West Lincoln High School faced significantly controversy surrounding the recent formation of a Gay Straight Alliance club this past December. Starting the week of Dec. 9, several students were found bullying club members through derogatory signage across campus, including posters, banners and even homophobic slurs spray painted on the school’s spirit rock.
West Lincoln senior Ruth Beal said this is not the first attempt to form a GSA Club at West Lincoln High School. According to Beal, the club started during the 2012 school year under the name “Diversity Club.” School administrators then informed club members that their club would be folded into a pre-existing group that worked with the Special Olympics.
West Lincoln High School Principal Dr. Cale Sain confirmed that previous clubs promoting tolerance and diversity had been established.
“The GSA Club is the third iteration of a club to promote tolerance and anti-bullying,” Sain said. “After the advisor of the Diversity Club left West Lincoln, another advisor expressed interest in starting Project Unify, which was supposed to be an umbrella club to promote anti-bullying and tolerance for all people. However, for whatever reason, that club never gained a lot of student interest.”
Beal said she is not a lesbian, but rather a “straight ally,” or a heterosexual person supportive to procuring equal rights for gays and lesbians. This past summer, she reached out to School Board member Cathy Davis as well as the former principal of West Lincoln High School. She also said she met with Superintendent Sherry Hoyle and gave a presentation on the intent and purpose of a Gay Straight Alliance Club. However, Beal said it was only after several meetings with Sain that the club was approved.
According to Beal, she received permission from Sain to put up four posters advertising the club’s meeting in early December. Thirty minutes after Beal put the posters up, she found that they had been ripped off the walls.
“After that, I got my friends involved to help me put up more signs each time we saw they were ripped down,” Beal said.
That Wednesday, students were greeted with anti-gay posters around the school, stating various homophobic slurs.
After learning about the anti-gay posters, GSA members decided they needed to be proactive in protecting themselves while at school.
“We started traveling in groups to class, lunch and the restroom,” Beal said.
She plans to continue to walk students to class that still feel unsafe.
“Things are escalating quickly, and students feel like the administration is letting this happen,” Beal said. “We don’t need stricter punishments, but we do need current punishments enforced better.”
In addition to the derogatory signs, Beal and several other students have experienced cyberbullying due to their sexuality or support for lesbian and gay rights.
“One female student messaged me on Facebook, saying ‘I’ll come join the gay train,’ and ‘Gays need Jesus — read the bible,’” Beal said.
When Beal simply responded with the phrase “opinions are opinions,” the girl responded that she would not accept Beal’s.
Other West Lincoln High School students have reportedly been bragging about bullying GSA members on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. One high school senior was reported to have made a status calling homosexuality a “hellish, nasty, perverse and wicked craft.”
Beal said she has made hard copies documenting both the signs and the cyberbullying activity for Sain, but she is unsure if any further action has been taken.
Sain confirmed that disciplinary had been taken, but was unable to elaborate further.
“It’s important to talk to the students that are being bullied,” Beal said. “A lot of my friends are scared and depressed because of it. One day, this could result in a suicide.”
At their December meeting, Beal stated that while only 24 students attended, she knew of 30 students that planned to become active members this school year.
However, some community leaders in Lincoln County are not pleased with the formation of the GSA club. Lincoln County School Board member Clayton Mullis opposes the club due to his biblical and moral beliefs.
“So many people are misinformed that Christians are not open-minded or tolerant,” Mullis said. “I was raised to treat everyone with respect. Just because I oppose the issues doesn’t mean I’m discriminating.”
Mullis also feels the club will hinder faculty and staff from improving the educational experience.
“It might appear that the club could help, but there’s a chance the club could hurt the students more,” Mullis said. “The focus has to stay on education. I want every child to have the opportunity to have a good education, regardless of sexuality.”
Mullis expressed his disappointment with the way the situation was handled at the school.
“A GSA club is such a controversial issue,” Mullis said. “I don’t think this was handled appropriately by school administration with the way the club was rolled out. The school should have given the [school] board a heads-up.”
Although Mullis opposes the club, he finds the claims of students bullying GSA members appalling.
“Any individual bullying any type of student should not be tolerated,” Mullis said.
Furthermore, he believes that the GSA club would only increase the opportunity for opposing students to continue to discriminate and bully participants.
Mullis also feels allowing the club to continue at West Lincoln could open several unnecessary doors.
“A judge ruled that because a student didn’t know whether to identify as male or female, the student could use either school bathroom,” Mullis said. “I don’t think Lincoln County is prepared to handle that.”
“The GSA club will continue because it is a constituted club, and as long as club members continue to promote tolerance, it will remain a club at West Lincoln,” Sain said. “If a club promotes acceptance, understanding and tolerance, I don’t see how you could oppose it.”