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South Carolina Gay-Straight Alliance Seeks Help from LGBT Community

Chris Hampton,
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June 12, 2008

If you’re a keen watcher of LGBT news you may have been following the story over the past few weeks about a gay-straight alliance club (GSA) in South Carolina; now is your chance to get involved and help these students out.

When the principal of Irmo High School announced his resignation over the formation of a GSA at his school, it made headlines. Now, even though gay-straight alliances are protected by federal law and can be found at over 2,000 high schools throughout the nation, the school board of District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties has proposed a new clubs policy that would discourage students from joining the GSA and restrict the activities of many clubs.

The proposal would create a complicated and legally questionable new structure for how the district treats clubs by attempting to distinguish between “school-sponsored” and “non-curricular” clubs. The new policy would also require students to get signed parental permission forms for any clubs they want to join. You can read the entire policy by downloading this PDF from the board website — the proposed policy is on pages 58-65.

Before the board votes on this new policy at its June 23 meeting, it is seeking input from the public. You can be sure they’re going to be hearing plenty from people who are against any sort of protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students and their allies. Students from the GSA are asking all supporters of school safety and fairness for all students to send letters to members of the school board. Letters from students, parents, and alumni of schools in South Carolina, especially District Five, are particularly important.

What to say:

  • Tell the board that you oppose the proposed new clubs policy for District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties.
  • Tell them that you support the GSA and the right of all students to be treated with fairness and respect.
  • Tell them the proposed policy is unnecessary, would create a huge administrative burden for school employees, and would discourage students from engaging in extra-curricular activities.
  • And if you are a current or former student who experienced anti-gay harassment or discrimination in South Carolina, tell them your story.

Writing your own letter would be best, but here’s a model letter you can use — feel free to change it or add your own personal details:

Dear (name of board member),

I am writing to you today to voice my opposition to the proposed new clubs policy for District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties. I think the proposed policy is a bad idea for many reasons.

(If you are a current or former District Five student who has experienced anti-gay discrimination or harassment at the school, here’s where you should tell your story. Be detailed — paint a picture for the board of what life at your school is like for LGBT students. Include information like what year any incidents happened, what happened if you reported the incidents to school administrators, and how the incidents made you feel and impacted your life. If you live in the district, are the parent of a student in the district, or have some other local connection, please mention it here.)

This proposed new policy clearly targets gay students and their supporters who want to take part in the GSA club. Gay-straight alliances provide a safe space for students to be themselves free from harassment and bullying, and help make schools safer for all students. Over 2,000 GSA’s are in existence throughout the United States. There is absolutely nothing wrong or illegal about having a GSA at any District Five, and trying to block one only invites possible lawsuits, wastes taxpayer money, and sends gay students the message that their school doesn’t care about their safety or well-being. In fact, courts have found time and time again that the federal Equal Access Act protects the right of students to form these clubs.

Beyond that, this new policy would discourage the students who need extracurricular activities the most from participating in them. Students whose parents are overworked, neglectful, disorganized, or unstable are the ones who most need the connection to school and community that club participation provides, but those same students will have the hardest time getting parental permission slips signed.

I ask that you please reject this unnecessary new clubs policy, let the GSA form in peace, and let students get back to the business of learning.

(Your name)

Remember: Please be polite and respectful. It will help the students more if we persuade the board members to do the right thing, not yell at them!

Where to send your letters:

Please send your letters to each of the following members of the school board BEFORE their next board meeting on Monday, June 23, 2008:

Paula Hite Chairperson,
District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties
410 Clearview Drive Columbia SC 29212

Ellen Baumgardner
Board Member, District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties
229 Woodwinds West Drive Columbia SC 29212

Roberta Ferrell
Secretary, District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties
115 Press Lindler Road Columbia SC 29212

Robert Gantt
Board Member, District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties
1213 Old Tamah Road Irmo SC 29063

Carol Sloop
Board Member, District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties
5 Old Farm Lane Irmo SC 29063

Ed White
Board Member, District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties
327 Steeple Crest North Irmo SC 29063

Please also send a copy of your letter to the Chief Instructional Services Officer and the school board’s attorney:

Dr. Lee Bollman
Chief Instructional Services Officer District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties
1020 Dutch Fork Rd. lrmo, SC 29063

Andrea E. White
Duff, White & Turner, LLC
P.O. Box 1486 Columbia, SC 29202