Alabama gay students have a long history of challenging authority

Congratulations to Chelsie Collins and Lauren Farrington from Scottsboro, Alabama for winning the right to go to their high school prom together. Originally the school superintendent had denied the girls thePhoto By David Brewer/The Huntsville Times right to attend together because of their sexual orientation. The girls (pictured) attended the prom shortly after the press conference announcing the decision by Jackson County Circuit Judge John Graham.

Alabama gay students have a long history of clashing with faculty, school boards, and even the state legislature and winning.
In 1984, the Gay Student Union at the University of Alabama planned to hold a celebration of their one year anniversary as a group.
From the Tuscaloosa News:

Administrators got word of the ad and called a 10 p.m. meeting at Rose Administration to ask the group to pull it.
‘They told the students that the Legislature was putting together appropriations,’ said David Lee Miller, the group’s faculty advisor at the time. ‘They said the university was there for them when they organized and that this would be for the good of the university.’
Against Miller’s advice, the students pulled the ad. Now, it is but one anecdote in the history of the struggles gay students faced while trying to organize a group for themselves on campus.

Even though the state legislature then passed a bill barring gay and lesbian groups from receiving state funds or using university facilities (see the next entry item), the gay and lesbian students at UA pressed on and are still active today. They recently opened an exhibit featuring documents and stories from the early formation of the group.

In 1991, the Auburn Gay and Lesbian Association applied for a charter to the Student Government Association at Auburn University. The SGA denied their charter but school officials overruled the student government and allowed the group’s formation. Perhaps because of this Then-Governor Guy Hunt signed a bill which barred gay student groups from receiving funds from the university or from meeting on school property.
During debate in the state legislature we heard a familiar argument against allowing gay students to organize on campus:

From the NY Times-
“If the charter of this group is allowed to stand,” said Representative Mark L. Gaines, a Homewood Republican who is a co-sponsor of the bill, “you’ve opened the door for organizations that promote bestiality and wife-swapping.”

Well I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen any wife-swapping or bestiality clubs popping up anywhere. I would know, I’ve gone to a good number of school in this state.
After this bill passed, the queer gays/gals/trans down at the University of South Alabama decided to sue the state of Alabama after they were denied funding because of this law. Federal Judge Myron Thompson threw out the state law saying that it violated students right to free speech and was “”an open effort by the State Legislature to limit the sexuality discussion in institutions of higher learning to only one viewpoint: that of heterosexual people.”

Ironically, the same law that gives queer students the right to meet on campus was championed in the 80′s by the religious right in order to allow bible clubs to meet in schools.

Photo By David Brewer/The Huntsville Times

  • http://birminghamblues.com Kathy

    Okay, I may have posted this story before you did, but your account is much more complete. And it has pictures!

    I’d never heard that Mark Gaines quote before, but it doesn’t surprise me. He’s a putz who ran such a sleazy judicial campaign in 2006 that the Birmingham News reversed its initial endorsement and said he deserved to lose. He did. Poetic justice is a bitch!

  • Virginia M. Brooks

    Well that is wonderful. I do not understand the phrase “winning the right.” Chelsie and Lauren had the right in the first place. I am happy that these girls are comfortable with the way they were born (have embraced and become confidence with and in their sexuality– just as anyone is comfortable with their eye color) at such a young age and have embraced who they are. They did not win the right, the right is inherant. Keep on doing what you all are doing. I hope you girls had a wonderful prom.

  • Zach, The Writer

    I hear what you’re saying Virginia, and perhaps “winning the right” wasn’t the best choice of language. Perhaps “defending their right” would be a better phrase?