By Lam Ho, Kasey Marshall, and Fleming Smith
The Franklin County Board of Education held a public meeting in the Franklin County High School auditorium on Monday, February 8 at 6:30 p.m. to discuss policies concerning student clubs and organizations. This order of business was necessitated by intense community controversy surrounding the attempts of FCHS students to form a Gay-Straight Alliance club. With this meeting, the board intended to clarify the criteria and procedures of organization approval. A supportive rally preceded the meeting, with at least 100 in attendance.
Abbie Warr (C’19) says, “It was empowering to see the Sewanee community, FCHS community, and the rest of the Franklin County community join together in supporting such a noble cause.”
The rally attracted the attention of journalists and reporters interested in the tension represented in the opposing forces: on one side, Confederate flags waved with zeal from vehicles, while on the other, GSA supporters greeted the vehicles in the high school parking lot. Perhaps to an onlooker’s surprise, supporters of the GSA cause came from every background: gay, straight, old, secular, religious, parents, and children. The advisor of the GSA club, a teacher, asked the group to remain quiet because the supposed meeting was already a win for gay supporters.
Those opposing the existence of a Gay-Straight Alliance argued that parents should have the liberty to teach sexuality and religion in the household, privately, rather than allow their children to face exposure to controversial concepts in the classroom or even after school.
Proponents argued that the GSA would provide a safe space for students of all gender and sexual orientations while opponents claimed that the strong social agendas embodied by the GSA had no place in public schools. They argued that the school’s primary purpose was to give an unbiased education and everything else was extraneous to this purpose. To represent their corresponding views, four speakers addressed the board, the public, and the national press. In order, the speakers were teacher Chris Ball, Robert Weidlich, FCHS freshman Kevin Hambrick, and religious leader Peter Trenchi.
Ball opposed bullying, but he also advocated for the elimination of all nonacademic clubs. Weidlich argued that he found the representation of sexual orientation inappropriate in the public school system. He explained that he considered GSA a gateway that subjects students to “fisting, rimming, oral sex, and anal sex.”
Hambrick, an ally to the GSA club, felt that the club was important and that the school could not necessarily stop them from gathering. Trenchi, in agreement with Hambrick’s view, explained that students identifying with the LGBTQ+ community needed a place to be safe.
Next, the school board discussed the definition of an “after-school activity or club.” In the end, most people left because there was no vote tallied, but the board planned to meet in March in order to make a decision on the fate of after-school clubs as a whole.
Lucas Crossland (C’17) says, “I was there to support the students of FCHS. I thought it was important that they could see a person like myself who is queer and grew up in Winchester. It was especially great to see clergy there in support of the kids. I overheard one kid say, ‘There are ministers here! And they’re on our side!’ The fight is not over though. The issue will be discussed at the next school board meeting. I would encourage all who are able to attend to support the students of FCHS and the Queer youth in the area.”
Photos courtesy of Facebook of Franklin County High School TN Gay Straight Alliance Supporters