Gay-Straight Alliance seeks recognition

If the newly formed Gay-Straight Alliance wants to be recognized on campus, it will first have to complete the required paperwork, according to Principal Rick Fleming. Until the club Until then, the administration will prohibit the group from advertising through posters and morning announcements.

“[Administration] restricted our ability to hang posters and make announcements about the GSA,” said senior Ashlynn Love, the founding club member. “We have to get word out through Facebook and word of mouth.”

Fleming explains the procedure groups must follow in order to be officially recognized on campus.

“All of our clubs are supposed to be service or competition-oriented — or working towards that,” he said. “[The GSA] is more of a gathering [of students]. We’re not going to hang posters for something like that. To be a club just for recognition is not something I think is worthy of being a club at West Shore.”

Love questioned the the administration’s stand.

“I don’t see how he can say that all the clubs are competition or service-oriented when we have clubs such as reading club and forensics club,” she said.

Fleming said the rules apply to all clubs equally.

“In the reading club, I know we’re working towards accelerated readers, which is a form of competition,” he said. “Cinematography club always is submitting photos for awards in photo contests.

Senior Jake Swanson insists the Gay-Straight Alliance is more than just a gathering.

“The GSA creates a safe environment for everyone, for all types of students,” he said.

Fleming said he sees value in the club.

“[The GSA] is a great opportunity to teach tolerance at West Shore,” he said. “[Though] to be honest, I don’t have feelings either way.”

Emily Trencher, a Florida Institute of Technology freshman and West Shore alumna who helps plan West Shore GSA meetings, voiced her concerns.

“Giving so many restrictions not only makes it difficult to spread the word to students that might need a club like the GSA,” she said, “but [it] also sends a message the club is frowned upon, whether that’s the administration’s intention or not. That’s completely opposite of the sort of message we want to send: That it’s OK to be who you are. It’s difficult to feel comfortable with yourself if you are under the impression that the adults who are supposed to be keeping you safe dislike the sort of club that represents that part of you.”

Several club members said there was difficulty just trying to form the GSA.

“I spoke to [Principal] Fleming about it,” Love said. “He said [the GSA] could cause conflict with parents, which I personally don’t care about,” she said. “I could care less what parents think as long as students are protected from bullying.”

Fleming eventually agreed to the club and asked teacher Carrie Glass to sponsor it. Glass however was unable to comment due to illness.

The Gay-Straight Alliance is not the only club facing restrictions. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes was also unable to make morning announcements or hang posters for its “Following Christ Always” T-shirt sale.

“We were told not to post posters,” said sophomore Taryn Tolle, the FCA member who designed the club’s first T-shirt. “We didn’t get as many sales as we would have [with posters].”

FCA sponsor Anita Unrath agrees that lack of publicity hurt sales.

“I’m sure there are more people who would want a shirt,” she said. “I did have to get approval [for the design] from the district. There is a right for students to express themselves.”

Contrary to what Tolle and Unrath said however, Fleming says that the FCA actually is able to hang posters.

“Because [the Fellowship of Christian Athletes] is service-oriented, I don’t have a problem with them hanging posters,” he said. “I’ve never really been asked that decision. I would have to consult our leadership team and see if that would something that would be appropriate.”

Love says the GSA can become a service-oriented club.

“We can create a scholarship too,” she said. “That was one of my earliest ideas.”

If that happens, Fleming says the GSA could have a chance of becoming a club that can hang posters.

“I would have to be convinced that it is a service-oriented club. They would have to submit an application to be a club that could meet during the day [and hang posters],” he said. “[Making a scholarship] may make a really good case, but I’m not going to make a decision off the cuff.”

Trencher explains her motivation despite facing several challenges to form the club.

“Our only goal is to help people,” she said. “If it takes speaking out and shaking things up to reach that goal, then we’ll do it.”

By Andrew Lim