CELINA — An online petition garnered nearly 157,000 signatures from people who think Celina High School students should be able to form a Gay-Straight Alliance before its creator closed the petition declaring the issue "resolved."
The petition, purportedly by Erick Warner, of Celina, appeared on the change.com website and has been circulated among people on Facebook.
“I’m writing to urge the administration at Celina High School to let your student body form a Gay-Straight Alliance so lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, questioning and allied students can build a safe and welcoming school climate,” the petition originally read.
Superintendent Jesse Steiner, however, said no one had ever asked if they could start the group.
“At this time, no student has applied for or even asked to apply for a gay-straight alliance organization through the required procedures,” Steiner said in an emailed statement. “If any application were to be submitted by a student who wanted to start a gay-straight alliance, it would be processed the same way that we have processed all previous applications of student groups. If the student organization met the conditions required to be met by other student groups, their application would be approved.”
That led to a change of heart for Warner.
"This whole petition was a misunderstanding," he wrote in a statement that replaced the original petition. "I was misinformed by my peers and was led to believe things that weren't true. ... No one had asked to start the GSA group, if asked we would have been allowed to start the group with no questions asked."
Gay-Straight Alliances are student clubs that work to improve school climate for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. There are 4,000 registered organizations at high schools and on college campuses throughout the country.
Warner's original petition cited a 2011 national school climate survey stating that eight out of 10 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students experienced harassment and six in 10 reported feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation.
The signatures came from around the country, many adding their own personal comments.
“As a gay Ohioan who had no peer support in high school I will do everything possible to support your cause,” one signer from Dover said.
“Everyone should have the right to free speech especially when it’s not hate speech,” wrote someone from Fremont, Calif.
Controversy sprang up at the school last month when about 20 students were asked to remove homemade shirts supporting gay rights. The students wore the shirts after school officials previously made two female students remove shirts with the word “lesbian” on it, according to sophomore Cheyenna Osborne. The homemade shirts said things such as “Straight but Supportive.”
School officials said the shirts were disrupting education. Steiner said then that students were asked, not forced, to remove them and that their rights to freedom of speech were not violated.
“It is important to know that the [Celina City School District] has not threatened or taken disciplinary action against any of these students,” Steiner said in the email.
"No threat of suspension or detention was faced for the wearing of the Rainbow shirts," Warner wrote in his statement.
Students said the shirts were not disruptive and that they were asked to take them off because people did not agree with the message. Students said anti-abortion shirts have been allowed at the school.
“When it comes to student acceptance and bullying, the Celina City School District is proud of its record,” Steiner said.
The controversy caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. The group sent a letter to the school, urging administrators to reconsider their “unconstitutional decision” to prohibit students from wearing shirts that express their support of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.
Drew Dennis, ACLU litigation coordinator and attorney, said school officials did not respond to the letter. The organization is still monitoring the situation and communicating with students.
Warner apologized for the original petition.
"I would also like to personally apologize to Phil Metz, Jason Luebke and Jessie Steiner for this misunderstanding," he wrote. "It got way out of my control. They are not bad people. In fact, they are very great people. They promote a positive envirnoment for learning and only took the actions necessary to protect our learning envirnoment. The administration at Celina High School is not bigotted, they are good people with good intentions.
"I do not want to continue with anymore action after this. At all.
"The issue is resolved."