Gay Straight Alliance at Franklin County HS Source of Heated Debate, National Attention
UPDATE: The board has decided the GSA group will not be affected, though a vote on needing parent permission to take part in extracurricular organizations could take place during the next meeting.
FRANKLIN, Tenn.--A newly formed Gay Straight Alliance club at Franklin County High School will be the topic of debate tonight during a Franklin County Schools board meeting.
The formation of the club has ignited debate locally and nationally from supporters who point towards legal rights and the belief federal funding covers school clubs like the GSA while opponents call it an attack on those who are pro-family and believe the group shouldn't be on school property. The school board has already been faced with an outpouring of supporters from both sides and tonight's meeting could see hundreds appear to voice their stance.
Among those appearing will be Brian Camenker, founder of the pro-family group MassResistance (formerly known as the Parent's Rights Coalition). Cameniker's group has been involved in the pro-family movement for 20 years. Although based in Massachusetts, Camenker says the group is active in every state and 12 countries.
Camenker spoke with FOX 17, saying he personally came to attend the meeting because he is an alumnus of University of the South, an institution he says is behind the push to get GSA activists from around the country to Franklin in an effort to "intimidate people."
Camenker says he's been told the board will be possibly voting on the fate of the GSA club and made the trip because the "community is right not to want this" and to help temper the "intimidation" coming from the other side.
"It's vile...all of this sexual weirdness targeted to this community, businesses...nobody's seen this before, all this anger. They're coming to intimidate people," Camenker says. He expects supporters of the GSA to come from as far as Colorado, saying it is an example of the University of the South's push. "Why are they so angry about something happening in Franklin? You'll see maybe hundreds here to intimidate us."
Camenker says while it might be a new issue for "pro-family" parents and students in Franklin, he has dealt with GSA groups for 20 years and claims they are the "exact opposite of what they say." Camenker says the groups "lead to homosexual pornography, meeting other gay people and transgender people...They hand out anti-Christianity pamphlets," Camenker says.
He says he believes GSA clubs are all about making people feel good about being gay and "it's the worst thing that could happen to them." Cameker says "They tend to attract kids that are troubled for other reasons. It doesn't solve any problems, it makes them worse. These groups coming here (Franklin) is not about the kids here, it's about hatred for Christian values."
On the opposite side of the aisle are support groups for the GSA club such as the Franklin County High School TN Gay Straight Alliance Supporters. The group plans on holding a pride rally at 5pm before the school board meeting that will take place at 6:30 pm inside the FCHS auditorium. The group is aware of Camenker's arrival and has posted information on their Facebook page to alert members.
Also on-hand for tonight's meeting will be Chris Sanders with the Tennessee Equality Project. Sanders says the idea GSAs or other groups which support GSAs being anti-Christian, passing out anti-Christian information or having hatred for Christian values is far from the truth.
"These kids share the same values as their peers. Most of the kids were brought up in Christian homes and reflect the same religious values. There were 40 Episcopal clergy members at the last meeting supporting the GSA," Sanders says. As for Camenker's belief the University of the South is behind GSA support, Sanders believes it contradicts Camenker's claims. "The University of the South has been there for a very long time. It's an Episcopal school. If support is coming from them, then how is it anti-Christian?"
Sanders says to believe being a part of a GSA somehow leads to pornography is not correct. "I don't see the connection. Maybe that's what happens in Massachusetts, but not in Middle-Tennessee. It is not any kind of sex class or recruitment. It's for kids to talk about bullying, struggles coming out and being themselves. For someone from Massachusetts to come and say it's somehow connected to porn is bizarre...It shows where his mind is at."
Some believe the elimination of all extracurricular clubs could be on the table tonight, a sacrifice board members might be willing to make. At the FCS board meeting last month, Director of Schools Amime Lonas was tasked with adding more parameters to the Administrative Procedure as it pertains to club and organization criteria. The changes are expected to be "revisited" during tonight's meeting, leading many to believe a vote or update on changes made to the policy will be discussed.