When gay students and their friends at East High School in Salt Lake City attempted to organize Utah's first school club for LGBT teens in the mid-1990s, it took about five years and several court cases to finally win the board's approval.
In 2006, after a Gay-Straight Alliance club was formed at a Utah County high school, students had to battle the bigots in the Utah Legislature who tried but failed to ban the clubs, essentially support groups for LGBT students.
But this year, all it took was some correspondence from the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah to grease the skids for the kids in the Washington County School District. GSA clubs at four of the district's five high schools --- Dixie, Desert Hills, Snow Canyon and Pine View -- will officially form this fall.
The request wasn't exactly rubber-stamped. Several high schools had restrictive policies regarding clubs that may have made it difficult for the groups to organize if not for some ACLU-inspired intervention from the district office. But it didn't take a federal court case for the clubs to frame their charters, and that's a positive sign.
These types of clubs, which work to combat intolerance, stereotypes and teen alienation, pay dividends for members and nonmembers alike.
Attendance, and thus academic performance, by gay club members will likely improve. According to a 2007 survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, LGBT students in schools with gay-straight alliances report an enhanced sense of belonging, have better attendance records and are less likely to be harassed.
Plus, LGBT teens will learn that they are not alone; that it's OK to be gay. Straight kids will learn that we're all a lot more alike than we are different. And, the world will become a better place by opening one mind at a time.
Jason Osmanski, a gay Snow Canyon sophomore, said he hopes the organizations he helped form will bring an end to the harassment LGBT teens experience at school. Logan Hunt, a gay Dixie High senior who also helped organize the clubs, said he wants to "create more tolerance in our community."
Those are very modest goals -- to be tolerated, and not be harassed. To be allowed to be yourself. It shouldn't be a thing you have to fight for.
Hopefully, thanks to the courage and leadership shown by kids like Hunt and Osmanski, hearts and minds will be changed, and future generations of gay Utahns will find not only tolerance, but inclusion and acceptance as well.
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