By Jamie Hale
Gay bullying in schools has been a hot-button issue across the country, and in Pocatello the topic is heating up–now with support from gay rights advocates and traditionally-conservative religious groups alike.
At their regular meeting, interfaith group 2Great4Hate held a lengthy discussion about ways to help local high schools establish gay-straight alliance clubs. The group includes people from all walks of life, but everyone agreed that something needs to be done to help gay teens who suffer from taunting and bullying.
One of the most vocal supporters of the need for more resources was Randy Spencer, the multi-stake public affairs director of the Pocatello branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Spencer said the local stakes are beginning to look at ways to offer resources to local gay youth. “The best friend they will ever have will be their bishop, if they want their bishop to know,” he said.
The orders to extend a helping hand came from higher authorities in the church, said Spencer, but the issue is one that the local LDS community is taking very seriously. Any church member caught discriminating against gay individuals would be talked to and could have their membership revoked, he said.
The new policies would be a turnaround for the church that Spencer said hasn’t approached LGBTQ issues well in the past. “We certainly made a lot of mistakes … in regard to the cruelty and reactions and that sort of thing,” he said.
As for the GSA groups, members of 2Great4Hate reported that Century High School has students and sponsors ready to go and Highland High School is working on getting students and faculty willing to commit their time. Pocatello High School, on the other hand, is having some issues gathering support.
The problem with GSA groups has traditionally been the negative stigma many students, teachers and parents place on gay individuals and the fear many of those individuals feel about coming out to all of their peers.
Chris Cook, an Idaho State University student and active member of the local gay community, said the issue is dire. “Every moment that we delay is another moment that someone contemplates suicide, it’s another moment that someone cuts themself,” he said.
Cook said many in Pocatello’s LGBTQ community have heard students say they’re fearful in local schools, leading to their insistence that GSA clubs be a part of student extracurricular groups.
This week, the newly-branded Queer Straight Alliance of ISU has been discussing their own strategies to help bring GSAs into schools. Toshia Harke, co-president of Pocatello Pride, and Amanda Anderson, president of ISU’s QSA, have previously stressed the importance of local resources for struggling youth, especially within high schools.
But with a state legislature that refuses to recognize sexual orientation and gender identity in bullying legislation, and with students afraid to buck the status quo, the groups might be facing an uphill battle.
Community advocates, however, remain optimistic. “I’m really hopeful that we’ll get something accomplished,” said Cook. ” If worse comes to worse, we’re hoping to get a strong community.”
Contact Jamie at JHaleTBA@Gmail.com