The exact role of
gay-straight student groups in Virginia schools depends
on whom you ask.
According to Arlington delegate Adam Ebbin, the
after-school groups offer a safe space where gay
youths can seek comfort. But Harrisonburg delegate
Matthew Lohr argues that too many of these groups are
just promoting sexual activity. They faced off Monday
as the house of delegates debated a bill that would
empower local school boards to disband groups seen as
encouraging teen promiscuity.
Lohr's House Bill 1308 would authorize school
boards to prohibit the use of school facilities by any
student club that promotes sexual activity among
unmarried students. It would essentially dissolve the
gay-straight alliances, which typically meet on school
grounds, said Dyana Mason, head of Equality Virginia.
On a voice vote after lengthy debate, the bill
advanced to a final vote Tuesday in the house. An identical
bill last year passed the house 95-0 only to
die on a 9-6 vote in the senate education and
Monday, lawmakers appeared split over the bill,
some arguing that it unfairly singled out gay groups
while others countered that the legislation targeted
no one. "This bill is not aimed at one particular
group," Lohr told house members. "The intent is to
give local school boards more control over the types of
groups which use the buildings."
But when pressed by Democratic
delegate James Scott about which groups could be
interpreted as addressing sexual issues, Lohr referred to
a situation involving a Chesterfield County gay-straight
student alliance last year. In that case, Lohr said,
school officials canceled a planned book signing by a
gay author after learning the author would be including
a steamy novel about gay fraternity sex. Lohr
argued that school officials should have been able to quash
the group entirely. "Whether it be homosexual or
heterosexual, school is just not the place to be
talking about sexual activity," said Lohr, adding that
he would encourage schools to disband heterosexually
oriented groups that promote teen sex.
But gay-straight alliances are focused on
helping teens sort out their sexuality, not telling
them how to act on it, argued Ebbin, the state's first
openly gay house member. "What troubles me is the targeting
of student groups because they [acknowledge] the idea
that gay people exist," he said.
Family Foundation director Victoria Cobb lauded
the legislation, saying it would drive home
school boards' duty to protect kids. "Our public
schools should not sponsor groups that are nothing more than
taxpayer-subsidized dating services," Cobb said.
House members also gave preliminary approval
Monday to a bill requiring that family life education
programs encourage abstinence as the only guarantee
against unwanted pregnancy. (AP)