For the past two months, Unitarian Universalists from three congregations–the UU Fellowship of Marion County, First Unitarian Church of Orlando, and the UU Congregation of Lake County–have been actively standing on the side of love by supporting the establishment of a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Club to help counter bullying in Carver Middle School. So far, they have attended five different events to support the measure.
In response to the club proposal by eighth-grader Bayli Silberstein, members of the Lake County School Board first proposed banning clubs, potentially including even sports and service clubs, which are not directly related to academic courses. After this failed, the board tentatively proposed allowing clubs, but requiring parental permission for students to participate. Then, reportedly at the request of one or more Lake County School Board members, the Florida legislature passed and Governor Scott signed a change in the definition of “secondary school” that may allow the Board to discriminate among clubs without violating the Federal Equal Access Act.
After a law suit was filed by the ACLU, the school board has now allowed the club to go ahead at Carver Middle School, but only until the end of this school year. In the meantime, the Board has opened an evaluation of a half dozen policy options regarding school clubs.
Rev. Janet Onnie of the UU Fellowship of Marion County issued the following statement, which was read into the record at a Lake County School Board workshop in Minneola, Florida:
In times of disagreement Unitarian Universalists stand of the side of love. One of our seven principles affirms the inherent worth and dignity of each individual. We express that by witnessing and working for justice for disenfranchised groups of people. Sexual orientation or gender identity is not a choice. It’s like the color of your eyes; only one aspect of the complete person in a relationship with a loving God.
We understand that there is great fear surrounding those who are different from us – whether it be skin color or socioeconomic class or political persuasion or sexual orientation. Nonetheless, it is our responsibility as a society to create conditions where people feel safe so that their individual gifts might flourish. This is especially true in our schools. It is the job of the schools to provide an atmosphere conducive to learning. If an individual or a group feels threatened or bullied because of something over which they have no control, the learning environment is compromised. When we allow our fear to override our commitment to raise our young to be productive and kind individuals, we have failed in our duty to them.
It seems to me that answering the question, “What would any of our peacemakers do?” is a good test of any policy. I believe Jesus or Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. would support the formation of an alliance among different people attempting to understand each other. I believe these peacemakers would stand on the side of love.
This post was written by Nelson Hay. Nelson is a member of the Welcoming Congregation Committee and Communication Committee at the UU Fellowship of Marion County, Florida.