Copper Hills High says gay students can receive singing Valentines
LGBT • Officials say "no same-sex delivery" notes were a "mistake" and "miscommunication" that was corrected after protests.
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Copper Hills High will allow "Singing Valentines" to same-sex students on Thursday.

Students were handed fliers last week about the school's annual choir fundraiser —in which students make a donation and choir students in turn deliver songs to other students — with these words on it: "Sorry, no same-sex delivery."

Students and others sent protests to the school administration about the statement that seemed to single out gay students and was interpreted by some as bullying.

The flier seemed all the more curious since the school recently started a new gay-straight student alliance.

But it depends on who you talk to about whether it was an issue or not.

The flier, Copper Hills Principal Todd Quarnberg said, was a "mistake" by choir students and not meant as a slight against any group of students.

"It was a misunderstanding," said Quarnberg, adding the choir students had choreographed their songs with winking and crooning. "They don't care if you're gay or lesbian. It was just miscommunication."

Quarnberg said students would be able to send a musical valentine to any student.

But that was news to Dylan Lukes, co-president of the Copper Hills gay-straight alliance club, who said the flier's wording was offensive.

"It upset a lot of the student body," Lukes, 17, said. "LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) and even friends who are girls.

"I think schools should be a place for acceptance. They should not post no same-sex deliveries — they're singling everybody out."

The flier caused some protest on social media sites like Facebook, where Kim Hackford-Peer of Salt Lake City voiced a complaint.

Hackford-Peer, a University of Utah lecturer who specialized in gender studies, said situations like the one unfolding at Copper Hills High are not unusual because of the way conflicting Utah laws are written. She reviews those laws in her university classes, she said.

She referred to a Utah Board of Education rule that prohibits "the advocacy of homosexuality." Prior to 1999, the rule read, "The acceptance or advocacy of homosexuality as a desirable or healthy sexual adjustment or lifestyle."

But then there is a Utah educator standard, which protects all students. It states: "An educator shall not exclude a student from participating in any program, deny or grant any benefit to any student on the basis of race, color, creed, sex, national origin, marital status, political or religious beliefs, physical or mental conditions, family, social, or cultural background, or sexual orientation, and may not engage in a course of conduct that would encourage a student(s) to develop a prejudice on these grounds or any others."

"What does it mean to advocate homosexuality?" Hackford-Peer said. "The bottom line is it's a really complicated issue. At first, Singing Valentines are not complicated, but it could embarrass and shame one group, or result in an at-risk student of being beat up."

Hackford-Peer and others said the issue becomes dicier in suburban Utah schools, such as Copper Hills in West Jordan, which are traditionally more conservative areas of the state.

Valerie Larabee, executive director of Utah Pride Center, said that she has heard of other suburban districts where gay students have been singled out.

"Discrimination is built into our laws in Utah [because] our educators are able to apply their own scrutiny into what it means not to promote homosexuality," Larabee said. "Kids will be kids and there's no need to take a swipe at a whole community of people."

Quarnberg said after hearing the concerns about the flier, he addressed it.

"It was quickly fixed," he said. "At Copper Hills, and other schools I've been into, [the GSA club is] just run as another club."

A gay-straight alliance (GSA) is a student-run club, typically in a high school or middle school, which provides a safe place for students to meet, support each other, and talk.

Other than the Singing Valentines flap, Lukes said the school has been supportive of the GSA, which he said has about 30 members. He said he has heard the usual in the hallways: anti-homosexual jokes and shouts of "faggot."

"It's a really nice school and I feel safe and that's the main thing, besides the 1 percent that are homophobic," Lukes said.

Hackford-Peer, who is a former K-12 teacher, said Copper Hills administrators deserve praise for addressing the issue.

"Copper Hills should be commended for working on this and engaging in it," Hackford-Peer said. " It's a confusing thing: You don't want to take the Singing Valentines away, but how do you do it [in a fair manner to all]?"

rparker@sltrib.com

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