But at three local high schools here this fall, dozens of gay students and their supporters finally convened the first Gay-Straight Alliances in the history of this conservative, largely Mormon city. It was a turning point here and for the state, where administrators, teachers and even the Legislature have tried for years to block support groups for gay youths, calling them everything from inappropriate to immoral.
The new alliances in St. George were part of a drastic rise this fall in the number of clubs statewide, reflecting new activism by gay and lesbian students, an organizing drive by a gay rights group and the intervention of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has threatened to sue districts that put up arbitrary hurdles. Last January, only 9 high schools in Utah had active Gay-Straight Alliances; by last month, the number had reached 32.
The alliances must still work around a 2007 state law that was expressly intended to stifle them by requiring parental permission to join and barring any discussions of sexuality or contraception, even to prevent diseases.
Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, a conservative family group, promoted the law. Its authors expected, she said, that requiring parental permission would deter some children from joining the alliances and that restricting topics for discussion would mean that “there’s not a lot of purpose in being there, and the clubs end up being pretty small.”
“I just don’t think these clubs are appropriate in schools,” Ms. Ruzicka said. “You can talk about providing support, but you’re also creating a gay recruiting tool.”
The NY Times has the full article