(Copyright 1997. The Tattoo. All rights reserved.)

The Tattoo

--- Making a Permanent Impression Since 1994 ---

June 23, 1997

Gay-friendly group draws fire:

Bristol Eastern students face harassment over new school club

By JONATHAN THERIAULT
Tattoo Staff Writer

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.

Tattoo staff writers Courtney Pendleton, Collin
Seguin and Joe Wilbur contributed to this story.


Click here to reach the home page of the North Andover (Mass.) Straight and Gay Alliance


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