Gay-Straight Alliance OK'd for Yuma High
The first Gay-Straight Alliance student organization at Yuma High School has been approved by the district in what one of the organizers is calling a landmark occasion.
Michael Baughman, founder of the Amancio Project, acted as a go-between for the students, the American Civil Liberties Union of Phoenix and Yuma Union High School District administrators. Baughman said he was just a facilitator who found the smart people to get the job done.
"I specialize in two things: gay rights and rights for the disabled," Baughman said. "But I put this in their hands. 'It's your group. You have to run it your way,' I told them."
Baughman launched the Amancio project in May 2005 to keep alive the investigation and expedite solving the murder of Amancio Corrales. A 23-year-old gay man who worked as a female impersonator under the name Dalila, Corrales was found murdered in the Colorado River earlier that month.
Baughman said there are more than 3,000 GSAs in U.S. schools, which exist to promote tolerance and combat homophobia.
Three years ago, Yuma High students students tried to form a GSA but were unsuccessful. That effort failed for the same reason they had difficulty this time: because the administration blocked them from forming, Baughman said.
"The administration was in violation of their constitutional rights. More importantly they were in violation of their rights under the federal Equal Access Act."
After students contacted Baughman, he provided Web site and contact information to assess whether they wanted to proceed with forming the organization. Once students agreed to carry it through, Baughman made certain there was a correct flow of information from the ACLU and the school.
Since the ACLU was located in Phoenix, Baughman said, he acted as a liaison between students and YUHSD Superintendent Toni Badone, as well as providing moral support.
Baughman pointed out that the administration required students who formed the GSA to first obtain permission slips from their parents, while no other club has to do the same.
"You need permission to go off campus as a club, but just to join a club, that's a big violation of the Equal Access Act," Baughman said.
Mark Bastin, YUHSD associate superintendent, said there was no intentional effort to block the club from forming. The reason there was a delay for approval was because all clubs are required to have two faculty sponsors.
The GSA did have two sponsors but both declined to follow through because they said they had too many commitments, Bastin noted.
"I knew some of the club members and both of the faculty and I spoke to one of them, and he agreed to be a sponsor and so the Yuma High administration went ahead and approved it."
Bastin also said that all clubs must follow a process before getting approved. He added the requirement for permission slips from parents was misinformation a mistaken administrator had given the students and there was never any deliberate effort to oppose the club.
The Yuma High School GSA was also the only student group to attend the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, Baughman recalled. At the end of the day, Brian Stephens of the Yuma chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People invited the GSA students to the podium to recognize them as an example of fine youth participation, he noted.
"People should be proud and immensely honored to have these students in their community who stand up for themselves," Baughman said. "I was beaming with joy about them."
William Roller can be reached at
email@example.com or 539-6858.