Franklin County GSA Survives Another Board Meeting
Last night, the Franklin County Board of Education met to again discuss the policies and procedures, and ultimately the fate, of clubs in the Franklin County school system. Much was left to debate after last month's meeting—where the board quietly disregarded the idea of canceling the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) and moved on to clarifying existing policy for forming clubs in the system.
Concern over how clubs are formed and who approves them was raised by opponents of the GSA, but this was merely their way of keeping the board’s attention. Even after the issue was addressed, GSA opponents have connected with groups such as MassResistance (designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center). They have continued to push the narrative that the GSA is a “sex club” operated in a public school.
Local activist Lisa Rung, speaking at a rally before the Board meeting, called that a “projection” and said that when you only look at something with only one idea of it in mind, that is all you will see. “You are stronger than your enemies will ever hope to be,” said Rung, and that certainly seemed the case as a hundred or so allies gathered to hear words of encouragement, stories of struggles of growing up LGBT, and readings of letters sent from allies to the Board of Education.
Meanwhile, a group of less than ten waited by the doors of the auditorium to preach hellfire and brimstone to meeting attendees. “The louder the bark, the more they are afraid,” were the words of one rally speaker over the background noise of a car revving its engine as it passed the crowd.
The GSA and its supporters are now fighting for inclusion for much more their own club. At the Board's workshop earlier in the week, the idea of canceling all clubs was considered. “Thank you, but this [demonstration] isn't needed for the GSA, it's needed for the high school,” Kevin Hambrick, 9th grade GSA representative, stressed at the rally. “Others over self, always.”
Chairman of the Board Kevin Caroland opened the meeting by reminding attendees not to demonstrate, and that the moment of silence was meant to be silent. This was seemingly a reference to the previous month's meeting, when those opposing the GSA held Christian flags and chanted the Lord's Prayer over the moment of silence. A repeat was unlikely, since the number of anti-GSA attendees had dwindled significantly from the previous meeting.
At this meeting, no speakers were addressing the board. Instead, the board continued to discuss the policy and procedure for forming and maintaining clubs in the Franklin County school system.
While the lack of discussion of canceling the GSA or any clubs in the system should have been a sign of victory, it was clear from the rhetoric of some board members that inclusion was not the aim. The primary conflicts within the board were over parental permission for club participation and minimum number of members required for club status.
Caroland brought up current policy concerning parental permission: to provide parents with a laundry list of clubs and allow them to check off any clubs in which they would not have their child participate. This is referred to as “opting out”. Caroland suggested that the procedure should be inverted: parents should be presented with a checklist and mark all clubs that they are comfortable with their child attending. Applause erupted from the group in the rear.
Board member Adam Tucker disagreed, calling the move “an unnecessary administrative hurdle.” He was immediately rebutted by Caroland and other members who stressed that the children are minors and that parents should in control of what their children are allowed to attend. Cheer came again from the small group in protest of the GSA.
Tucker, not having his concerns cast aside so easily, pressed that an opt-in format creates an exclusive environment, where there should be one of inclusiveness. He also raised the issue of the timing of the parental permission debate—that it was clearly an issue in relation to the formation of the GSA. The other 85% of the auditorium, favoring the GSA, applauded this assertion.
Chairman Caroland, perhaps deaf to the applause he had received from opponents of the GSA seconds earlier, chided the pro-GSA crowd, saying that if they “demonstrate” they would be removed.
Tucker's concerns of the logistics of parental approval for students with blended families or irregular home lives led to tabling the discussion of opt-in over opt-out format for further review. The board then reviewed other policy specifics for clubs in Franklin County schools.
Citing concerns of wasted resources, they agreed that, if club membership drops to five or fewer, a club will have one semester to regain required the membership before being disbanded. There was also a clarification that the requirement of an abstinence-focused curriculum does extend to after school clubs—no doubt in response to the pressure of religious right extremists painting the GSA as a sex and LGBT recruitment club. No vote was called, and the meeting ended abruptly, with the insinuation that these changes would be further discussed at the next board workshop.
Supporters of the GSA are nevertheless optimistic about the future, once again escaping a board meeting with no threat of the club being forcibly dissolved. The foyer of the auditorium again served as the threshold between two environments. Outside men still preached, one with a Bible in his hand assuring the crowd that Jesus loves us all—but not our sin. Another on a loudspeaker was spewing hate speech.
A young woman, Val Hill, stood flanked by them—holding a rainbow high in the air. She and her wife, Megan Turner, are military veterans and parents that came from Chattanooga to support the GSA. And they were not alone in traveling. The GSA and community were joined at the rally by groups from Sewanee and Nashville, as well as from further away, including those from Free2Be in Huntsville, Alabama.
They've received letters from support from all over the world. Club founder Joshua Dailey says a letter from Japan is the one from farthest away. Dailey seemed optimistic about the future of the GSA—he said he's been bullied, and even had holy water thrown on him, but that now the administration is finally stepping up and punishing those harassing the GSA.
With two board meetings about cancellation under its belt with no action taken, the GSA looks to be in a good position. Change is coming, if slowly. It's no surprise that two different speakers at the rally beforehand quoted the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Slowly but surely, Franklin County is bending towards justice—whether the opponents of justice like it or not.
Cassidy Lamb is a straight ally and officiant for LGBT services that attended the rally and meeting as an active supporter.