Students Walk Out Over Anti-Gay Resolution

By Phyllis Sides

More than 250 middle and high school students walked out of class this October in Elizabethtown, Pa., to protest a school board resolution stating that the “traditional family” is the norm and that “pro-homosexual concepts on sex and family will not be tolerated or accepted.”

The “Pro-Family Resolution” has spawned ongoing protests by community residents in Elizabethtown, a city of about 10,000 people in northeastern Pennsylvania.

The students walked out Oct. 8 even though they knew they would be suspended for three days if they did so. Most of the students said their parents supported the rally, according to the Associated Press.

“Why should gays be less important?” said Dave Fritz, a sophomore who joined the walkout. “Why should kids with one parent be discriminated against?” Several students carried signs saying, “We were taught to fight for what we believe in,” and, “What does my parents’ marital status have to do with my education?”

The school board’s Sept. 17 “Pro-Family Resolution” is similar to one being sent to school districts by the Concerned Women for America (CWA) in response to a National Education Association resolution supporting diversity and opposing discrimination based on race, sex, or sexual orientation. Concerned Women of America is one of the country’s leading religious right organizations and espouses “traditional family values” and maintenance of a “proper place for women.” Opponents of the resolution charge that it was originally sent to one of the board’s members with hand-written comments from Beverly LaHaye, president of CWA.

At a school board meeting a week after the walkout, a number of community residents expressed dismay at the resolution’s discriminatory content. One speaker described himself as a lifelong Republican and “no friend of the NEA” but went on to condemn the board’s definition of a family as a husband, wife and their children since it excluded him because he has stepchildren, the Pennsylvania Expose reported. The Expose is a list server that addresses issues of discrimination and equity.

Board President A. John Larue apologized for any “misunderstanding” the resolution might have caused but refused to rescind it, saying the meeting was only for public comment.

On Nov. 6, the school board’s policy committee recommended that the resolution be watered down. A new resolution was proposed that did not define what constitutes a “family.” While it restricted the district from “promoting, encouraging or giving special recognition to same-sex relationships,” it promised to educate all students regardless of sexual orientation, according to the IntelligencerJournalof Lancaster.

That new resolution was overturned at a subsequent board meeting, however, as conservative members reasserted their power. On a 6-3 vote on Nov. 19, the board deleted a statement affirming that “no student will be harassed or denied an education on the basis of sexual orientation.” The board also stated that the teaching of “controversial moral issues” is the responsibility of parents or legal guardians, and eliminated a prohibition against sexual harassment based on sexual orientation.

Robert Enck, the only board member to vote against the original “Pro-Family Resolution,” received extended applause from many of the 120 residents at the Nov. 19 meeting when he criticized the board majority. “I am disappointed that after we got dragged into the muck, we were not bold enough to apologize for what we have done to this community,” he said.

Rob Umble, head of the district’s guidance department, warned the board that it “has sown intolerance that will reap anger and frustration for weeks, months, years to come.”

A final vote will be taken at the board’s Dec. 17 meeting.