Photo by Daniel C. TsangThanksgiving week, 1993. Outside Fountain Valley High School, dozens of protesters screamed, “No fags!” They were students ditching class to join a flag-waving group calling itself Future Good Boys of America in a demonstration against the first gay support group to form openly at an Orange County high school.
Tipped off by a student, I was there at 7:45 a.m., interviewing the demonstrators before the media circus rolled up. The story made Channel 7 at noon and was widely covered over the next few days and weeks, with student club adviser Michael Poff quoted throughout.
Flash-forward six years. Other gay support groups have sprung up since the Fountain Valley Student Alliance (FVSA) emerged, the latest at El Modena High School in Orange. Covering the ban against the latest club by the Orange Unified School District board, Los Angeles Times reporters seeking depth for their coverage turned naturally to Poff.
But what appeared in the front-page Dec. 9 story by Times staff writers Kate Folmar and Scott Martelle (“A Balancing Act for Schools in Gay Club Debate”) made me wonder whether the Times OC reads its own clips. Leading into several quotes from Poff, the Times reported, “In some schools, gay clubs have generated no controversy. A gay-themed club, with gay and straight members, has existed on the campus of Los Alamitos High School for six years, said club adviser Michael Poff, an English and journalism teacher.” The subhead for that last section in the story, in bold print: “Not All Gay Clubs Meet With Opposition.”
Say again? No opposition?
Skip for a moment the fact that Poff is a teacher at Fountain Valley High School, not Los Alamitos, and that the gay club at Los Alamitos formed only a couple of years ago, not six.
I called Jeff Brazil, the Times OC city-desk editor, and left a message on his voice mail. No response. I then decided I might as well test the effectiveness of the Times Readers' Representative, an ombudsman-type position that had placed Times vice president Narda Zacchino (an associate editor of Times OC and spouse to contributing editor and onetime UC Irvine lecturer Robert Scheer) in the lowly position of answering readers' mail. So I wrote the Readers' Rep a “Dear Narda” e-mail pointing out the Times' error.
Narda didn't write back personally, but someone on her staff did later that day, thanking me for the info and promising to check it out. The next day, the Times ran this correction in section A: “For the Record: Gay alliance: An article in Thursday's Times misidentified the school at which teacher Michael Poff advises an alliance for gay and straight students. He is an adviser at Fountain Valley High School. There was a campus controversy over the club when it was formed in the 1993-94 school year, but it now draws little attention, Poff said.”
In an editorial on the same issue (“Gay Students' Rights Are Clear”), the Times commented, “Orange would do better to follow the sensible and cooler path taken by some other high schools in Orange County, whose gay student clubs simply operate without fanfare.”
While there may not be fanfare at the other schools today, the fact remains that the school-board hearings over the gay club at Fountain Valley High were as contentious and packed with supporters and opponents as those in Orange. Like Orange Unified, FVSA sidestepped the issue—the gay-straight alliance was never banned, but the school now officially recognizes only “curriculum-related” clubs. The FVSA continues to meet, but its link on the school's official Web site is dead.
According to Jeff Gerard, an FVSA co-founder before he graduated in 1995, the school ended up treating the club as a community group. Poff confirms that, pointing out that the federal Equal Access Act allows this for groups the school does not want to endorse.
“Sensible and cooler path?” A follow-up story by the Times' Kate Folmar on the FVSA, “For Sake of Solace, Support” (Dec. 19), reported—finally—that “six years ago . . . some 150 students walked out of classes to protest the group.”
The fact that the group to this day does not have official status was not reported.