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Students, families make bid for gay-straight alliance

Published November 14, 2013 8:01 am

Box Elder High • Supporters of club cite bullying, suicides.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Brigham City • Braxton Burns, a 2011 graduate of Box Elder High, spent a week in a coma after trying to commit suicide, he told the Box Elder School District Board on Wednesday night.

"I was bullied a lot here at Box Elder High," said Burns, one of a dozen students, graduates, parents and their friends who urged the board to allow creation of a gay-straight alliance at the high school in Brigham City.

Burns said seven friends from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community have taken their lives, and a school-based alliance could have helped. "It's got to end. We really need this. We really need this in our community."

The board did not vote on the proposal, however.

That will only happen if Superintendent Ron Wolff rejects the request for a gay-straight alliance. He suggested he'll begin reviewing the application on Thursday to ensure it meets state requirements for noncurricular clubs.

"There is not a moral decision or a value decision," Wolff said. "If it meets the application process from the state, then it's approved."

The proposal, made by senior Gloria Hammond last month, came amid a district-wide revision of policies, which complicated Wednesday's nearly two-hour discussion.

While revising policies, the board has been considering for several months whether to oust all noncurricular clubs, such as Key Clubs and rodeo clubs. A gay straight alliance would be a noncurricular club.

The high cost of liability insurance for sports clubs was one reason, but board President Bryan Smith said he wants the schools to focus on education — not clubs.

"We are losing ground to other countries because we've lost our focus," Smith said.

Smith, in the end, was the only board member to oppose a revised policy that allows both kinds of clubs.

Board member Nancy Kennedy said sending noncurricular clubs to community organizations, as had been suggested, could put students at risk. She quoted her son, now in dental school, to express her support for a club that would serve LGBT students.

" 'Sometimes it's really difficult to be a kid in Box Elder,' " she said.

Hammond said she was happy the board left the door open for a gay-straight alliance.

In brief remarks to the board, she said, "Extracurricular clubs can help form a sense of community in a school."

Bob Bailey, a Brigham City businessman, was one of several community members who urged the board not to end service clubs.

Bailey, wearing his purple Key Club sweater from when he was its president in 1969, said "When you talk about gateway drugs, participation in clubs is a gateway to service."

He remembered a classmate, perhaps gay, who committed suicide.

"I think that could have been avoided," Bailey said outside the meeting. "We need to reach out and include people."

Laurie Eccleston, a board member for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), shared sobering statistics of Utah's high teen suicide rate. Gay teens are often harassed and are eight times more likely than straight kids to commit suicide, she said.

Box Elder County had the highest rate of suicide for 10-to-17-year-olds among Utah's counties from 2008 through 2012, she noted.

Data from the Utah Department of Health show a suicide rate of 13.87 out of 100,000, twice as high as the nearest county, Weber. However, the department cautions against drawing conclusions because the underlying data for Box Elder may be insufficient.

"This shows that intolerance… is hurting kids in this part of the state," said Eccleston, who lives in Layton.

Doree Burt of Logan, a member of Mormons Building Bridges, said gay-straight alliances are in keeping with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' practice of creating "havens" for children as young as 18 months.

"Can we look at any classroom or Scout group and decide which ones are OK to push out of our lives and not provide a safe place for them?" she asked.

kmoulton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kristenmoulton