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More of us should practice tolerance

About 400 people crowded into the Pinellas County School Board meeting Tuesday to condemn a student group at Largo High School that provides counseling for homosexual students who have been harassed at school.

School Board members took no action against the student group and should be given credit for standing up to the pressure. (A statement from the School Board members is printed at right.)

Unfortunately, it is a sign of the times that important issues such as inadequate school funding, textbook shortages and equal education for minority students draw small audiences, while the attack on Gay and Straight Alliance at Largo High School brought out protesters who don't even live in Pinellas County.

GASA had not been controversial until David Caton made it so. His demagoguery is responsible for the sometimes hysterical attacks now aimed at the student group. One 17-year-old Clearwater High School student spoke at the meeting, comparing GASA to a club for murderers. Caton should be ashamed, and he should be held responsible for the hostile climate he has created.

Caton orchestrated the assault on GASA through his Florida Family Association, whose members sent letters to the School Board demanding that funding for the group be withdrawn.

A counselor for GASA and seven other student groups is paid through the Safe and Drug Free Schools program, which seeks to create a school environment conducive to learning. GASA encourages tolerance between straight and gay students and provides counseling for students with emotional problems.

Largo High School principal Barbara Thornton defended GASA. "Without the alliance, I think many of the students who are in the support group would have continued to feel harassed and unsafe, and it would have continued to be a block to their learning."

That is enough reason for Thornton to justify her creative response to a problem at her school. In fact, the gay-bashing attitude of some protesters Tuesday shows us that our society needs more lessons in tolerance, not fewer.