Activists Press for 'Inclusive Language' in New Regulations

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:05 PM EDT

( - The Bush administration is protecting the Boy Scouts' access to public schools while "ignoring the rights of gay student groups whose equal rights are often violated," a homosexual advocacy group says.

Lambda Legal said it is urging the U.S. Education Department to add "inclusive language" to new regulations that will take effect in a month and a half.

The U.S. Department of Education is now seeking public comment on the proposed regulations, which guarantee equal access to public school facilities for the Boy Scouts of America and other "patriotic youth groups," including Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Girl Scouts, and Little League Baseball.

"The goal of these regulations is to ensure that the Boy Scouts and other patriotic youth groups have equal access to public facilities, and today's action is another step toward achieving this goal," Secretary Paige said when he announced the regulations last week.

Lambda Legal, which just launched a long-term national campaign on behalf of students' rights in public schools, said Gay-Straight Alliance groups should also be specified in the new regulations.

"The Bush administration wants to add thousands of words about the Boy Scouts to federal rules that don't say one word about gay student groups, even though they're both protected by federal law and Gay-Straight Alliances are unlawfully denied school access on a regular basis," said Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal.

"The Boy Scouts need no help getting access to schools but they're the focus of the federal government's attention, while gay youth are routinely ignored and left to fend for themselves when their rights aren't respected."

Cathcart said Lambda Legal is urging the Department of Education to specify what kinds of "other groups" have legal access to schools, and he wants the list specifically to include Gay Straight Alliances.

"We want Gay-Straight Alliances mentioned and specified in these regulations, so that there can be no question that gay student groups and the Boy Scouts have equal rights to meet in public schools."

The new regulations enforce the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act, which is part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The law requires public schools that receive federal funds to provide the Boy Scouts and other designated patriotic youth organizations the same access to school facilities as other outside groups have.

"The purpose of our nation's Department of Education is to ensure that all youth are treated equally, are safe at school and have access to the best possible education," Cathcart said.

"By focusing on the Boy Scouts while ignoring gay youth, the Department of Education is failing our nation's schools and putting young people in harm's way. We aren't going to sit by and let that happen without a fight."

Gay Straight Alliances describe themselves as student clubs dedicated to fighting homophobia and making schools safer.

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