GSA to Stay

A PA school gets to keep its Gay Straight Alliance without restrictions

Equality PA's president Adrian Shanker (courtesy of Equality PA)

After much debate, a high school in Bangor, Penn., approved a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) this week, allowing students to join the group without the restrictions that a few parent groups proposed. Just last week, the school board discussed the possibility of requiring parental permission slips in order for students to attend any meetings or events associated with the GSA. Some board members even suggested that the student-selected organization name of “Gay Straight Alliance” should be changed to the “Safe School Club.”

Advocacy group Equality Pennsylvania not only opposed the idea of permission slips, but also publicly objected to the name change.

Under the Federal Equal Access Act, public schools may not deny the right of a GSA to be created if the school allows other extra-curricular student organizations to meet, which, says Equality PA, Bangor does. The Equal Access Act also requires that schools treat GSAs no differently than other clubs – making the proposal of permission slip requirements discriminatory.

Equality PA President Adrian Shanker reached out to the school board at Bangor and also testified at the recent meeting along with organizer Allyson Diane Hamm and a contingent of our youth members from the group’s SNAP program.

“Thousands of school districts across the nation have had GSAs in their schools for more than a decade,” explains Shanker, an Allentown resident who founded a GSA in his Westchester, N.Y., high school in 2003. “Bangor has been behind the times, and I am pleased that they have recognized that they are not permitted to stop LGBT students from meeting on campus. I am even more pleased that they have moved away from their previous decision to alter the student’s chosen club name and require parental permission slips.”

James Buro, a graduate of Bangor High School, also attended the meeting, saying, “Had a GSA existed when I was a student, I would have had much-needed peer support. But if I needed to get a permission slip to attend, I likely would have opted against it.”

Ultimately, the Bangor Area School Board took direction from the solicitor and followed the lead of the board in support of the students.

“The notion that students need permission slips to attend a gay-straight alliance meeting ignores the harsh realities that LGBT students often don’t have support systems in place in their homes,” says Shanker. “In many schools, their GSA is the only refuge from anti-gay family members. Requiring permission slips is not only unnecessary, it puts LGBT youth at great risk.”