Tuesday, March 12, 2013

ACLU And Equality Pennsylvania Threaten To Sue Chambersburg Area School District After Student Request To Form Gay-Straight Alliance Denied, Boy Scouts Of America Survey Members Regarding Its Ban On Gays, IRS Revokes Tax-Exempt Status Of Gay Conversion Therapy Organization

An update on a previous post: the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and Equality Pennsylvania sent a letter today to the Chambersburg Area School District on behalf of a group of Chambersburg Area Senior High School students whose request to form a Gay-Straight Alliance club was denied by the school board last month. According to the letter, the school board's decision to deny the group status as an official club is a violation of federal law. The Public Opinion reports that the letter gives the school district until March 15, 2013, to reverse its decision or face legal action. "Allowing the creation of the Gay-Straight Alliance club is not only the legal thing to do, it is the right thing to do for the district's students," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "Discrimination and harassment can have a devastating impact on gay youth, and GSAs provide an important and safe forum for students who are concerned about these issues." The students initially proposed the GSA at the January 2013 school board meeting. They were told to make revisions to their bylaws and to come back again. At its February 27, 2013, meeting, the school board voted 5-4 to deny the club official club status. Without official approval, the GSA may not use the school's morning announcement system or put up flyers advertising its events, may not hold events or fundraisers, and may not participate as a group in Color Day events. The school district has previously granted official approval to a number of non-curricular student groups at the Chambersburg High Senior School, including the Bible Club, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Ping Pong Club. "Equality Pennsylvania strongly recommends that the Chambersburg Area School Board reconsider their decision on a Gay-Straight Alliance at Chambersburg Senior High School," said Equality Pennsylvania Executive Director Ted Martin. "Given the lack of an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying law in Pennsylvania, local school districts are left on their own to ensure safe environments for LGBT students to learn and to be themselves. Equality Pennsylvania is hopeful that the members of the Chambersburg Area School Board will do the right thing and allow students to organize a GSA in their district." According to the letter, CASD is in violation of the federal Equal Access Act, which requires public schools to treat all non-curricular student clubs equally. Federal courts have consistently upheld the Equal Access Act's protection for students wishing to form GSAs. "Schools need to understand that they cannot pick and choose which clubs to allow," said Molly Tack-Hooper, staff attorney for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "The same law that ensures the right of GSAs to exist also protects the existence of a variety of clubs, from scrapbooking to religious clubs." A copy of the letter can be found at the source.

Faced with a backlash against their ban on gays, the Boy Scouts of America are surveying their members on a potential change in policy. A questionnaire distributed to 1.1 million adult Scouts uses fictional situations to discern where Scouting's membership falls on questions of homosexuality, gays camping with children and gays in church leadership. It allows adult Scouts to indicate a range of feelings, from strong support to strong opposition to the ban on gays. Some questions are direct queries of the respondent's feelings on homosexuality and children. "Bob is 15 years old, and the only openly gay Scout in a Boy Scout troop," the survey begins its third question. "Is it acceptable or unacceptable for the troop leader to allow Bob to tent with a heterosexual boy on an overnight camping trip?" But the majority of the 13-question survey is more nuanced, including two open-ended questions about the impact of either banning or allowing gay members. Many of the questions indicate scenarios that would likely arise should the ban on gays be lifted. For instance, should the lesbian mother of a Tiger Cub be allowed to serve as den leader if the pack is chartered to a church that teaches that homosexuality is not wrong? Should a gay youth minister be allowed to serve as a Scoutmaster? Should a boy with the qualifications for Eagle Scout be denied the award if he reveals he's gay at his board review? After the theoretical situations are posed, the survey then again asks respondents about their feelings on gays in Scouting. The Scouts provided the survey by e-mail Tuesday morning to the Associated Press. Long the province of a strict anti-gay policy that went so far as to put members found to be gay in the organization's secret "perversion" files, Scouting has now generally evolved into a sort of "don't-ask, don't-tell" policy concerning its membership — even if the "don't-tell" aspect means the national leadership has had to ignore news accounts of its troops publicly declaring their refusal to abide by the ban on gays. That's already happening in some branches of the organization, including troops in Minnesota, California and Massachusetts, but few troops are eager to publicize their positions, which could end with the troop losing its charter for breaking with the central Scouts office. The survey introduces the possibility of acknowledging those differences. "Different organizations that charter Boy Scout troops have different positions on the morality of homosexuality," the survey said. "Do you support or oppose allowing charter organizations to follow their own beliefs when selecting Boy Scout members and adult leaders, if that means there will be different standards from one organization to the next?" The survey questions are part of a semi-annual survey called The Voice of The Scout. It was distributed via email to registered volunteers and parents of Scouts of whom the organization had e-mail addresses. Scouts alumni will receive the surveys in "the next couple of days," said Scouts spokesman Deron Smith. Current Boy Scouts weren't sent these questions. The questions were developed by North Star Opinion Research, a Virginia research firm that says it serves political, corporate and non-profit clients. We are currently in the 'Listening Phase,' where the BSA's committees engage key stakeholders for input and develop a summary report," Smith said in an email. "Part of this process is to survey a variety of key stakeholders." Smith said the organization convened a committee in 2010 made up of professional and volunteer Scouts to review the gay ban. After two years of research, Smith said the committee decided to maintain the policy. In May, that could change. A proposed resolution that will address whether to modify or rescind the policy will be developed for the Scouts' National Council to vote on.

Monday, the IRS notified the public that it has revoked The National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality’s (NARTH) tax-exempt status for failure to file proper forms for three consecutive years, reports UPI. The NARTH website states that the organization "promotes self-determination, individual liberty, and the right to respond to one’s own moral conscience. We are focused on the right of persons to deal with unwanted sexual attractions as well as the right of therapists to offer psychological care to those who wish to deal with these attractions by diminishing or eliminating them rather than just identifying with and acting upon them." They stress that they are not a religious organization, rather a "professional, scientific organization that offers hope to those who struggle with unwanted homosexuality." NARTH's many critics argue they use "junk science" to promote their cause. In October 2012, California SB 1172 banned the practice of gay conversion therapy when used on minors -- the first such legislation in the country. In December, a federal judge blocked the new law, which was set to go into effect, January 1, 2013. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has taken the case and, on April 13, will begin oral arguments in San Francisco. The NARTH website solicits donations to aid its legislative battle over the new law; however, it is unclear that these donations are no longer tax-deductible. Although the announcement was just published this week, the revocation went into effect in September of last year, and it's difficult to tell if members who donated after that time were aware of the change.

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