Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog

1.03.2007

Gay-Straight Iron Curtain

By Shawn Healy
Yasmin Gonzalez's futile efforts to start a Gay-Straight Alliance at Okeechobee (FL) High School were squashed by an adminstrator who said that the school stands for only sexual abstinence and therefore prohibits such an organization. Gonzalez's hope to bring a same-sex date to the school prom was also stymied, and a teacher reportedly said that homosexuals should die. Such an environment is wanting for such an organization, particularly when 500 students expressed their support for Gonzalez's prom proposal, and 50 others signed up for the club.

The 1984 federal Equal Access mandates that schools who allow any extracurricular groups to meet on campus must extend the invitation to all interested parties. The 1990 Mergens decision affirmed this principle, invoking the First Amendment freedoms of religion and speech. How ironic that a bill meant to protect religious groups would also benefit those that some of these same individuals comdemn.

My experience as an educator presented similar obstacles in the realm of gay rights. A couple of my students asked for my assistance in forming a gay-straight alliance as they researched the issue of homosexual rights as independent study students in my government class. I consented, believing that students that believed so strongly in a cause should be supported. Their efforts to recruit members in other social studies classes prompted parent phone calls in oppoisition to such a cause. This led to subtle hints from the school administration that we abandon our efforts, and as a non-tenured teacher I bowed to these pressures. It stands as perhaps my biggest regret as I look back upon my six-year career in the classroom.

I commend Yasmin Gonzalez for standing up for constitutionally protected free speech in a school environment and community hostile to her lifestyle and position. I only wish I exhibited similar courage a couple of years ago. Ultimately her cause will prevail, but the barriers will not fall without a principled fight.

6 Comments:

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SHAWN HEALY

Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project


Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.



Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.


First Amendment journalism initiative


The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at