A Benilde-St. Margaret's School student hopes recent public outcry related to a newspaper piece he wrote about being gay will help him leverage support for starting a gay-straight alliance at the school.

"The goals are not to indoctrinate or push any agenda other than acceptance," senior Sean Simonson said. "I just think that, especially in high school, it's a very difficult time to go through, and being gay doesn't make it any easier. They need people to support them."

The 17-year-old said last week that he recently met with the school's principal to discuss starting a student group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) students and allies by the end of the school year. Previous efforts by other students have failed, he added.

Leaders at the St. Louis Park school declined to comment.

Gay-straight alliances exist at more than 70 Minnesota public and private high schools, according to the New York-based national group Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

Catholic universities in Minnesota such as the University of St. Thomas and St. Catherine University also have student organizations that address GLBT issues.

Dennis McGrath, spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said he doesn't know of any such group at the metro area's 13 Catholic high schools, and "that has to say something."

"We would not favor it," McGrath added. "It's a lifestyle that we do not endorse."

At Benilde-St. Margaret's, Simonson said he won't end his senior year without trying to start a GLBT student group.

"There kind of needs to be that openness that there are people at Benilde that are gay, lesbian or bisexual," he said, adding that it won't be easy. "It's a difficult thing, as this has shown, at a Catholic school."

Student paper controversy

Simonson was referring to a piece he wrote for the Nov. 11 edition of the student newspaper, the Knight Errant, on the struggles of being a gay teen and even contemplating suicide. It was subsequently pulled off the school newspaper's website by administrators because online comments created a "disrespectful environment as well as confusion about the teachings of the Catholic church," President Bob Tift said in a statement.

When the Knight Errant published, students said, officials were initially supportive of a news story about the Catholic church's release of DVDs opposing same-sex marriage as well as Simonson's piece and an editorial against the DVDs. Simonson said officials had known in advance about the article, not the opinion pieces.

The next day, the two opinion pieces were taken off the website.

"They didn't want to create an unsafe environment for students who haven't come out," said Morgan Rogers, the online editor-in-chief, adding that she thinks comments, not the students' work, should have been taken down.

Simonson said he isn't mad, though, and hopes the incident created a dialogue that will help him start a gay-straight alliance at the school.

"I think by already having it out as an issue, it will help ... and not let it get swept under the rug," he said. "It opened a discussion that hasn't happened in a while."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141