Recently, the national American Civil Liberties Union and its Tennessee chapter sent a letter to the Rutherford County Board of Education urging that students and teachers be allowed to hang “Safe Space” posters. This may seem like the normal, decent thing to do, but – surprise! – not everyone feels that way.
Last year, members of the Central Magnet School Gay Straight Alliance, a student organization just like any other, requested that teachers hang a “Safe Spaces” poster in their classrooms. The poster, designed by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), read: “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.”
Seems pretty innocuous, right? Oh, sweet pea, you must be new here.
The posters hung in school for a while before being removed. The argument, put forth by school board Vice Chairman Wayne Blair, is that they simply aren’t needed.
However, a 2011 study by GLSEN begs to differ. According to the organization’s 2011 National School Climate Survey, Tennessee schools still aren’t an awesome place to be an LGBT youth. The study found that at least 90 percent of students had heard the term “gay” used in a negative way or other homophobic remarks, as well as negative remarks regarding someone’s gender presentation. This isn’t only an example of the cruelty of children; 30 percent of students heard school staff say something negative about a person’s gender expression, and 23 percent heard staff make homophobic remarks.
The numbers are equally disturbing when it comes to actually being physically and verbally bullied. In Tennessee, 88 percent of LGBT youth were verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation, and 64 percent were harassed because of their gender presentation. Perhaps most outrageous of all, very few LGBT youth had access to necessary support in a school setting. Only 3 percent went to a school that has a comprehensive anti-bullying program that specifically includes LGBT youth. While 87 percent could identify one supportive staff member, only about a third could identify many.
While we shouldn’t make broad conclusions about an entire state based on one study, it does provide some evidence that maybe things aren’t so great for LGBT youth.
Part of this can be combated by just putting up a poster, but did you know that the mere mention of anything LGBT-related is automatically too sexy for a school? According to GLSEN:
The school board, speaking through its attorney via telephone, claimed that the poster’s content is of an inappropriate sexual nature because it contains the words “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.” The ACLU letter asserts that this is an “obvious mischaracterization.” In the same conversation, the school board’s attorney stated that the poster is inappropriately political in nature. The ACLU letter states that this claim “grossly misconstru[es] the nature of the poster.”
The ACLU is, of course, entirely correct. Just lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender aren’t any more inappropriate than heterosexual, straight or cisgender. The words are descriptive. More importantly, they represent lived experiences. By categorizing those terms as too sexual to be spoken about in schools, you are in effect erasing LGBT youth from the discourse. They are here, and school should be a safe place for them to be true to who they are.
School support is especially crucial since a lot of LGBT youth don’t get that support at home. According to a survey conducted in 2011-2012, about 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT. Of those, 68 percent said they had experienced family rejection and 54 percent said they had experienced abuse in the family.
The lack of family support just drives home the need to have an LGBT-inclusive school. Besides that, the “Safe Space” poster is right; all students just deserve a safe environment in which to learn, and they deserve to know who they can trust if things start to go bad.
Urge congress to pass SNDA to protect LGBT youth in order to provide them a safe space at school by signing this petition.
Photo Credit: GLSEN