Hot debate at Hononegah

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Staff photo by Ashley Rhodebeck

Hononegah High School teacher Cathy Aubrecht address the Board of Education’s co-curricular committee Monday about forming a Gay-Straight Alliance. Nearly 20 people of the 50-plus audience urged the board to deny the request, but the committee adjourned without making a recommendation to the full board.

Gay-Straight Alliance plan sparks discussion

ROCKTON - Just one person from the 50-plus crowd gathered in Hononegah High School's library Monday advocated for the proposed student club called the Gay-Straight Alliance.

Teacher Cathy Aubrecht, who submitted the request, was the lone warrior against voice after voice asserting the organization will disrupt the educational process and promote immoral views.

Meanwhile, the Board of Education's co-curricular committee didn't provide an opinion or recommendation to the full board. Instead, members just asked questions and, after the public hearing was complete, expressed they felt “overloaded” with information.

The committee scheduled the meeting so Aubrecht could expand on her brief proposal dated May 14 but also received legal information and comments from 18 community members.

No Hononegah students spoke publicly, though what looked like a few teens were among the crowd.

“It's summertime,” Aubrecht said of their absence.

Aubrecht began the proceedings by explaining she proposed the Gay-Straight Alliance because a student with “great rationale” approached her saying such a club is needed to provide a network of support to homosexuals and those who are related to or are friends with gays and lesbians.

Diversity clubs, such as the now defunct Promoting Awareness Creates Tolerance, focus mainly on racial issues while neglecting homosexual ones, Aubrecht said. Creating a gay-lesbian subcommittee of PACT also wouldn't work, she said, explaining that giving it a neutral-sounding name will give into the prejudices the Gay-Straight Alliance intends to stop.

Although Aubrecht stressed the club would offer support to students and said it wouldn't discuss sex, many of the parents feared the organization will promote sexual activity among teens.

One citizen even argued because the state's age of consent is 17 it is illegal for minors to engage in sexual activity. Therefore, she said, the school, as an agency of Illinois, would appear to condone and promote illegal activity.

“This is no chess club you're putting together,” said Steve Branch, a Roscoe resident who urged the board members to be picky in selecting the club's advisor if the group is approved. The advisor, he and other parents said, should be trained to handle issues that might arise in the club.

Lora Sue Hauser, a representative from the Illinois Family Institute, cited research that asserts 75 percent of boys who label themselves gay as teens become straight in adulthood. It would be “educationally irresponsible,” she said, for the school to endorse homosexuality.

“It's a difficult and complex issue even adults run from,” Hauser said.

Because Aubrecht said the club would support students who often suffer harassment, some parents questioned why those kids can't simply receive counseling from the school.

Janet Tehan, of Rockton, said the issue boils down to a lack of respect and that it's unfair to form a Gay-Straight Alliance when other kids are teased for qualities such as being obese or having acne.

“We need to teach kids how to respect one another,” Tehan said.

Several parents fought against the Gay-Straight Alliance by spouting claims of diseases in the homosexual community and questioning whether the district would want to support a group that would further infections.

Though Aubrecht said Hononegah's Gay-Straight Alliance wouldn't be associated with a national organization, many citizens worried the group would become affiliated with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which, they said, would infiltrate the school with ideas that being homosexual is natural and normal.

After the public hearing finished board President Dave Kurlinkus said he wasn't trying to cheapen the discussion but reminded the group that denying the Gay-Straight Alliance proposal could set the district up for a lawsuit.

“Once that happens we have no choice but defend or give up,” he said, noting lawyers cost money.

Indeed, the district could be sued. Prior to the public hearing attorney Brandon Wright explained there's a clear legal precedent favoring the formation of gay-straight clubs, and the Equal Access Act of 1984 states a district cannot deny a club based on its content. Of all the cases, he said, only one denied its formation because support came outside the high school and there was explicit sexual content on its Web site.

If Hononegah were to approve the Gay-Straight Alliance the club would be subject to administrative procedures and policies as any other club, Wright said.

After the two-hour meeting ended, Aubrecht described the public's comments as “extreme reactions.”

“I think they are suggesting that we will be influenced by outside sources and cast aside all common sense,” she said, “which is totally not the case.”

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