A month ago I heard about Flour Bluff High School in Corpus Cristi, Texas. A 17-year-old student there named Nikki Peet was trying to start a gay-straight alliance (GSA).
However the Flour Bluff ISD Superintendent Julie Carbajal swiftly moved to block the creation of this student group as ‘non-curricular’ and when pressed about the Jocks for Jesus group meeting on the same campus said I guess I will kick that group off campus too until this all blows over.
Superintendent Julie Carbajal said she has asked the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to meet off campus while the district studies the legality of allowing the club while disallowing a club supporting homosexual students. She said there is no chance the district will approve the proposed Gay-Straight Alliance, but she will make sure all other school clubs are following the district’s policy. (source)
Well aside from doing her best to pit one of the most powerful and popular groups of students against arguably the least, Julie also attracted the attention of the Texas A&M’s GSA and the Texas branch of the ACLU. These groups most certainly pointed out to the Board of Flour Bluff ISD that refusing to allow a tiny group of students an after school classroom to eat popcorn, play scrabble, talk about life and feel safe could result in $350,000 legal settlement.
And there for a while things seemed to be going against this anti-gay superintendent when at a March 9 at a board meeting it was confirmed that the district is legally compelled to allow the GSA to hold meetings on campus. At the close of that meeting it was clear that the GSA would be permitted at Flour Bluff.
The student leader of this little controversy, Nikki Peet, wasn’t at the meeting for health reasons but her mother Maria Peet was there to represent her. At the close of the meeting Maria told reporters that she has raised Nikki (who is a wheelchair user) with a strong sense of equal rights: “I’ve always taught her everyone is equal. We are in wheel chairs but we can deal, we can do what anyone else can do,” she said.
Not so for the teachers under the supervision of Julie Carbajal who have been clearly told that some children are absolutely not equal. As it seems that as of today the teachers of Flour Bluff have done a great job shunning Nikki and the peer group wishing to initiate a G.S.A.
The local news KZTV10 reports today:
The Gay-Straight Alliance has run into a little problem with sponsorship. According to organizer Nikki Peet, the group has still not met on campus because they do not have a faculty sponsor. Peet says the student Gay Straight Alliance did have a sponsor, but the sponsor backed out after the controversy started getting attention.
Oh and just in case the shunning and silencing are not enough to circumvent the law – Superintendent Carbajal has scheduled a committee meeting for this Friday to make sure once again that there is no chance the district will approve the proposed Gay-Straight Alliance.
The Federal Equal Access Act – originally lobbied for by religious groups to make sure their clubs could meet on campus – was passed in 1984 and has been used successfully in repeated cases since 1999 to provide equal access to students wishing to start a gay straight alliance. The 1st Amendment is generally called into play in these cases as well so the districts who take this anti-gay position find themselves fighting adamantly against equality among the students within their school system.
Given the last 20 years of precedent, I am fairly confident Julie and her anti-gay support system in Flour Bluff will pay – literally pay for the next several years for this bold stand against human rights for certain students. And I will restate – this is all to prevent a small group of kids from having a space to hang out, feel safe, make art, eat food, and talk. GSA’s are quite simply high school social clubs for the kids who don’t feel safe in any other high school social club.
Banning this little social group and then making a public example of these children will probably cost the Flour Bluff district close to half a million dollars. Good.
Because I am quite sure Julie’s leadership and strong anti-gay educational position has buoyed an incredibly hostile space for all sorts of non-conforming kids and families within the community.
I mean consider this, in Flour Bluff not a single high school teacher currently feels able to stand up as an ‘ally’ in this situation. Perhaps teachers know they will lose their job? Be harassed by anti-gay community members? Have their family targeted for harassment? Certainly anyone can read the comment threads in the local news papers and hear the hateful tone of support Julie has whipped up for her position among many vocal community members.
In short I expect this superintendents legacy will be a big fat legal fine and a wealth of damaged and broken relationships within her community. Her leadership will have contributed to a local teaching workforce of intimidated and cowering professionals, empowered bigots, hurt families, and increasingly vulnerable youth. And can I mention one more time – a nasty tax burden for willfully and repeatedly breaking Federal laws.
17-year-old Nikki Peet’s legacy on the other hand will be one of building bridges, reaching out to support a minority group, and attempting to leverage her “ally” status – to make high school a little more livable and humane for her queer peers.
We each leave a legacy – through silence or through actions. And I am quite certain Maria Peet was proud of Nikki this month when she was celebrated at the 2011 GLADD Awards:
From the GLADD press release: “The year’s honorees, nominees and award recipients represent diverse stories that are building acceptance and understanding about our community through their excellent work,” said GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios. “GLAAD thanks all in attendance for joining us and voicing their support for equality.”