Recently, three Kennewick High School students formed a gay-straight alliance (GSA), the first among all Kennewick schools. They did so in the face of months-long opposition by some members of the Kennewick School Board to recognizing GSAs as non-curricular student clubs. Now, to its credit, the Kennewick School Board has voted 3-2 to give GSAs the same access to school resources enjoyed by other non-curricular student clubs.
GSAs are student clubs that seek to provide a safe and supportive environment for LGBT students, who experience disproportionate incidences of bullying and harassment and are far more likely (than their straight counterparts) to attempt suicide. Nine out of 10 LGBT students report being harassed at school, and nearly two-thirds say they feel unsafe because of their sexual orientation. Nearly a third of LGBT students skipped at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns. Moreover, a recent study, which found that suicide attempts among LGBT teens are more frequent in areas where schools do not have programs supporting gay rights, specifically mentioned the existence of GSAs as one factor making teens feel safer.
The Kennewick School Board’s decision also brings the school district in line with federal law. Under the Equal Access Act, if a public high school allows any student group whose purpose is not directly related to the school’s curriculum to meet on school grounds, it must allow other non-curricular clubs to organize and must treat them all equally, regardless of their students’ religion, political affiliation, or sexual orientation. Consequently, the Equal Access Act requires that Kennewick High School – which recognizes other non-curricular student groups – to offer the newly-formed GSA the same privileges given other clubs. This includes equal access to such things as meeting spaces, bulletin boards, the PA system, and school publications.