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Gay-friendly group draws fire: Bristol Eastern students face harassment over new school club

Front entrance to Bristol Eastern High School, Bristol, Connecticut. (Luke Ashworth/YJI)

BRISTOL, Connecticut, U.S.A. — A new group called the Straight and Gay Alliance is stirring up controversy at Bristol Eastern High School.

Members of the first group of its kind in a Bristol school have faced so much harassment that most declined to identify themselves. One even had his tires slashed.

“The public school environment in Bristol is very discouraging and negative for gays and lesbians while our neighboring towns’ schools with straight and gay alliances don’t have as much harassment,” said senior Mike Mastriani, a group member.

The group does not announce its meetings over the intercom, as other clubs do, because members say they fears its gatherings will be “crashed” by opponents.

They say they have experienced anti-gay tirades, threats and slurs from students angry about the formation of the new group.

One student outraged by SAGA’s existence distributed anti-sodomy pamphlets titled “Exit Only” that were passed around the school. He was suspended for his activities, according to several students, including SAGA’s president.

The group began because “I really thought that the school just needed something” to offer support for gay and lesbian students, said the president, who asked to remain unidentified.

“I don’t think it’s right how they get harassed,” said Eastern freshman Beth Westover. “It’s their sexual preference. It’s like straight people being harassed for being straight.”

“It’s good that they have it so they can be more open on the issue,” said Westover.

Spanish teacher Diane Kempton, one of the advisors to the club, said the school’s administration has been extremely supportive of SAGA.

But parents have called the school complaining about the club, students said. The parents argued groups based on sexual preference are inappropriate.

“What’s the point of having a gay club? Why not have a straight club? What does this club do?” asked an Eastern sophomore who asked that his name not be used because he worried his words
would offend gay friends. He said a lot of people call the group “pointless.”

Matt Zbikowski, another Eastern sophomore, said the group “was a big thing” when first formed a month ago but interest in it has dwindled.

“I don’t really take sides,” he said. “I just let them do what they want to do.”

Mastriani said it is “good to get the faculty to recognize gay rights as well as the student body to become more aware” of the issue.

At a recent SAGA meeting, a few Bristol Central High School students also showed up.

Most of the session was absorbed with students talking about how they broke the news of their involvement to their parents.

Since SAGA’s creation it has been viewed by its members as a club, but according to school policy clubs have requirements that may be difficult to meet.

First, members must keep their grades in good standing or they wouldn’t be allowed to attend meetings or be involved.

Then there is the problem of having all the members names on file and the option of yearbook pictures.

The group must now decide what to do, particularly given that some members joined under a confidentiality agreement which would be broken by these policies.

Members have to figure out if they want to become a support group or if they want their organization to be an official school club.

Jonathan Theriault is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International. Three other YJI reporters — Courtney Pendleton, Collin Seguin and Joe Wilbur — contributed to this story.

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