- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Family groups and state lawmakers say “gay-straight” student clubs in the region — some even are operating at middle schools — promote homosexuality and encourage teens to be sexually active.

Students in Virginia, Maryland and the District have formed dozens of such school clubs in an attempt to foster tolerance.

The formation of these clubs has become an issue in Virginia, where homosexual-rights advocates say the clubs help communities bridge divisions — but more conservative groups fear students will be lured into engaging in behavior they don’t support.

“They are teaching acceptance and that it’s OK to be a homosexual and to practice homosexual sex acts,” said John Elledge chairman of the Republican Party of Harrisonburg, Va. “I’m all for just getting along, but I’m not at all for having a sexually oriented club in our high school.”

Students in Prince William County’s C.D. Hylton High School want to form a Gay-Straight Alliance after-school club, and have a petition on the Internet. They claim the club will be a “safe environment” in which students can talk about homosexual issues in school and that they will discuss “coming out” and bullying by other students.

Some clubs are being formed at schools that have even younger students.

For example, the Garrison Forest Schoolin Owings Mills, Md., has a Gay-Straight Alliance student club, according to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which registers such clubs.

Officials at Garrison Forest School, which has elementary, middle and high school students, did not return calls.

The Oldfields School in Glencoe, Md., a boarding school that also has eighth-grade students, has a Gay-Straight Alliance.

GLSEN officials said there are at least 40 gay-straight clubs at schools in Virginia, 54 in Maryland and two in the District.

George Mason Middle School in Falls Church is listed with GLSEN, as is George Mason High School. But school officials at George Mason Middle School said this week there is no such group on campus.

Mr. Elledge, who recently learned about Harrisonburg High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance, wants it disbanded. He has been lobbying the local school board to discontinue the club.

“Somewhere, you have to draw a line,” said Mr. Elledge, who also serves as the legislative assistant for Delegate Glenn M. Weatherholtz, Harrisonburg Republican. “It may be that they think the community is approving of this.”

But Rhonda Buckner, executive director of the Metro D.C. Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), said the clubs are a “valuable resource” that help to enlighten students, their parents and the greater communities.

“Parents are afraid of these groups because they don’t understand them,” Miss Buckner said. “They hear the word ‘gay,’ and they are afraid their kid is going to catch it. It’s not catchable.”

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