By SHARON SALYER
Why would the governing council for one of Everett’s oldest churches agree to co-sponsor a local conference for gay and lesbian youths?
Last year’s Links and Alliances conference was so controversial two state lawmakers called for its cancellation.
But when organizers asked Pastor G. Lee Kluth of Trinity Lutheran Church about being one of several co-sponsors for this year’s event, he agreed to discuss it with the church’s 12-member governing council.
"Maybe this is one way of showing the community that God’s grace extends to people different from us and people who feel excluded or left out," Kluth said.
The daylong conference for students 14 to 21 will take place Saturday at Everett Community College.
Topics include how to handle harassment, creating healthy relationships, gay-straight alliances in schools, STD/HIV education and information on drugs and alcohol.
The $2,400 conference cost was paid for by funds raised from the Snohomish County AIDS walk and other private donations, said Dr. Jo Hofmann, deputy health officer of the Snohomish Health District, one of the sponsoring organizations.
Last year, John Koster, who now is running for Congress, and state Sen. Val Stevens, R-Arlington, wrote letters to Everett Community College calling for the cancellation of the conference, citing concern over the wide age range of students and the sexual interaction that might occur.
Twenty students attended last year’s event, which went on as planned. Thirty students have registered and about 50 are expected this year. So far, the conference has not drawn protests.
Kluth said his church’s council took several months to consider whether to be one of the cosponsors.
"We as a council did struggle; should we do this or should we not?" he said.
"In light of the violence we hear in regard to gays and lesbians, I for one am happy there’s a safe place gays can come together and not be afraid," he added.
He said he understands that some may not understand and others might outright disagree with his decision to take the issue to the church’s council.
"I know there are struggles," he said. "There may be some people in my parish don’t agree with me. That’s OK."
Kluth has been the minister of the church, which will celebrate its 97th anniversary in January, for more than seven years. He has been involved with county’s AIDS and HIV consortium for years.
"It’s been something on my heart for the last 10-plus years, to support those people who maybe feel they’re on the outside of society," Kluth said.
Doug DeRosia, 20, who will be attending the conference, said he knows what it’s like to feel like an outsider.
The Marysville resident said he often ate alone in his high school lunchroom after students learned he was gay. When he walked through the school’s halls, he was often called derogatory names.
"You get isolated practically by everybody," he said.
Those kinds of pressures and harassment led to his decision to drop out of school in 10th grade, DeRosia said.
DeRosia is working at a day care center and hopes to finish high school by passing a General Education Development test and become a registered nurse.
DeRosia believes establishing gay-straight alliances in high schools, one of the goals of Saturday’s conference, would help students battle the isolation and fear he faced.
Rarely, he said, did other students speak up for him. Formation of such groups would help break down barriers that prevent straight students from speaking up.
"People wouldn’t be afraid; they wouldn’t think that because they’re associated with (the group) that you’re gay," he said. "People could set an example for others … that there’s support from all around."
Other sponsors of the event include the Washington Education Association, the Washington Chapter of Safe Schools, Cocoon House, Compass Health, Everett Community College, Human Services Council of Snohomish County, Evergreen Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Marysville, First Congregation, United Church of Christ in Everett and Planned Parenthood.
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