Tennessee School Board Removes LGBT “Safe Spaces” from Public Schools
After considering its content as “inappropriate sexual nature,” posters deeming Tennessee classrooms as safe spaces for LGBT students have been taken down by the Rutherford County school board.
The posters produced by GLSEN (The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) say, “This is a safe and inclusive space for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and their allies. All students deserve a safe and welcoming school environment.” GLSEN offers Safe Space Kits with information and the “inappropriate” posters to “help students identify supportive educators in their school.”
The Tennessee school’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) student organization prompted teachers to put up the posters, but it has since caused an uproar. The words “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender” are at the heart of the complaint, as members of TN’s state legislature have taken steps to have those words removed from the school environment.
The state’s “don’t say gay” bill has been introduced at the state level several time since its first introduction in 2008. The bill would require teachers to alert parents if their child confided in them about their sexuality and would require the school to report any students’ gay activity. Though the bill failed, it hasn’t stopped the bill’s author, State Rep. John Ragan (R- Oak Ridge), from pressing the issue.
“I’m not sure why a poster would be put up, because our schools are safe for all students,” school board Vice Chairman Wayne Blair told The Tennessean. “We already have a policy to maintain our schools as safe.”
However a GLSEN surveys from 2011 showed there was indeed a need for support for LGBT students. According to the survey, Tennessee schools “were not safe for most lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) secondary school students.”
Adding to the problem, the record highs of harassment of students in the LGBT community was contrasted by the low amounts of in-school resources and support offered in school systems.
The TN ACLU has since asked the school board to put the safe space posters back up, saying removal of the posers violates even the incredibly limited number of students rights. “Removal of these posters is a violation of the free speech rights of students and teachers,” said Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU-TN Legal Director in a statement. “Permitting some student groups but not others to display posters amounts to unconstitutional, discriminatory censorship.”
One of the teachers who hung a safe space poster, Allen Nichols, Central Magnet School social studies and history teacher, also spoke in the ACLU release saying she originally hung the poster at a students request, but later kept it up because she felt it was an important issue to support. “I believe creating a safe school environment is important for all students,” said Nichols. “Anti-gay harassment and bullying hurts everyone, which is why I found the censorship of this poster particularly surprising and frustrating,”
“The power they have over these kids is disgusting… they didn’t want to upset certain parents in the community.”December 6, 2016
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