Gay-Straight Alliance Updates: Lake County (Victory!), Polk County (Victory!) & Fort Worth (Progress!)

We’ve got three updates this weekend about gay-straight alliances and safe-schools efforts in Texas and Florida, including information on how you can speak out for LGBT youth and their allies in the ongoing controversy in Lake County.

Lake County: GSA Victory For Now, But the Struggle Continues

[May 15 update: The Lake County School Board has tentatively adopted a vague new rule that may allow middle schools in the district to ban the GSA in the future.]

LGBT youth and their allies in Lake County won an important victory, at least for now. After months of delay, obstruction, excuses, and inappropriate comments from school board members (see below), Florida’s Lake County School District has agreed to allow eighth-grader Bayli Silberstein to form a gay-straight alliance at the district’s Carver Middle School. The approval, which now forms part of a federal consent decree, came just one day after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida filed a lawsuit against the Lake County School Board and two school officials. The ACLU press release is here.

The struggle in Lake County is not over, however. The district has only agreed to allow the Carver Middle School GSA through the end of the school year. In June, Bayli Silberstein graduates from the middle school and the federal court order expires. There are already indications that the school district will create new rules for school clubs moving forward, and it’s unclear whether they will be LGBT-inclusive.

In the school district’s official statement on the lawsuit’s resolution, for example, Superintendent Dr. Susan Moxley states that the district has only resolved the “specific school and student request”—that is, Bayli Silberstein’s request to form a GSA at Carver Middle School—and that the district’s “policy discussion will continue.” Some Lake County School Board members appear to think that a new state law will allow them to block the middle-school GSA (again) next year; for reasons explained in a post late last month, I think they’re terribly mistaken.

Readers in the area can attend a Lake County School Board discussion of the issues this coming Monday (details here); readers can also write to [email protected] to express their views directly to the district.

Click here for a full list of Youth Allies posts about the Lake County GSA controversy, including posts about school board members’ misleading and outrageous statements to me and other bloggers.

Victory for Lakeland Students in Polk County

The ACLU has also secured a victory for students in Polk County, Florida. An ACLU press release from early this week explains:

A group of students at Kathleen High School in Lakeland, Florida have been informed after months of delay that school administrators will allow them to establish a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) student club at the school. The students had reached out to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida for assistance in getting the club recognized.

GSAs Are “Filling a Void” in Fort Worth

The last GSA update comes from Texas, where a May 3 Dallas Voice story profiles the efforts of several LGBT-youth advocates, including Carina Perry, a fourteen-year-old ninth grader at Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth. Perry formed the school’s GSA earlier this year. The article explains: “LGBT advocates in Fort Worth said GSAs like the one at Arlington Heights are filling a void left by the district’s anti-bullying program, called the ‘It’s Not Okay’ initiative, which they say doesn’t have a strong enough LGBT component.”

District employees have defended the initiative, known as INOK. According to the Dallas Voice, one guidance counselor “claims students in GSAs didn’t want the INOK program to single LGBT students out, so it’s an all-inclusive initiative that aims to change the social norm that being different is wrong.”

I’m not sure precisely what the guidance counselor said on this point (since the article doesn’t quote her exact words), but I take issue with the idea that including a strong (or stronger) component about anti-LGBT bullying would necessarily “single LGBT students out” or would be less “inclusive.” Anti-LGBT bullying affects youth of all sexual orientations and gender identities; schools can talk about that problem without singling anyone out. You don’t have to be gay, after all, to be bullied with anti-gay slurs. So a smart anti-bullying program can be fully “inclusive” while also directly addressing bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.


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