said she does not want her tax dollars to be used on a court case because the Constitution allows equal opportunity when it comes to student club formation.
“Do not promote ignorance by voting ‘no.’ Narrow-minded viewpoints seem to be pervasive on this board,” she said.
The 1984 Federal Equal Access Act requires secondary schools to allow a variety of student-run religious and non-religious voluntary clubs that meet during “non-instructional” time. This law was later upheld by the U. S. Supreme Court.
The board voted 5-4 to deny formation of the club.
“This time we’re going to take legal action because they cannot technically deny us, because if there are three other clubs in school that are not school-related, they cannot by law deny our club,” said Fogelsonger, after the vote.