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[whitespace] Recent homophobic incidents at school lead to start of club

Saratoga--First, Saratoga High School art teacher Stephen McCue found anti-gay epithets written in red lipstick on his classroom door and wall in January. Then, senior Jennifer Cohen found a slang term for lesbian written in black ink on the taillight of her car in the school parking lot.

To help other students, who were being harassed because they were homosexual or perceived as being homosexual, feel safe, McCue and Cohen, state requirements teacher Amy Obenour and other students, recently started a Gay-Straight Alliance Club at the school. The club is supported by the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, a national organization that educates to reduce homophobia in schools.

McCue, who advises the club along with Obenour, said he encouraged students who were interested in starting a Gay-Straight Alliance Club on campus, because "there was a real need for a place for kids to come talk about sensitive issues they couldn't normally talk about on campus."

Although English teacher Kerry Mohnike said in the April 20, 2001 edition of the school newspaper, The Saratoga Falcon, that the faculty had undergone diversity training, McCue said the school was still in "desperate need" of working on homophobia and awareness of associated issues.

McCue added that Saratoga High was typical when compared to other high schools about homophobia and wasn't worse than other schools. He said he, Obenour and a core group of about six students started the club to acknowledge that homophobia occurred on campus and to eliminate, or at least decrease, homophobia at the school.

Cohen, 17, said that although the school had its strengths, homophobia was definitely an issue. She said she knew others at the school who'd been harassed and said she heard people at the school make homophobic remarks everyday.

All local schools were "pretty bad" when it came to dealing with homophobia, Cohen said, but Saratoga was "a bit worse" because, until now, it didn't have a group to promote awareness and tolerance. She said that with a Gay-Straight Alliance club on campus, students would no longer have to hide during their four years at the school.

The night before the new club at Saratoga High first met in April, McCue said he laid awake worrying that few students would attend the meeting. He said he thought perhaps eight or nine would appear, at the most.

So, when about 200 students attended, McCue "became overwhelmed to the point where speaking was quite difficult," he said. And at the next meeting a week later, 162 students showed up.

"It's remarkable," he said. "I felt very proud of our student body. I look forward to the continued support of a strong GSA at Saratoga."

At the weekly meetings, students have discussed making T-shirts, holding a small rally in the quad at lunch, and inviting guest speakers to speak at the meetings. McCue said he also plans to ask students for ideas on how students and staff members could be better trained to deal with homophobia and racism.

McCue said that an article in the April 5 edition of the San Jose Mercury News had nothing to do with the formation of the club. According to the April 20, 2001 issue of The Saratoga Falcon, students and staff members, including Principal Kevin Skelly, objected to the article that discussed the incidents involving McCue and Cohen. Students and staff said they felt it denounced the school as burying the incidents and that it unfairly singled out the school as having a problem with homophobia.

McCue said he'd wanted students to start a Gay-Straight Alliance club at the school for a while. When students approached him about starting one this year, he encouraged them to "get the ball rolling."

McCue added that he wanted to be a role model as a healthy, adjusted, openly gay teacher, and that he wanted to be a shoulder for students who'd been taunted and help them feel they were OK.

"I look forward to the GSA having a positive impact on campus, making people aware that gay slurs and homophobia shouldn't be tolerated by anyone, and that no one should be a perpetrator or victim of homophobia," McCue said.
Rebecca Ray

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Web extra to the May 17-23, 2001 issue of Metro.

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