School Removes LGBT ‘Safe Space’ Posters for Being Too Sexual

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.

Take Action!

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


Donna Ferguson
Donna F5 years ago

what nitwits!

holly masih
.5 years ago

Instead of having it mention anyone's sexuality,why not have a policy of NO BULLYING,BY ANYONE,OR TOWARD ANYONE.Why does a person's sexuality have to brought into it?Just no bullying,period.

Wesley Struebing
Wesley Struebing5 years ago

Unneeded...un-needed?! Tell that to the bullied (and worse) LGBT (and their friends, I might add)!

Sarah MacDonald
Sarah MacDonald5 years ago

Jack S, what is your bizarre obsession with what the gender of a lesbian might be? It's female. Got it?

And even if the lesbian has a penis, she's still female.

It's this sort of obsessive, nit-picking, fixation with matters that don't concern one specifically (after all, why would a man have to worry about how being a lesbian works to such an extent?) that causes the need for these posters.

Back when I was in high school, I had a very simple personal test for caring about someone else's sexuality/gender identity. Was I interested in that person romantically? Was that person showing an interest in me sexually? If the answer to both questions was no, then I considered it none of my business. If someone told me about their sexuality/gender identity/issues, then I listened to them and believed them. If they asked me not to say anything, I didn't. If I heard rumors about someone's sex life, I didn't pass them on.

See how simple it is not to harass someone for their sexuality/gender identity? And I could do so while still hearing words like 'lesbian' and 'transgender,' too.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W5 years ago

Thanks for the information.

Autumn S.
Autumn S5 years ago

narrow minded thinking :(

Lynn Squance
Lynn Squance5 years ago

“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.”

I see absolutely nothing wrong with this sign. And although Rutherford County Board of Education Vice Chairman Wayne Blair says that the poster is not needed, his and the school board's reaction to it are proof that it IS needed. I'm sure there is a big involvement of the 'holier than thou' right wing evangelical pseudo Christian movement at play here. To me, the actions of the school board are tantamount to harassment. Kudos to the ACLU and may the school board do the right thing.

Jack Stroud
Jack Stroud5 years ago

I agree that all have the right to be safe, homosexual or not ..but because we all don't think alike there's ample reason to justify why the school put down the poster. It is degrading to harm and bully someone no matter the reason; as for the difference between sexual orientation and sexual identity there's this: -Sexual identity refers to how one thinks of oneself in terms of whom one is romantically or sexually attracted to. Sexual identity and sexual behavior are closely related to sexual orientation, but they are distinguished, with identity referring to an individual's conception of themselves, behavior referring to actual sexual acts performed by the individual, and sexual orientation referring to romantic or sexual attractions toward the opposite sex, the same sex, both sexes, or having no attractions. Sexual identity may or may not relate to a person's actual sexual orientation.
Therefore my question stands: what is the true gender of a biological human female who socio-culturally is a lesbian and is therefore attracted to other human females..??

Elizabeth L.
Elizabeth L5 years ago

People like Jack really don't get it unfortunately. The vast majority of scientific studies show that the interaction of social and cultural elements does not in itself determine sexual identity. It may make acceptance of the same by a caring and compassionate community easier (obviously not In Tennessee or Russia for that matter).
I would recommend reading. "Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation" author Simon LeVay
If you see nouns like homosexual, lesbian as being sexy I would suggest going and getting help immediately.
Regardless of this difference of opinion surely all reasonable adults should agree that children regardless of sexual orientation have the right to be safe.

Jack Stroud
Jack Stroud5 years ago

Are you trying to be funny Jan N.?? -because I guess from your side of the fence is all I smell there..