Schools Ban Gay-safe-zone Signs
[CHICAGO, IL] - Bowing to pressure from a small but vocal group of parents, Rich Township High School District 227 board members in Olympia Fields voted Monday night to remove multicolored triangles signifying safe zones for gay and lesbian students from more than 100 classroom doors.
The 5-1 vote came after some parents at recent meetings had accused the district of promoting homosexuality and discriminating against students who are not gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender by allowing the triangles.
The symbols, in place at the district's schools in Olympia Fields, Richton Park and Park Forest, meant those teachers would be comfortable talking to students about gay and lesbian issues.
Board members outlined in a resolution their reasons for ordering the triangles' removal. They maintained they were committed to the protection of all students, and the presence of the triangles, by implication, said some teachers were not. They also claimed the triangles had "seriously damaged" the relationship between faculty members and students and said school property should be used for curriculum purposes, not "to endorse or take stands on issues of social concern."
The decision was a blow to students, teachers and administrators who hoped the triangles would be seen as support for students who are often discriminated against.
Supt. Brian Knutson, who supported the triangles at the start of the school year, said they had become such a "divisive" issue that they were distracting from education.
Sylvester Pilgrom, who has a daughter at Rich Central in Olympia Fields, was one of several dozen parents at the meeting.
"If that's your lifestyle, I don't knock it. This is just the wrong place for it. It leaves the open issue of you still can be stereotyped. If I come out of the classroom, the first thing you say is, are you gay," Pilgrom said after the meeting.
The district's 26-member multicultural committee came up with the idea of a gay-straight alliance and the triangles last summer.
"They [students] are very disappointed," said David Claudon, a language arts teacher at Rich East in Park Forest who is a sponsor of the gay-straight alliance club and helped form it. "I think one of the things to work through for a few kids is, does this mean the support is no longer there." He said he is trying to convince students that it is.
Claudon said the alliance, which has about 20 members, is selling pins with the triangle symbol, which "then becomes a personal symbol."
Several students who have placed triangles on their lockers said they were disappointed.
"I think it's horrible," said 17-year-old Genevieve Sauvage of Park Forest, the student council president at Rich East who has attended some alliance meetings. "This is the one group of people who is legally discriminated against and we're kind of teaching the youth that's OK."
Dr. Robert Galatzer-Levy, a child and adolescent psychiatrist on the faculty of at the University of Chicago and Institute for Psychoanalysis, said the club and triangles were healthy initiatives for students.
"Taking them (the triangles) down would be taking away from what's most important to those kids, which is the opportunity to feel part of the school community. It would likely interfere with their ability to learn well," he said. He added that he thought the triangles gave the students extra attention, "just as you give special attention to any group of disadvantaged students."
Gay-straight alliances are becoming a mainstay nationwide, with about 35 in Chicago-area schools. Several alliance faculty sponsors said they had encountered varying amounts of opposition.
Evanston Township High School has had a gay-straight alliance and safety zone stickers since the 1990s, according to Eric Brown, a biology teacher and faculty sponsor of the club. Though the administration has supported the club and symbols, posters advertising the club has have been torn down, which Brown called a "crime against an entire group of people."