News - May 1996

LLDEF condemns Utah Legislature's vote to ban school clubs

Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund condemned the late night Wednesday vote by the Utah State Legislature to silence gay children by banning school clubs. The legislation does not specifically mention lesbian or gay students, but the debate over the bill consisted of attacks against gay people.

Passage of the legislation follows close on the heels of a controversy over a few students -- some gay and some straight -- who decided to form a gay/straight alliance at their high school in part to help stop the violence against gay students.

"Who would believe that authority figures like legislators would take aim at students who are trying to stop gay-bashing in their school," said David Buckel, a Staff Attorney at Lambda's New York headquarters who is preparing for litigation on the matter. "With the federal government reporting that one-third of all teen suicides are by gay teens, these legislators are sending the message that dead kids are better than gay kids."

"The Equal Access Act requires schools to be fair to all student groups. Utah's own senator, Orrin Hatch, pushed for the Act to make sure prayer groups got fair treatment in schools," said Jon Davidson, a Supervising Attorney in the Western Regional Office of Lambda, who is also working on the matter. "Now the Utah legislature is saying that fairness only applies to students whose point of view the legislators like."

One-upping the legislature, the Salt Lake City school board released a list of school clubs that they would protect by absorbing them into the curriculum, including an Aviation Club, Dance Club, Cheerleading Club, and Golf Club. In contrast, the school board eliminated a Black Students Club, Latino Pride Club, and Students Against Drunk Driving. The Gay/Straight Student Alliance appeared on neither list because its application for recognition had never been processed.

"In order to cut down the gay/straight student alliance, the school board is willing to swing its ax wild and hurt all sorts of students," said Buckel. "Instead of burning books, which may come next, they are destroying the opportunity for young people to express themselves and grow."

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