Rapid City, S.D., gay-straight alliance gets green light
A support group for gay students has gotten club status at Stevens High School in Rapid City, S.D. The group, called Gay Straight Unity, began meeting last spring. Its copresident, Tonya Morton, 15, said most of the 20 or so students who attended meetings in the spring now are sophomores and juniors. The membership is about 50% heterosexual and 50% gay, she said. "We're there for the kids who are struggling in our school and community and who need an outlet," Morton said. Gay Straight Unity was not formed to force any ideals on anyone, she said, adding that the group has not been allowed to meet yet this school year.
This fall, when the group's members tried to reorganize, they were told they would need their parents' permission. Students need such permission to belong to a support group because those groups often deal with personal and emotionally charged issues. Gay Straight Unity did not want to file permission forms, so its only choice was to become a club. Membership in a school club does not require parental permission, principal Katie Bray said. The Rapid City School District has no written policy on student organizations. Clubs are sanctioned by administrative rules.
School district officials talked with the district's lawyer, Thomas Simmons, who said that as long as the students comply with district procedures and school policy, they have a First Amendment right to organize. "We make decisions based on the best interests of all parties involved," superintendent Peter Wharton said. "When these students came forward, we used our experience, our education, our training, and we had a discussion as to what would be the best for those students." He said he did not want to draw attention to the students and have them become victims.
Bray said she has tried hard to keep the students' movement low-key out of concern for them. "I want to protect these kids as much as anything," she said. Morton said the principal has been cooperative. Sandy McLain, a Stevens guidance counselor, is the faculty sponsor.