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The Right to Solidarity:
The threat to gay-straight student clubs in California

by Fred Peters

The following article is from the Secular Humanist Bulletin, Volume 15, Number 4.

As human beings, we have a natural tendency to seek out those who are similar to us. As individuals, we benefit from the commonalities between ourselves and those whom we seek. As contributing members to society, we have an ethical obligation to ensure that every person in this world is afforded the opportunity to associate with people with a common interest, or people who share a common trait. When we are not allowed this opportunity, especially due to a law or statute, our intellectual and emotional health declines, and the psychological damages that follow are both expected and tragic.

The problem that most concerns me, and inspired me to write this piece, is occurring in Orange, California, on the campus of El Modena High School. The school refused to allow the creation of a Gay-Straight Alliance by some concerned students and passed the decision to the Orange Unified School Board. The board, in turn, held a public forum and refused to levy a decision at that time. The bottom line, however, is that the Gay-Straight Alliance, a club dedicated to promoting increased acceptance and diversity, not only has a legal right to be created, but also is tremendously important to the school as a whole.

When I was in high school in Orange County, I co-founded a gay-straight alliance with a friend. Not only did this club help to offer a means of support to gay, lesbian, and bisexual students, but it also opened the campus to more dialogue and acceptance of students whose sexual identities do not fit the pre-established societal "norm." The club, which existed on the campus of Los Alamitos High School in Los Alamitos, California, just up the freeway from E1 Modena, grew to be one of the largest clubs on campus and was responsible for organizing events and assisting troubled students facing problems like dropping out of school, getting kicked out of their homes by their parents, even being threatened with violence because of their sexual preference.

Gay-straight alliances have an important place in high school campuses everywhere. Speaking from experience, they offer an examination of culture and an examination of stereotypes, that helps us live better, more enlightened lives. Never before have I learned as much from a single moment as when one of our speakers, a retired Los Angeles Police Department officer, spoke of being abandoned without backup for an entire hour while holding 15 people at gunpoint after proclaiming his sexuality to his division. Another speaker described discrimination that occurred in my own neighborhood to a lesbian couple with a son. My best friend of seven years boldly stood up, walked to the front of the room, and, after taking a deep breath, said "Hi, my name's Matt, and I'm gay."

These are experiences that change one's life, that make one look deep inside oneself and discover new horizons of human consciousness. These are experiences that inspire people to work to bring about a positive change to the world. They need to be allowed to happen to everyone, if for no other reason, to promote the very diversity that our country was supposedly founded upon. And true diversity cannot exist in a world where any part of it is strangled as is currently happening in Orange County. Too many people have given or taken their lives to be heard, and it is a dishonor to their memories, their legacies, if the El Modena club is not given equal time. All these students are asking for is to be heard. I hope that the Orange Unified School District will heed their call before it is too late, in so many meanings of the phrase.

At the age of 16, Fred Peters founded the Los Alamitos High School Atheist Club. He is now a sophomore at California State University at Long Beach and sits on the Executive Council of the Campus Freethought Alliance as the Young Freethinkers Alliance Liaison. 

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This page was last updated 12/04/2003

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