I pulled into the parking lot 15 minutes before starting time and immediately thought I should have come much earlier. As I drove to the back parking lot, I noted the surprising number of cars and even a Baptist church full-size bus, from Kannapolis which is not even a part of the Rowan Salisbury School System.
The event? An RSS Board of Education meeting to revisit the newly changed policy regarding GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) clubs in the local high schools. A few years ago the board voted to disallow what they called “sex-based” clubs in the school system, then within the last two months, under legal advice, changed that policy.
At the following meeting during the public comment time, eight spoke out against the change, and the board responded by choosing to revisit the issue in a public meeting with their attorney. Thus this meeting.
As I walked into the building in my church lady skirt, I was treated as a 52-year-old woman, with cordial greetings and smiles exchanged with strangers, and young boys opening the doors for me. Entering the meeting room, I quickly spotted a friend amidst the crowd of strangers, and sat down in the back beside him. Then another friend came in and sat with the two of us. Theirs were the only faces I recognized in the crowd, except for the board members and the media, most of whose faces I know only as public figures. A TV camera was in place.
By starting time, there was standing room only, with many standing. There were maybe 100 present, including several young children, there with their parents. In the row in front of me were presumably a husband and wife and four little boys approximately 6-11 years old.
The atmosphere was pleasant, although charged with anticipatory energy.
Following the Pledge of Allegiance, the announcement was made that, although this was a special meeting, they would take public comment. 14 had signed up to speak, four in support of allowing the GSA clubs and ten in opposition, including six of the eight who spoke at the previous meeting.
Those speaking in support included a local PFLAG leader with a lesbian daughter, and a pastor. Among those in opposition was a young woman who brought her baby as a prop, and cried as she related her fears of her baby girl growing up and someone telling her she could be something besides a girl. Another speaker cried at the thought of what she would tell her little children if they one day asked her about gay people. As I returned to my seat after speaking in favor of the clubs, the glares from the audience were icy cold. I was no longer the kind church-looking lady, but was Satan himself.
The young boy in front of me couldn’t stop watching me the rest of the meeting, with eyes that seemed to reflect both fear and the desire to show me he was not afraid of me. He knew how to deal with Satan. How sad his eyes made me for the Christian Church. I longed to tell him that Jesus is the most important influence in my life, and that I love all children. I wanted to tell him that if he or one of his brothers finds himself struggling one day with same-sex attraction and is rejected by his family and his church, I and other Christians with me will be there ready to support him, listen to him, and love him. Of course all I could do was smile at him and breathe a silent prayer.
As the speakers took their turns at the microphone, the crowd became a Baptist congregation. The opposition speakers, often quoting Bible verses, were lauded with a sea of amens and loud applause, with an uproar when one supporting speaker was accidentally allowed more than his allotted 3 minutes. Two speakers accused the board of secretly letting the supporters know that public comments would be allowed, while keeping that knowledge from the opponents. The evidence: two of us had speaking notes. It was a church circus, reminiscent of the not-so-long-ago commissioner meetings during their discussions on prayer. Two commissioners were present. Mike Caskey spoke in opposition, and Jim Sides came in maybe an hour late and sat in the back. As far as I could guess, if there were 100 people in the audience, 94 of those were in opposition to allowing GSAs, and four of the other six were the supporting speakers.
Following public comment, the board members, guided by their attorney, dove into their business. Susan Cox made a motion to ban all extra-curricular clubs. There was much discussion on this from the board members and the attorney. Although most of the board members seemed to want to ban the GSAs, they finally voted down the motion to ban all clubs. During the discussion, it was brought out that the largest GSA club in the county has no more than six students. It was amazing to me that these few students are apparently a large enough threat to our community that we would seriously consider banning clubs that are enjoyed by hundreds, maybe thousands of our students: Junior Civitan, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Bible clubs . . .
During the discussion, Dr. Richard Miller, board chairperson, presented an admirable discourse about Jesus’ response to all kinds of people, with a reminder that not all Christians are in agreement on the issue, and that there is not just one Christian way of thinking. One woman in the audience arose dramatically, folded her arms in disgust, and exited the room.
A second motion was made by Josh Wagner that the wording be changed to only ban clubs that would encourage or discourage anyone’s sexual orientation. They went into closed session with the attorney, and came back to vote that one down also. Thus the issue closed without any change, leaving all extra-curricular clubs open for students.
I didn’t stay for the final segment but left when the board went into closed session. As a friend walked me back to my car, the air had changed. There were storm clouds in the sky but larger ones in my heart, as I pondered the state of the Church and how we have moved so far away from the example and teachings of Jesus. I didn’t know at that time what the final vote inside would be, but my heaviness was that a whole roomful of people believed with all their hearts that fighting against gay people is God’s will. God, help us.
Salisbury Post‘s coverage of meeting here