The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

February 10, 2014

Student cites bullying, seeks school OK for gay-straight club

By Felicia A. Petro
Allied News Senior Reporter

GROVE CITY — Beverly Blake spoke to Grove City school directors last week about being bullied in high school because of her sexual orientation.

“I’m glad to stand here in a roomful of people who agree and both disagree with what I want to propose to you guys,” said the 18-year-old senior.

Blake approached directors at their work session about beginning a Gay Straight Alliance Network club at the high school, so kids who believe they are gay – and non-gay kids who support them – can meet.

“It’s a support group and I think it’s very important for the school to have it,” Blake said.

She said entering high school from middle school is a difficult transition for students; however, “when you’re a gay student, it’s actually harder because you know that people judge you. The community judges you. The students judge you.”

In seventh grade, Blake came out to her family and peers about her sexuality and faced rejection and abandonment, she said.

It would have been easier if she knew – when she left middle school – that there were other students like her who paved the way at the high school, she noted.

Blake wants future students to have that opportunity by having the GSA chapter.

“It kills me inside to know that they’re not accepted, and the fact that people in the community believe that the bullying doesn’t go on – like, that makes it worse because I know first-hand it does go on,” she said.

“People call me ... I don’t like to say the word, but it starts with an ‘f.’ Recently I sat at the school table for lunch and they use that word negatively towards me. I recently moved tables, and the fact that people say that’s not happening is really hurtful because it does.”

The board accepting the GSA chapter will show she and her friends “that you actually do support us,” she said.

Blake commented on statements made by school board members at last month’s workshop meeting, and at Monday’s meeting, that having the GSA may open a door for any students to come forward wanting their own group.

“If you say, ‘Well, the fat people, they’ll want a group or the jocks who are being bullied by the teachers – which can’t really happen because they have their teammates to support them,” she said.

“The gay people don’t want to open up to others because they don’t know if there’s anyone out there like them or if anyone will support them.”

Superintendent Dr. Richard Mextorf first talked to Blake about speaking before the board at last month’s workshop meeting. The student fell ill and couldn’t make the meeting, but in her absence a letter was read – without revealing her identity – of her wishes to start the GSA, which members who were present questioned.

Directors were aware that Blake would be coming forward this month; four of nine members were absent at last week’s meeting, however.

Of those present, director Heather Baker told the teen that she was courageous for talking to adults in the board room “about a very touchy subject for a lot of people.”

Member Faye Bailey knew of students who have been involved in other school districts with GSA and it provided a network of support for them, she said.

She added that she believed all students had the right to assemble at the school with an organization of their choice.

If future bullying occurs, director Paul Gubba encouraged Blake to not be afraid to speak to the high school principal, who would handle it directly.

“I would love to sit down with you at lunch and talk to those kids who are pushing you around verbally and talking to you like that,” he added, causing Blake to tear up.

“We can disagree with different opinions or lifestyles but when we start to pick on or harass somebody, you’re twice the lady than those guys and girls that are picking on you. So I want to encourage you to stand for what you believe in.”

It’s very important for middle school kids to feel as if they fit in, Mextorf said. “Nobody should be that isolated and alone,” he said. “That must have been horrible. To persevere and stand, I can’t tell you how much I respect you. ... I certainly applaud you, my friend.”

In a related matter, last month the board nixed the terms “sexual orientation,” “social status” and “economic circumstances” from its anti-harassment policies, which are expected to have their first readings at the voting meeting tonight.

The majority of the members believed the classifications are not legally mandated, like race, sex, religion and national origin.

For months, concerned parents have told the board that the “sexual orientation” term in harassment and bullying policies in schools have been used by radical gay activists to keep their opponents silent. There have been successful lawsuits in the state against such policies.

Some also believe the term is a gateway to homosexually-based programs coming into the school district, and potential predators targeting innocent students confused about their sexuality.

Mextorf said Monday that the board has safeguards; his office or a teacher couldn’t bring in homosexually-based curriculum without it being brought before the directors.

Dr. Mark Archibald, professor of mechanical engineering at Grove City College, said he was disappointed with the board nixing the sexual orientation term in the anti-harassment policies.

“Removing the sexual orientation phrase does not, of course, guarantee that justice will ensue. It does, however, send a strong message that justice is not equal for all,” he said.

“I do believe this is a moral issue. It’s only right to grant protection to all of our students, particularly those that may be most at risk of harassment.”

Resident Carolyn Oppenheimer told the board that the school’s policies already state that all students are protected from bullying and harassment.

“What part of ‘all students’ are not covered?” she said.