by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Since 1995, the student body of Henry M. Jackson High School in Mill Creek, Washington, has organized and conducted a food drive, donating the collected food and money to the Everett Salvation Army. Three years ago, a complaint was made by an employee of the Everett School District concerning Jackson's choice of the charity.
That employee is Greg Stair, a fine arts teacher at Everett High School and a teacher's union representative serving on the Everett Public Schools District Equity and Access Advisory Council. As an open Gay man and the club advisor for his school's Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), he believes the Salvation Army is discriminatory towards the LGBT community, and he fails to see why it is allowed into a public school system.
'The Salvation Army has a disturbing policy in regards to the LGBT community,' Stair told Seattle Gay News in December of last year. 'As the Everett High School GSA advisor, I think we need to set a good example for our students. This is not the example I want my students to see.'
Stair bases his views on the Salvation Army's belief statement on homosexuality, which reads, in part: 'Sexual attraction to the same sex is a matter of profound complexity & Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex. The Salvation Army believes, therefore, that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life. There is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage.'
Still, three years - and a lot of heartache on the part of Stair and his GSA students - later, the Henry M. Jackson High School Associated Student Body (ASB) has again decided to continue donating food and proceeds to the Everett Salvation Army.
As one could imagine, Stair is not happy.
'The decision by the ASB makes me feel like I'm not worthy of being a full person, like my relationship with my partner of 17 years is somehow less meaningful to my employer than if I had been partnered with someone of the opposite sex,' he told SGN.
The three-year battle to expel the Salvation Army from Henry M. Jackson High School has been a grueling one. ASB organizations in school across Washington state are governed by students in leadership positions, allowing them to make decisions about student-led projects. Students' participation in the projects is voluntary, and no grades are given or tied to an academic requirement. In other words, aside from complaints (both formal and informal), Stair's hands are tied.
Stair admits he is not an advocate for the process by which the high school ASBs are run. 'I'm against it,' he said. 'Students should not have been given the option to decide to violate the district's non-discriminatory policy and ignore the separation of church and state. I think the ASB has taken the school in a direction that comes into direct conflict with the inclusive direction the school district has stated they want to pursue.'
Unfortunately for Stair, the students were given that choice. Even after meeting with Henry M. Jackson High School's GSA, they decided to go with the Salvation Army yet again.
'At the meeting with the GSA club, the students of both groups had a civil, candid conversation about our thoughts about the Salvation Army,' wrote Stephanie Banning, ASB president 2010-2011, in a letter to the student body and school district officials. 'The GSA had previously discussed the issue on their own, and they had come to a conclusion and suggestion for ASB: that Jackson's food drive remain benefiting the Salvation Army.'
According to Banning, the GSA noted that 'although there are discriminatory statements about homosexuals on the national organization website, the local [Everett] chapter does not discriminate in practice, nor in theory on their own website.'
In the end, Jackson's GSA decided that the good that the Salvation Army does for the community outweighs the negative statements, and that ultimately the food drive is about helping other people defeat hunger, not about a sentence on their website.
'The students in the club all felt comfortable working on the food drive with the Salvation Army,' concluded Banning.
Stair was not a part of the meeting and says he is unsure what happened in that discussion.
During the meetings that Stair was involved in, he suggested that Jackson's ASB ask the Everett Salvation Army to post a statement on their website separating themselves from the national organization. He cited examples of a similar case concerning the United Way and the Boy Scouts of America as a precedent. In addition, he asked that the Everett Salvation Army promise that all money from Jackson would stay with the local chapter.
According to Banning, 'When ASB first discussed this possibility, we thought it would be a good solution.'
However, after further discussion, the students decided it was not fair for them to 'force this ultimatum on the Salvation Army.'
Banning said, 'We already found that the Everett chapter of the Salvation Army does not discriminate in practice, nor do they have discriminatory statements on their own website.'
Stair is unimpressed and feels let down by the school district for even allowing the students to choose the Salvation Army from a number of charities.
'I hope the process I have endured with this issue never happens to a student,' he told SGN. 'I have been delayed for three years, I have had my professional integrity put into question by administration at Jackson High School, I have been put into the position of either dropping the issue or outing myself in front of students and staff, and I have dealt with harassment in the workplace.'
'These things are not OK,' he concluded.
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