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Principal Blasted by Salt Lake City School Parents

Benign Slide Show Hosted by Lesbian/ Gay Group

GLSEN: 'Educator & Gay Students True Heroes'

Compiled By GayToday

mormontemple2.jpg - 8.86 K Salt Lake City, Utah—Kay Petersen, Principal of East High School, told 300 parents at a raucous assembly Monday that he took full responsibility for allowing a six-minute slide show that had been presented by the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) outlining important events in gay, lesbian and bisexual history, telling of famous gay and lesbian contributors to American culture and of communities outside Utah that do not purposefully foster anti-gay discrimination.

In 1996 the Salt Lake City School District had banned all student clubs rather than allow such groups as the Gay Straight Alliance to meet, but gay and lesbian students under provisions of the Utah Civic Center Act, which allows groups with outside sponsors to rent space from the school for meetings, continued to have weekly meetings at the school.

The controversial slide show took place in the context of the high school's annual multicultural presentation which students are required to attend. Mandatory attendance, it is hoped, helps curb local crime and the problematic truancy that is all too common in schools.

Some students loudly objected from the audience by shouting epithets.

A faculty member, responding to their outrage, stepped up and asked for all yelling and boos to stop. Petersen responded to parental calls for his ouster by saying that his long-planned retirement would soon go into effect. The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) thanked Principal Petersen for his willingness to allow inclusiveness in the school system.

GSLEN officials noted that such student behavior "only further points to the continued harassment and mistreatment that many gay, lesbian, and bisexual students experience on a daily basis within our schools."

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Related Sites:
Salt Lake City School District

Addressing the parents Petersen said: "If there was a lapse of sensitivity, it's mine…I see people stand up and dodge bullets all the time, but you're not going to see a man do that here. I'm telling you, if anyone erred, I erred. I did it based on what I thought was legal and right."

Petersen insists he is not an advocate for homosexuality but for the safety of children, no matter their orientations. He pointed to the facts: that many gay and lesbians students do not feel safe.

According to GLSEN studies show:

  • Average high school students hear anti-gay epithets 25 times a day
  • When teachers hear these comments, they fail to respond 97% of the time
  • 80% of prospective teachers report negative attitudes toward gay and lesbian people
  • Gay youth are more than five times as likely as their straight classmates to skip school because they feel unsafe
  • In 1995, 36.5% of self identified gay, lesbian, and bisexual students attempted suicide compared to 8.9% of their peers.
  • In 1995, 28.8% of self identified gay, lesbian, and bisexual students reported they were threatened/injured with a weapon at school in the past year compared to 6.7% of their non-gay identified peers.

    "The struggle for gay rights is a continuation of the civil rights movement into the the new century." said GLSEN/Utah Co-Chair Tracy Vandeventer.

    "In the past, it was perceived as OK to harass and exclude individuals who were African-American. It was perceived by many to be OK to harass and exclude people with disabilities.

    "Now we can't imagine such behavior. Yet the climate still exists where many perceive that it is still OK to harass and exclude people who are gay. Some day gay, lesbian, and bisexual students will be safe and included in our schools. Assemblies like the one at East bring that day closer to reality."

    Vandeventer continued, "GLSEN/Utah recognizes Kay Petersen and the students who presented today as heroes. Through their refusal to be threatened and bullied by those who want to silence the voices of some students, they are helping to make the world a better place for everyone. They truly are teaching respect for ALL."

    Loud and angry parents failed to appreciate any such heroism. A local mother was quoted as saying: "As a graduate of East High, the daughter of graduates of East High and a retired teacher, I think your judgment stinks," she told Principal Petersen.

    Pointing to the principal, her voice rising, she said: "I've had it, by godfrey, and if this happens again, I will take (my son) out of the school."

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