LGBT center shunned

By By Adam Fifield

By Adam Fifield

Members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center weren’t surprised when buses of high school students didn’t show up for the Second Annual LGBT Student Recruitment Conference at the Union yesterday.

What did surprise them, however, was how Utah’s public schools — specifically Jordan School District — blocked students from attending.

“They’re telling their students, in fact, it’s not OK to be LGBT,” said Bonnie Owens, an intern at the LGBT center and a senior in gender studies.

The LGBT center mailed information packets about the conference to 53 high schools and hand-delivered packets to 12 high schools that have Gay-Straight Alliances. Almost no one responded, but Jordan High School counselor Jamie Vargas originally said he wanted to support the conference.

“It was our intention at Jordan High to send students,” Vargas said.

Kim Hall, interim director of the LBGT center, said that Vargas’ support stopped when the Jordan School District sent him an e-mail giving instructions that essentially barred any students hoping to attend the conference.

The e-mail said that the LGBT center couldn’t advertise directly to high school students, that parents had to sign a release showing they knew the nature of the conference and that no transportation would be provided by the schools, Hall said.

Jordan School District offered two reasons for its decision: LGBT topics would be health-related and too controversial and that such a conference excludes non-LGBT students. However, according to the information packets sent to the schools, the conference was intended to include both LGBT students and straight allies and the topics of discussion would cover only freshman-related issues such as on-campus housing and financial aid.

“We’re not saying, ‘Here’s where you can hook up to have sex,’ we’re saying, ‘You have support here,'” said Hannah Epperson, a senior linguistics major and a member of the Lesbian & Gay Student Union.

Although Vargas confirmed that he had received an e-mail from the school district, he said that he had been instructed not to comment on it.

Melinda Colton, a representative of Jordan School District, said that information was available if students were interested and that the district has “a vibrant Gay-Straight Alliance.”

She said that requiring parents of students to be notified of the conference was in accordance with Utah law.

Hall said the zero attendance at the event was a “major disappointment and it speaks a lot to Utah’s climate (and) how we treat LGBT people.”

“There is a lack of value placed on education by the education system itself,” Hall said.

Other groups at the university, including the Asian American Student Association and the Black Student Union, hold annual high school conferences to recruit potential students into the university and their community.