Originally published: Dec. 17, 2013, 4:50 p.m.
Updated: Dec. 19, 2013, 1:15 p.m.

westlincolnlogoCHARLOTTE, N.C. — A high school club for LGBT and straight students is facing controversy and push back from other students and parents. Local youth advocates who are working to ensure safer schools say the harassment at the school is some of the worst they’ve seen in the local area.

Students at West Lincoln High School in Lincoln County, N.C., formed their gay-straight alliance (GSA) this year. They held their first meeting earlier this semester, but news of a meeting last week prompted conflict and a barrage of harassment on campus and online.

Posters announcing a meeting last Thursday were torn down from hallways. Some students allegedly made other signs saying “Straights Only” that were posted outside of some bathrooms. A six-foot long poster with anti-gay slurs was also allegedly hung in a hallway. Additionally, anti-gay leaflets were left strewn on the campus’ grounds and, over the weekend, the school’s spirit rock was painted with the message “Baggin’ the fags.”

The harassment on campus has extended into the online world, with some students and at least one parent taking to social media to express their disapproval.

“West lincoln high school has been reduced to a liberal agenda following homosexual loving hogs pen that isn’t fit to teach anyone’s children,” reads one message on Twitter from a user whose screen, “20lev13,” invokes a scriptural passage that has been interpreted as calling for the death of LGBT people.

“West lincoln high school has become a Godless school where u can’t speak of God or you’re a outcast but man if your gay and u cuss u fit in,” the user continues. “I hate the fact my kid has to attend WLHS because of all the liberal ways that has easily programmed all those pot smoking little hippies.”

Harassment is extreme

Advocates with Time Out Youth, a Charlotte LGBT youth support and services agency, say the harassment West Lincoln students have faced is among the most extreme the agency has seen.

“This isn’t normal, the extent to which the anti-LGBT sentiment is there,” says Micah Johnson, Time Out Youth’s director of school outreach. “This is the first time we’ve run into where it is just so out there. Even within that county, this is not normal for the [four] high schools in that system.”

Johnson and other Time Out Youth staff have worked with some West Lincoln students in organizing their GSA, especially when it faced difficulties getting started last year.

“It was disbanded,” Johnson says.

Johnson says administrators wanted to fold the Diversity Club into a pre-existing group associated with the Special Olympics.

“They said, ‘You want to diversity, we will do all types of diversity,’ which was not the point of the GSA,” Johnson says.

Johnson and others stepped in to hold conversations with school and district staff. According to federal equal access laws, schools must allow LGBT students to form clubs like gay-straight alliances if a school allows other non-curricular clubs.

“They are at the point now that they know they have to allow the GSA to exist,” Johnson says.

West Lincoln High School’s principal, Dr. Cale Sains, has publicly supported the GSA. In fact, he’s the student group’s faculty sponsor this fall.

Sains tells qnotes he supports the conversation students want to create around issues of diversity and respect.

“I think it is significant that West Lincoln took the step — and the students are the drivers — to establish a GSA club at West Lincoln,” Sains says.

Sains says he’s received more community support than criticism.

“I’ve gotten a lot of emails about how proud people are of West Lincoln establishing a GSA and saying good luck to the students for promoting diversity, awareness and understanding, which is what we want to get to,” Sains says. “We know it is good to move in a direction of a greater appreciation of difference.”

Still, controversy and questions over the club haven’t stopped, though Sains says a large portion of the controversy has subsided, and he and other administrators have addressed the slurs and graffiti by taking disciplinary action where possible.

“When it’s been very clear who did it, then there has been disciplinary action taken,” Sains says. It’s not been easy, Sains says, to identify every student who posted harassing fliers or who painted the spirit rock.

“The rock, there’s no way for us to know, but our reaction as soon as we saw it was to get out there and cover it up,” Sains says.

Johnson says he appreciates Sains and other staffers’ openness, but thinks school leaders can take a stronger, more proactive stand for student safety.

“We are really glad the GSA is there and we are glad the principal has been supportive to the extent that he has been,” he says. “Our main concern is the level of harassment that has escalated since the GSA has been present.”

Rodney Tucker, Time Out Youth’s executive director, says school leaders must take a top-down approach to ending the harassment.

“What we are looking for the principal to do is make a statement to the school and say this behavior is not acceptable and we want it to stop,” Tucker says.

Johnson and Tucker say the several incidences point to a potentially larger school climate and safety issue.

Sains, though, believes much of the reaction has come from a small, vocal minority and “more so on social media than here at school.”

“My honest opinion is that the fury from last week has dissipated, from what I see on campus,” Sains says, noting he heard of no incidents on Wednesday. “The way I’ve handed is that we’ve stayed positive. My message to the GSA is we are going to stay positive. We’re going to promote understanding and diversity and respect and that’s how we are going to handle it.”

One local pastor agrees with Sains and has encouraged students to remain respectful.

Michael White is an associate pastor at Gainsville Baptist Church, just a few miles from West Lincoln High. As controversy erupted on social media, he took to his own Twitter account, saying, “It’s not wrong to stand for biblical truth. It is wrong to do that as proud, arrogant jerks.”

“My conviction is that homosexuality is sinful, but I would also say and have taught my students that homophobia is sinful as well,” White tells qnotes. “Jesus provides us an example of neighborly love for people the mainstream culture would cast out. We should engage even if we disagree with the lifestyle, and we should respond in kindness, respect and love.”

White says Sains is “taking the right approach,” allowing the GSA at a public school and calling for open conversation and dialogue.

“True tolerance,” White says, “is the ability to acknowledge deep and fundamental disagreements, in this case about the morality of homosexuality, but yet still carry on respectful, honest conversation and relationships with one another.”

Working together

Time Out Youth’s recent work to ensure safer schools has garnered mostly positive reaction across their seven-county region. In Lincoln County, that work has been more difficult but not impossible.

The group recently completed its year-long project to place safe space kits and educational materials at every middle and high school across the region. Some Lincoln County schools never received the packets, even though they were sent. And, in February, some community members approached the Lincoln County Board of Education to ask leaders to keep the inclusive materials out of schools.

Johnson says despite initial difficulties, administrators and other staff in Lincoln County are responding. For instance, Time Out Youth learned the system hadn’t yet fully implemented anti-bullying policies required by safe schools legislation passed in 2009. That’s now being corrected.

Similar stories and increased support have unfolded across the area, where Time Out Youth has held trainings and meetings reaching over 600 faculty in five out of the seven counties they serve.

“In terms of district relationships, I think that’s where we’ve made the most progress, building relationships at all levels of the system as a resource and as a service provider both in the community and as a resource to their schools,” Johnson says.

He adds, “We always want to assume that educators are well-intentioned and they have a lot on their plates. In these conversations, we still want to allow them to fix it, say we know this is happening, we have resources to help you, let’s work together to fix this.”

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.

17 replies on “Advocates, school staffers respond to anti-gay threats at Lincoln Co. school”

  1. the bigoted reaction of religious rednecks is exactly why the school needs the club-sorry bigots-your time be up!!

  2. I am so proud of my old high school. I graduated in 1989 from West Lincoln and truly remember the bigotry and hatred that run through the school. God forbid your where different or acted different. Tat was why I waited till after high school come out to myself and others. Hopefully this will start a path to understand and acceptance in our little redneck community. Thanks West Lincoln and keep the Rebel pride alive.

  3. This is truly a sad time when openly believing in God is shunned but openly being homosexual is praised by our mainstream media. This is nothing more then a attention crave from homosexual students. They claim that this club is just a club to hang out but if that were so then why did the word gay have to be put in the name of the club? By putting it in the title this just proves that their point was to cause a uproar. Being a religious redneck as we at west lincoln high are called is a compliment because at least we still believe in the God that has blessed our nation since it was established. So if we are cursed by the mainstream media we are blessed by God.

    [Ed. Note — This comment has been edited to remove content in violation of this website’s community discussion policy.]

    1. TRUE AMERICA-Shutting God out of schools is not the fault of the LGBT community. It is a direct result in the fact that “Christians” are afraid and somewhat lazy to stand up for their faith. Take a lesson from the young people and STAND UP to get prayer back in school. But let it be love and prayer for EVERYONE!

    2. @TrueAmericaToday – Religion has no place in public schools. There are plenty of private schools if you want that.

  4. As a student of west lincoln high school I’ve about had it with this Gay straight alliance club. I’m a religious person and I strongly believe in the word of God and this club greatly offends my beliefs. If that makes me prejudice then I say take it up with God because I’m only following as his word. This probably would not have been such a conflict if they had reframed from using the word Gay in the title, but they obviously chose to do it inorder to cause this uproar. I dislike the fact that they put the posters on every hall way in the school thus your subject to it at least once daily. Call me a bigoted religious redneck all you want but the only one opinion I care about is the opinion of God almighty.

  5. If you believe that no one but Bible thumping idiots are the only ones to go to heaven and anyone different burns in hell, that does make you a bigoted Christian. People like that made me shy away from Christianity and towards Judaism, and the best part is that I’m not gay or bisexual. The whole tearing down posters act was a childish and immature thing to do, and it doesn’t matter that it was for a ‘gay club’. The people at West need to grow up and see that the world is not in black and white. None of the atheist people show up to the Bible club meetings to complain about how their club offends their beliefs. As for Mr. Sain, he’s completely full of himself. The school had a diversity club 2 years ago, and he forced the disbandment of it after everyone fought for years to get it running. He’s no more comfortable with it than the redneck morons who tore the posters down.

  6. And to think I wanted my kids to attend west as I did. Put the confederate battle flag back on the stadium, bring god back to school and then I wouldn’t mind these kids that think they’re gay vandalizing the halls with rubbish. Don’t take others rights away if you don’t want you’res taken away. Hypocrites. Just hypocrites. Now gay hypocrites. Jesus help us.

  7. The part that I think some people are missing is that legally the group has a right to meet in the school just as any other club, including those with religious foundations/goals. What baffles me, as someone with knowledge of the legal aspects of clubs and student groups, is that no one is being forced to participate in this club and so I cannot understand the backlash from Christians in the school and community because there isn’t a “captive audience”.

    As for the name of the club, GSAs are nationally organized through the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN). You can access their website, including GSA registration, here: http://glsen.org/participate/gsa/gsa-census

    In order to be supported by GLSEN, most GSAs are named Gay Straight Alliance. That isn’t a choice made by the club members as much as it is made by GLSEN. It’s a way for students to connect across schools by having a common name. This is similar to organizations such as FCA, Campus Crusade, Bible Club, etc.

    Just as students are not forced to participate in Christian organizations (and that’s why they are legally allowed), students are not required to participate in GSA (also legally allowed). My personal issue with the entire situation at WLHS is the idea that religious students are being allowed (and encouraged by some) to openly hate the club and its members. Some students expressed fear in attending school at West last week because of all the tension in the school. While the beliefs of religious students are protected by free speech, which I am sure they will hide behind, so is the speech of gay students and their straight allies.

    The people of the WLHS community need to recognize, respectfully, that some students in their school are gay, some are straight allies and some are struggling with their sexuality. No one in the club, I would imagine, is asking for anything other than the right to have a club around a common trait, just as any other group does. GSAs are not about converting others to a “homosexual lifestyle” as it is referred to by dissenters; it is about supporting each other as they develop into young adults.

    A lingering question that many have asked: what if the situation were reversed, and a Christian group was being treated in such a way on campus? Would anyone tolerate such behavior? Would parents call on behalf of the club and its members and present the legal aspects and involve the media? I have a hard time believing they wouldn’t.

    Why is there so much fear around the word “gay”? Why is the word “tolerance” carrying such a negative connotation? I can’t wrap my head around how the existence of an organization whose membership is completely voluntary can be offensive to someone’s beliefs. You are not being forced to acknowledge the group or participate in it. You are not being asked to support it with your money, your time or your energy. You do not, however, have the right to dictate what organizations are allowed at a school; the Supreme Court has already done so. If a Christian club is allowed, then other clubs must be allowed as well. That’s the law.

    1. Just a factual follow-up to Anon’s comments. GSAs are not organized by GLSEN and are not named such by GLSEN. The national organization simply provides resources and networking opportunities. Many LGBT student groups have different names.

      Matt Comer, editor

  8. It doesn’t matter what we think or feel. Gods word says its wrong and its wrong. God actually says its an abomination. Two people of the same sex is not to be together because God didn’t create it that way. The miss use of the word feelings has this word in the crisis it in. You can call people who believe “bible thumpers” or whatever terminology you want it won’t change the the truth of Gods Word. The fact that people think they are OK and not live by The Wordit is a sad dafact that they will go to Hell and miss out on Heaven. People need to wake up.

    1. Gods so called words was written hundreds of years after Jesus’s death and written by people like you and me. If you don’t think that most of it got lost in translation then you are hiding behind your own fear.

    2. Who’s God? Remember not everyone in this world believes the same things you do. Lots of religions, lots of believes. Your God’s word means nothing to many people so it shouldn’t be forced on anyone.

  9. I’m wondering if most of these “Christians” have actually read their Bibles? Yes, Leviticus 18 calls homosexuality an abomination. Of course Leviticus 20 says that if any man and woman commit adultery, they should both be put to death….guess anytime someone runs around on his wife we need to take them out and shoot them, huh? Leviticus says several places that everyone is to “Keep the Sabbath”…I guess most modern day Christians are sinful on that account since the Sabbath is Saturday. Leviticus 19 forbids wearing clothes made of mixed fabrics (you know cotton/polyester). Paul in Romans I condemns homosexuality…In Ephesians, Paul (presumably) tells slaves to be obedient to their masters..which sounds like he thinks slavery is ok. How many students at West Lincoln have ever been drunk…because you know the Bible condemns that (Ephesians, Galatians). Seems like somewhere in the Bible there is something about “Judge not that ye be not judged”…and “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”…..Come on people…the Old Testament rules were written for the Jewish people thousands of years ago, and the New Testament almost two thousand years ago. The Bible is not a rule book for all generations….just the few rules I mentioned above should make that clear. You have to try to include in your thinking knowledge that has been gained by mankind in the last few thousand years. Sexuality is not black and white…there are some people that are 100% straight…some 100% gay…and a whole lot of people somewhere in the middle. You cannot choose to be gay…unless you are in that group of bisexual people and then you can follow your sexuality whichever way you want. Gay people pose no threat to others..they can’t “convert” you..most child sex offenders are straight…..just live and let live…remember….Jesus said nothing about hate…he said to treat others the way you would want to be treated…and that means in speech as well as action.

  10. Congratulations to the brave students of West Lincoln you are a proud example to LGBT students everywhere who may be afraid or not have the resources to start a GSA.

    Don’t let the negative comments get you down. It always starts out this way in extremely conservative areas, but eventually it calms down. Stay focused on the messages of education and tolerance and eventually you will begin to see the support grow.

    In addition thank you to the Principal who has done the right thing even when it is not easy.

    Again….Good luck and keep up the good work. The GSA @ West Lincoln ROCKS!

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