KENNEWICK -- Last fall, a budding filmmaker published a short documentary online about what it's like to be a gay teenager in Kennewick.
The film -- Breaking the Silence by Ittai Orr -- describes the hardships gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender youth encounter and the people and organizations trying to help them.
It also chronicles the resistance of the Kennewick School Board to establishing a Gay-Straight Alliance -- a student organization for GLBT students, who are bullied and harassed at a much higher rate than their straight peers.
The film ends with the words, "Kennewick School District still has done nothing to address GLBT issues."
Orr may have to edit that out in the not-too-distant future.
The school board made some progress on the issue at a Tuesday meeting, although students said afterward that the measures discussed didn't go far enough to make them feel welcome at school again.
The board gathered for its biannual special meeting, during which it typically does not put matters to a vote.
Board member Wendy London had asked that the safety of GLBT kids in Kennewick schools be taken up again. She's featured prominently in the film as an advocate for the cause.
She shared some national statistics with the board Tuesday -- 90 percent of GLBT youth have been harassed in school, 60 percent have felt unsafe and 30 percent have skipped school because they felt unsafe.
She also quoted Mark Lee, executive director of the Vista Youth Center, a place for GLBT kids in Kennewick. He had surveyed 83 youth who'd come to the center. Of those, 24 had thought about suicide and 24 had harmed themselves physically in the past.
High school principals in Kennewick take bullying very seriously, London said. She'd talked to the three principals in preparation for the meeting. The principals had no problem with such student groups at their schools, she said.
"Will the board support (gay-straight alliances) as recognized student body groups?" she finally asked.
After some discussion about technical terms and definitions, the board members finally voiced their opinions on that question.
"I don't know about a GSA," said Dawn Adams. "But I'd like to see a space that's safe and a group to foster understanding."
Kathy White said she'd like to see GSAs become policy.
Heather Kintzley asked why GLBT students don't just form a student club, as opposed to an officially recognized student body group.
Lynn Fielding objected to the focus on GLBT youths and bullying. He said minorities and girls get harassed at school, too. Why not provide for them?
"When you deal with the larger issue of safety, I'm in," Fielding said. "But when you single out one group for special attention, I have a real problem."
The student representative on the board then explained why one group may need an alliance set up for them, rather than just telling them to form a club.
"These students are harassed much more than others," said Akshai Baskaran. "They're already alienated. Forcing them to communicate with others to organize their own club would make it harder."
The board agreed that London would bring them more research on how other schools around the state have provided for their GLBT youth, and that the issue will be discussed again during the Feb. 9 board meeting.
Several students gathered outside after the discussion weren't happy about the comments made by board members.
One of them, Julio Aranda, told the Herald he was bullied extensively at Kennewick High School for being gay.
"I was called a fag, had things thrown at me and got my ass kicked in gym class," he said. "I didn't feel safe."
Teachers did not pay enough attention to his problems, he said. He was told to just walk away from trouble. He was driven to alcohol by the harassment and finally dropped out of school at the end of the last school year.
He said he felt completely alone at school. An official club would have made him feel accepted, he said.
But a loosely defined tolerance group that's open to anyone who feels harassed would not have the same effect, he said. He was bullied by Hispanic students, for example, who as members of a minority would be part of the same tolerance group, rendering the club useless for him.
"At Vista (Youth Center) I feel safe," Aranda said. "There should be something like that in schools."