Box Elder High gay-straight alliance club begins

Friday , March 28, 2014 - 12:11 PM

Nancy Van Valkenburg, Standard-Examiner Staff

BRIGHAM CITY — Nearly three months after a record crowd of parents, teachers and activists squeezed into a school board meeting to share views on a student-proposed Gay-Straight Alliance for Box Elder High School, the newly approved GSA hosts its first meeting this week.

“After the whole fiasco in November, things went relatively smoothly,” said Box Elder High senior Gloria Hammond, 17, who initiated the GSA request.

“The application was approved the same week I turned it in. The name Gay-Straight Alliance was under scrutiny, because it has gay in it, but eventually they let me keep the name.”

Gloria said people were invited to sign up starting last week.

“We got 60 or 70 people sign up, which makes it a pretty large club,” she said.

Bernadine Hammond, Gloria’s sister and a Box Elder sophomore, supported the Gay-Straight Alliance plan from the beginning.

“It was really frustrating at the beginning, it took so long to get it through,” the 15-year-old said. “I’m incredibly excited now, that so many have shown an interest. It’s been a great experience for everyone involved.”

Gloria first turned in the club application in early October, but was told no new non-curricular clubs could be considered because of an upcoming Box Elder school board action that might eliminate all clubs not strongly linked to curriculum. The district had been scheduled since weeks earlier to consider the issue as part of an ongoing review of district policies, Superintendent Ronald Wolff said at the time.

As word spread through the community, one perception was that the school district was considering banning all non-curricular clubs as a way to keep out the Gay-Straight Alliance. Wolff said that was not the case, but at the Nov. 15 board meeting, many in the audience said they believed the timing of the vote was too significant to be coincidental. The board voted 5 to 1 in favor of a newly rewritten policy that would continue to allow non-curricular clubs.

Gloria said her plan for the first meeting is to ask the people who show up what they want out of the GSA.

“It’s just going to be an introductory thing. We will have some people bring food, and I will make cupcakes for 70 kids. We will ask people what they want to see in a GSA, and what projects they would like to work on.”

Gloria said she would like to work with other area groups that are putting together a gay prom. Several other local GSAs have suggested speakers who sound interesting, she said. School counselor Megan Mueller will be the group’s faculty adviser, Gloria said.

When she was running the sign-up booths, people seemed positive, she said.

“Everyone seemed pretty open to the idea,” Gloria said. “Some kids that signed up were really quite excited. Some jumped up and down. It was pretty great.”

Bernadine said she looks forward to the discussions between LGBT teens and their straight allies.

“I want LGBT teens and their allies to know it gets better when you get out of high school, and if you leave Utah,” she said. “And while we are in school, people in the GSA will have people they can trust to talk to if they need to. They will know who appreciates them, and who they can turn to if there is trouble.

“I have one friend in particular, one of the first students to come out at our school. He is incredibly excited, and has been a lot more confident about himself lately. He wants to give other kids the same things he has.”

Marian Edmonds-Allen, executive director of the Ogden-based OUTreach Resource Centers, said numerous studies have shown significant benefits to schools that have Gay-Straight Alliance chapters.

“The presence of a GSA in a school has benefits for the students who participate in the club, and also for students within the school community who don’t ever attend GSA activities,” Edmonds-Allen said. “Benefits include reduced racist comments, increased school attendance, better academic performance, decreased suicide risk, and better prospects for adult achievement. Having a GSA in a school provides both immediate and long term benefits for students, even into adulthood.”

Contact reporter Nancy Van Valkenburg at 801-625-4275 or Follow her on Twitter at @SE_NancyVanV.

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