ROCKTON - Citizens fiercely opposed Hononegah High School forming a Gay-Straight Alliance last summer, but since the Board of Education approved it in September the club has fallen under the community's radar as members meet weekly, sometimes just to play games or organize school-wide movie nights.
“It was such a big deal when it started that now I suppose when we're not causing some controversy people forget we exist,” said Brian Carrell, GSA president.
Public hearings on the GSA attracted dozens of citizens - most lived within the district boundaries, but a few traveled from out of town - who argued the organization would promote sexual activity among teens and worried the club's presence would change the school's climate because homosexuality would be constantly reinforced.
But, after talking with Carrell, it seems as though what the club's opponents feared have yet to come to fruition.
“It's not discussing sex,” the 18-year-old senior said. “It's not anything that would be inappropriate in a school environment.”
Although the alliance reached out to non-members by hosting a Friday movie night - “Pirates of the Caribbean” was shown - the group tends to keep to itself, meeting Wednesdays in a classroom.
Depending on how busy the members are, meetings may last for 90 minutes while others may break up after 30. Some days the teens just play games and eat snacks, but they've also discussed stereotypes and how sexuality is portrayed in popular culture. For example, the group discussed the positives and negatives of J.K. Rowling revealing that her “Harry Potter” character, Albus Dumbledore, is gay.
Attendance varies each week, but about 15 teens anchor the group, Carrell said, noting that aside from advertising the meeting times on posters throughout the school, the members haven't actively recruited.
“We want them to be there because they want to be there,” he said.
Expecting harassment, the club spent its first meeting talking about ways to handle such behavior, and the teens created a list of rules, such as they wouldn't accept hate speeches of any kind.
Attacks on the group were few, and personal attacks have been even fewer, Carrell said, noting since the GSA's start more teachers have cracked down on students using gay slurs, and the adults opposing the group who promised to attend every meeting to monitor discussions have yet to come.
“Legally they couldn't keep those promises, but I'm glad none of them tried,” Carrell said.
In the few months the GSA has met, Carrell said participating in the homecoming parade was one of his favorite moments with the club.
“It was surreal to be walking in the homecoming parade and to feel like you were really on equal ground with the rest of the school,” he said.
English teacher Cathy Aubrecht proposed the group last May and said it would serve as a safe zone for students to discuss issues they face. Additionally, it would educate students about gay and lesbian issues and provide a network for gay, lesbian and straight students who want to make their school more hospitable.
The board voted 5-2 to allow the GSA to become a co-curricular activity.