Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


Name: Kelli Peterson

What She Did: Caught flak after forming high school club for gays

Claim To Fame: Sparked a national debate over student rights

Kelli Peterson hardly had revolution on her mind when she started a group for gay students at Salt Lake City’s East High School. A struggling student who occasionally got beaten up, the 18-year-old Peterson says she was simply looking for a peer group. “I hated high school. I didn’t feel like I had anything there.”

After attending a speech by Candace Gingrich, the openly gay half-sister of House Speaker Newt, Peterson became inspired, and she and 25 other students formed the East High Gay/Straight Alliance in November. But in February, the school board banned all noncurricular clubs rather than allow a gay group to meet. In April, Utah’s state legislature voted to let school boards ban student clubs that “involve human sexuality.” The ACLU is considering a lawsuit. Peterson shied away from the media spotlight, but detractors sought her out. She received a death threat, hate mail, and scorn from relatives. Still, she has no regrets.

She finished high school on a high note–“I really felt like I had friends who understood me,” she says, and her grades improved. “People should not always take the middle ground, because you definitely need to take sides on issues,” she says.

Though the school didn’t recognize the alliance — it won’t appear in the East High yearbook, for example — members still met informally every Friday, and teacher Scott Nelson, who co-sponsored the group, says it’s likely to continue. “Kelli’s definitely a pioneer spirit,” he says. “I think she’s paved the way now for others to follow.”

Know of any people who are raising a bit of hell? E-mail hellraiser@motherjones.com

MOTHER JONES NEEDS YOUR HELP

We have about a $170,000 funding gap and less than a week to go in our hugely important First $500,000 fundraising campaign that ends Saturday. We urgently need your help, and a lot of help, so we can pay for the one-of-a-kind journalism you get from us.

Learn more in “Less Dreading, More Doing,” where we lay out this wild moment and how we can keep charging hard for you. And please help if you can: $5, $50, or $500—every gift from every person truly matters right now.

payment methods

MOTHER JONES NEEDS YOUR HELP

We have about a $170,000 funding gap and less than a week to go in our hugely important First $500,000 fundraising campaign that ends Saturday. We urgently need your help, and a lot of help, so we can pay for the one-of-a-kind journalism you get from us.

Learn more in “Less Dreading, More Doing,” where we lay out this wild moment and how we can keep charging hard for you. And please help if you can: $5, $50, or $500—every gift from every person truly matters right now.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate