Winchester, Tennessee, is a town in Franklin County with a population of less than 10,000 that is currently mired in a national controversy. Earlier this year, students at Franklin County High School started a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club with the intention of LGBT and cisgendered students working together to make their school more inclusive. They're popular clubs and fairly common in U.S. high schools, but it's not uncommon for these clubs to receive levels of backlash. Franklin County's GSA is apparently receiving all of the backlash.
It started almost immediately. A parent posted on Facebook about the GSA, comparing the club to ISIS, and encouraged those who share his sentiments to protest at an upcoming school board meeting. Within days, student opponents of the club began hanging signs and wearing t-shirts bearing the slogan "Straight Pride" and defacing GSA signs with slurs without repercussions. The school board soon began deliberating over whether or not they should disband the GSA and all extracurricular clubs.
This month, before another school board meeting, MassResistance and Liberty Counsel, two hate groups according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, joined the opposition. Now, the school board is considering a new measure that would surely mean the end of the GSA: in lieu of disbanding all clubs, students would be required to receive parental permission to join extracurricular clubs, a tactic that's been used to quash GSA clubs in the past.
According to ThinkProgress, during the most recent school board meeting, only one board member (Adam Tucker, a lawyer who represents a nearby school district and local government) voiced concerns that this new restriction blatantly targeted the GSA. All of this came to a head Tuesday when protestors representing both sides converged (without incident) outside the school:
"The anti-GSA protesters wore shirts that read hateful messages, such as, “Homosexuality Leads to Hell,” and carried signs reading, “DANGER: SIN KILLS: TURN OR BURN.”
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It's worth noting that both sides oppose the parental permission addendum and that the school board has not yet made a decision. Either way, a lawsuit could very well occur regardless of the decision.
As ThinkProgress notes in their report, GSAs work. The Family Acceptance Project published a study in 2011 that found that students at schools with a GSA were less depressed, had high self-esteem, less likely to drop out, more likely to attend college (and graduate), less likely to experience substance abuse, and less likely to attempt suicide. However, the same study noted that at high schools with high incidents of violence and harassments, the effects of a GSA were "effectively canceled out."
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