A school board chairman has been forced to apologise after referring to gay people as a “species” during a meeting.

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, which also campaigns for gay rights, had called on Tom Lynch to resign after he called gays a “protected species” in a conversation about the Palm Beach County School Board’s anti-harassmnet policy.

Founder of the rights group, Rand Hoch, said: “Gay men and lesbians are parents, children, friends and neighbours. We are not some sub-species of humanity.”

He has since been emailed an apology, but told the Palm Beach Post it didn’t seem “heartfelt.”

“It doesn’t appear he understands the sensitivity to gay and lesbian students when a word like that is used,” he said.

Mr Lynch said in the email, “Let me start by apologising to anyone offended by my comments, the purpose in my remarks was in no way meant to be demeaning to any person or group.”

He refers to a dictionary definition of the word “gay” as a class of related individuals.

Mr Hoch said he plans to discuss the reply with the council’s board, “It really leads us to believe he doesn’t understand the sensitivity of minority groups, especially the gay and lesbian community.

“At least with this explanation, we can put the matter to rest.”