Situational Ethics

The good people of Klein ISD change the rules to keep out a gay club

"He's gay." "You're so gay." "What are you, gay?" "That was such a gay thing to do."

Starting around middle-school age, kids -- particularly boys -- start picking at each other using the G-word. Any coach or teacher can tell you this. For adults who hate hearing this stuff, it presents a particular challenge.

A kid using the N-word gets shut down pretty quickly. But with the G-word we're on trickier ground. When kids use it, there's a question of whether they are referring to homosexual activity or just coming up with what they think is a really bad put-down. For some kids, saying something is "gay" means it's stupid. Others really mean "gay" as in homosexual, as in perverted or disgusting. The adult who presumes to wade in on behalf of tolerance may evoke an eye-rolling, what-are-you-talking-about reaction from the kids. Or may get an earful from parents whose beliefs say homosexual acts and homosexuals are sinful and disgusting.

Marla Dukler is suing the Klein school district to get a Gay Straight Alliance club at her school.
Susan Renee Martin
Marla Dukler is suing the Klein school district to get a Gay Straight Alliance club at her school.

Even the best-intentioned and courageous adults rarely offer something more than the anemic "We don't talk like that here." What happens far more often is that a coach or teacher just moves things along, pretending that he didn't hear what he heard.

Pity the poor uncomfortable coach or teacher, right?

Magnify those feelings by about 100 percent and you'll come close to imagining what it feels like for the recipient of those taunts -- particularly the minority of those kids tagged with the G-word who happen actually to be gay. Want a picture of vulnerable and defenseless? Try cold and wet on a practice field with kids chanting "gay" at you and nobody intervening on your behalf.

Anyone who doesn't think this kind of behavior isn't pervasive isn't listening.

Enter the proposed Gay Straight Alliance at Klein High School. Marla Dukler and 16 other Klein students asked the school for its blessing. More than 200 kids signed a petition asking that the 3,600-student school allow a GSA to meet on campus to give gay kids and straight kids alike a chance to talk about homosexuality and discrimination in something other than mean-spirited jeers or shamed confidences. They wanted club standing at the school, just like the Chess Club, the Bass Club, the Youth For Christ and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

But Klein High School is in a conservative area and the school stalled on the request. Inaction translated into denial. This, despite the existence of the Equal Access Act of 1984, which says public schools cannot prohibit clubs based on their philosophies. In fact, it was this act, signed under President Ronald Reagan, that opened the door to religious groups to meet on campus.

Fed up and employing the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, Dukler, a lesbian, filed suit against the Klein school district. Local church groups rising on cue, as if an angel chorus, came before the school board to denounce the very idea of such an idea. Family values. We may be on the brink of war, but the really important thing is to keep perverts out of our schools.

Marla Dukler -- what a threat to humanity, what a target for hatred. The 17-year-old junior is all of five feet four inches tall if she really stretches. She plays on the varsity tennis team and is a self-described nerd, a member of the Math Club and a participant on the competitive math team. She has a mom and dad and an older sister away at college who all love her and support her.

All she wants is a place to talk at her school. She doesn't want to discuss the tolerance needed inside her school from a place removed from the campus. She wants to talk about it from the inside.

With her shoulder-length hair, Marla Dukler doesn't quite fit the picture that comes to mind when she tells you that other kids yell "faggot" or "dyke" at her in the halls. She came out this year. "I didn't think I should have to hide it in my own school, where I'm supposed to go and feel safe and try to get an education."

Last year, when a friend of hers was encountering a lot of harassment at school, they began talking about doing something to fight back. They got some help from the Web site (Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network, pronounced "glisten"), which advocates tolerance and the formation of GSA clubs in high schools.

This year, they heard other students had gotten together to start a club. Drama teacher Travis Springfield agreed to be the sponsor.

They put in an application in early October. About a month later, they sent in a letter asking politely about their status. That's when they found out the rules had changed.

The district had added a clause: "No club or organization shall be authorized which, by virtue of its purposes, goals or activities, promotes, encourages or condones, directly or indirectly, participation in any conduct by students that is classified as a criminal offense under Texas law, or that poses a risk to their health, safety or welfare (including but not limited to, sexual activity by minors)."

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