On Wednesday, March 27, school board members at Chambersburg Area School District reversed their previous decision to deny the Chambersburg Area Senior High School (CASHS) a Gay-Straight Alliance.
In February, the school board voted 5-4 against the club, sparking local and national outrage.
Within hours of hearing the board’s decision, Shippensburg University student and CASHS alumnus Thomas McCalmont started a petition on change.org in hopes of changing the board’s decision.
McCalmont, who was a victim of bullying during his time at CASHS because of his sexuality, believes that having a GSA will provide a safe haven for LGBTQIA students.
“It’s important for students to have support systems they might otherwise lack. Bullying has been an issue at the school even before I went there,” McCalmont said.
The petition spread through social media and was eventually featured on change.org’s home page.
It gained more than 1,000 signatures in the first week and more than 6,000 signatures when the decision was made to approve the GSA.
The petition also caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The union threatened to sue the school district if the vote decision was not overturned.
The five board members who voted against the club and CASD Superintendent Joe Padasak, were the recipients of the petition, meaning every time it was signed they would receive an email. Carl Barton was the only one of the five to reverse his decision.
“At the time that the vote not to approve the Gay-Straight Alliance was taken, a majority of this board, myself included, believed that the long-standing Cultural Society of CASHS and the proposed Gay-Straight Alliance of CASHS served the same constituency and advanced the same purpose of reducing prejudice, discouraging discrimination and enhancing tolerance at CASHS,” Barton said at Wednesday night’s meeting.
“I was just hoping for one board member to change their vote,” McCalmont said, after hearing the decision.
McCalmont, who was present at Wednesday’s meetings said hearing the board approve the club was very emotional for him.
“I did tear up a little bit. I was happy that my dream and a lot of other students’ dreams came true,” McCalmont said. “A lot of people see me as the face for the GSA and the students. People were saying they were really proud of me, but I wasn’t the brave students who started the GSA. I feel more credit should go toward them,” McCalmont said.
McCalmont, who is studying to become a social worker, hopes to make a career out of helping others and believes anyone can make a difference.
“If everyone waits for someone else to take action, nothing will ever change. The ocean started with just a drop of water. It only takes one person to change the world,” McCalmont said.