Gay-Straight Alliance Wins Formal Recognition
[NEENAH, WI] ? The Gay-Straight Alliance at Neenah High School was accepted as an official non-curricular club Thursday, making it the first to achieve such status in the Fox Cities.
The Board of Education emerged from a special closed-door meeting with legal counsel to overturn rulings by Supt. James Wiswall and Principal Mark Duerwaechter, both of whom had denied formal recognition of the group.
The vote was 5-1, with three board members absent.
"The board made this decision not because it felt it legally had to," school board member Dan Dringoli said. "It made this decision because it is the right thing to do."
As an official club, the GSA will have a paid adviser, a budget for student activities, and permission to sponsor fund-raisers and social events like dances. It also can have its photo in the yearbook.
GSA leaders Nick Ross and Andy Sampson commended the board for its decision. They had been working with the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the district had their appeal been denied.
"I am relieved," Ross said.
Ross, a junior, said formal recognition of the GSA will help gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students feel valued and respected. He told the board they're subjected to continual epithets.
"You will hear one at least every time you go from class to class," he said.
"It really damages students, and it hurts their ability to function academically and function socially."
Ross said the GSA works to educate students, teachers and the community about the effects of homophobia. He said it serves as a support group for students dealing with issues of sexual orientation.
"It lets students know that there are other kids like them so that they don't feel so alone," he said.
School board member Paul Roth voted against official recognition. He sided with Wiswall's ruling that an existing club ? STAND, or Students, Teachers and Staff Advocating Neenah's Diversity ? fills the mission of fostering respect and understanding of cultural differences, including sexual orientation.