In Pennsylvania, a high school senior named Adam Smith recently founded a gay/straight alliance club to confront anti-gay behavior and promote diversity at his school. When the local school board undertook discussion of the club last week, the Vice President of the Ambridge Area School Board may have unwittingly demonstrated how much such a club is needed. During the public meeting, William Scherfel, a former township supervisor who was elected to the school board on a promise not to build any new schools, made repeated references to the gay/straight alliance as a “sex club,” employing a bit of common right-wing spin. After a couple of school board members pointed out that his characterization of the club was inaccurate, Scherfel replied, “Ok, the faggots.”
A recent study sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), found that over 75% of self identified LGBT high school students regularly hear anti-gay hate speech at school. Even more alarming, well over one-third of these same students report having been physically harassed or assaulted in school because of their perceived sexual orientation. That same research shows that LGBT students in schools with Gay/ Straight Alliance clubs and/or supportive faculty and staff feel safer, perform better on their school work and are more likely to plan to attend college.
Scherfel now says that he does not remember calling students “faggots,” but admits the word is in his regular vocabulary because he “grew up in a different generation when certain terms were acceptable in referring to gays and other groups.” If only Scherfel’s high school had a gay/straight alliance, he may have known better. It’s not too late for Scherfel, though, Adam Smith has extended a standing invitation for him to attend his group’s meetings.