January 22, 2007
Last week the bill died in the House Education Committee on a tie vote, but passed today after it was changed.
The measure now includes middle school students and instead of students getting written permission from their parents for each club they want to join, parents are now required to identify clubs they don't want their children to participate in.
Gay rights advocates have said the legislation is intended to undermine gay-straight alliances clubs that encourage tolerance and provide a safe haven for gay students to discuss their problems.
Delegate Matthew Lohr, R-Harrisonburg, said that the bill is simply to better inform parents of what their kids are doing.
Local School Boards would have to notify parents of a club's mission, financial requirements, and activities. Parents would sign a form and identify clubs that they did not want their children participating in.
The "opt out" option relieves the school from the flood of paperwork that would have come from permission slips.
Delegate Philip Hamilton, R-Newport News, who asked for the bill to be reintroduced, said that he voted against the bill before but that the opt out program was much more appropriate and that it had nothing to do with gay straight alliances.
But Delegate Adam Ebbing, the state's only openly gay legislator, says that the bill's target is clear and that making it more difficult for students to join gay straight alliances could have unintended consequences.
"We know that kids who are gay or lesbian or are questioning their sexual orientation have a much higher suicide rate, so it will deny some kids access to vital support groups that can lead to better self-esteem so they can focus on their studies," Ebbin said.
The measure is House Bill 1727.