Lake County School District leaders continue discussing GSA

By : Staff Report
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Opponents and supporters of allowing Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in Lake County schools addressed the School Board at a public workshop Feb. 18.  Many people donned red shirts in support of 13-year-old student Bayli Silberstein and her efforts to start a GSA at her school.

The main issue was whether or not Lake County schools should impose a ban on all extra-curricular clubs.  The proposed ban has gained traction in response to 8th grader Silberstein’s attempts to form a GSA at Carver Middle School.

Banning extra-curricular clubs would prevent Silberstein from starting a GSA.  The school board’s attorney Steve Johnson stated that under equal access laws the School Board would otherwise be unable to discriminate against extra-curricular school clubs that meet school requirements.

The ban would only allow curricular clubs that are deemed to be directly tied to subjects taught at Lake County schools.

Retired military commander Sherrie Aly challenged the proposed ban on extra-curricular clubs arguing the GSAs are related to curriculum.
“If you have anything about psychology, sociology, history, [it is relevant],” she said.

Beyond its relevance to school curriculum, Silberstein said her school needs a GSA in order to create a safe space for students who are harassed or bullied for being LGBTQ and ally.

Among the 27 people who spoke to the Lake County School Board, one LGBTQ teenager broke down in tears, pleading that the School Board allow GSAs because she felt she has been treated like a second-class citizen.

Aly commended the bravery of all the students fighting for their right to form a GSA.

“I think that this young woman that just spoke and that every young person who is standing up for this, I think we could take a lesson from them and I hope you do take a lesson from them,” said Aly. “To stand by and not take action is criminal. You have the power in your hands to save the lives of children.”

School board member Rosanne Brandeburg commented on concerns over bullying.

“I’m in the schools quite a bit and I don’t see it.  If bullying is happening in schools, please report it,” Brandeburg.

She also said that she felt bullied because of some of the emails she received regarding the GSA issue.

“Bullying comes in all shapes, all sizes,” she said. “We are all responsible for putting a stop to it.”

The first speaker of the day, Lake County resident Patricia Sullivan, claimed LGBTQ youth are confused about their sexuality and more than likely victims of sexual abuse.  She said argued that allowing a GSA would only be more harmful to their recovery.

“Overwhelming research has shown that many self-identified homosexuals were sexually abused when young,” said Sullivan.  “Our next response should be to provide therapy, not ignore their sexual abuse.”

Rollins College professor Kathryn Norsworthy challenged claims by Sullivan and other GSA critics, saying that the majority of national professional associations ranging from the American Academy of Pediatrics to the American Psychological Association to the American Association of School Administrators recognize gay, lesbian, and bisexual identity as healthy, normal variations of sexuality.

A Lake County school alum said he didn’t agree with what he called the homosexual lifestyle and spoke out against the ACLU, calling them a “bully” that was trying to intimate the School Board.

Joyce Hamilton Henry, Mid-Florida Regional Director for the ACLU of Florida, refuted allegations that the ACLU is a bully.

“[Such critics] are ignorant of the ACLU’s efforts to protect the Bill of Rights and the Constitution including the first amendment’s freedom of speech which allowed them to speak at the meeting today,” Henry said.

The ACLU presented a petition with over 25,000 signatures in support of Silberstein’s GSA request.

No vote was taken during the hearing.  Two additional public hearings will be held before the School Board makes a decision on the issue.

Silberstein remained hopeful.

“I’m hoping that they think about this a lot before they do anything,” she said after the meeting. “I hope that they realize that it’s unfair to the students.”

She said that she is fortunate to have the support of her parents, who she has been out to for over a year, while many LGBT students are not out to their parents or teachers.

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