The far-right American Family Association of Pennsylvania is criticizing a gay-straight alliance in Erie, Pa., saying that the club's agenda could lead to discrimination against other students, particularly
those with strong religious convictions.
The Gay-Straight Alliance, started at McDowell High School in Erie last fall, placed stickers emblazoned with pink triangles on certain classroom doors, designating those areas as "safe zones" for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual students or anyone seeking help or advice. School officials said all classrooms should be considered safe, and the stickers have been removed, but the AFA says the GSA's efforts may result in certain students being granted special protections not afforded to others.
Take the "safe zone" designation, for example, says Diane Gramley, director of the state AFA. "It's not uncommon," she says, "for students to tease their classmates because of their height, weight, or complexion, but the safe zones were created specifically for gay students and not for others. Why not give safe zones to other students who do not fit in or who are being picked on?"
Maureen Koseff, leader of the Erie-Crawford County Chapter of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, which sometimes advises the student group, called the club an important step in making students feel safer. Gay students are targets for bullies, and the harassment can make them feel isolated and sometimes suicidal, Koseff said. "If it's an agenda when you are trying to secure equal rights for all people, then she can go right ahead and call it an agenda," Koseff said.
Gramley's group accuses PFLAG of using the high school group to push its political agenda and has asked the district to find out where all student clubs get materials, guidance, or donations. Koseff said the club is not a PFLAG subsidiary and that district rules require students to establish any club on their own.
The AFA is still battling a decision by the Erie school board in May to change its harassment policy to ban discrimination on the basis of "sexual orientation and gender identity." The Gay-Straight Alliance had lobbied for the change, which came after the district received a letter from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights encouraging administrators to make sure their policies were inclusive.