Students at Lakeland Preparatory School in Tennessee have reportedly withdrawn their request to form a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) club at their school after conservative parents rabidly attacked them and a supportive faculty member. The parents claimed that even the presence of a GSA – which is also sometimes called a Gender & Sexualities Alliance – at the school will “indoctrinate” their kids into being gay.
The anti-LGBTQ parents went so far as to attack the supportive faculty member by accusing her of being a “predator” for supporting the GSA.
Superintendent Ted Horrell told the Daily Memphian that the withdrawal of the request was “initiated completely by the students.” Instead of starting a GSA, they are now asking to start a club called “Allies of Diversity,” which he said “welcomes all people, cultures, genders, orientations, beliefs, and religions. Students are encouraged to support one another as allies in school, standing up for those who are most at risk of being bullied and judged negatively.”
Last month, parents railed against the GSA at several school board meetings, saying that an email that announced the club was “inappropriate,” even though it just announced the club and had a rainbow on it.
“Where do we draw the line?” parent Matt Thie said at a Lakeland School Board meeting last week, threatening to remove his three children from the school district because of a club no one is required to attend. He said it was “inexcusable” for children to learn about sexuality at that age.
Parent Heather Reynolds told the school board that the club will “indoctrinate” her kids, and they won’t be able to avoid it by not going.
“It’s going to be advertised in emails, over the intercom system and posters in the halls trying to bait 10, 11 and 12-year-old kids into their club meetings,” she said, referring to the promised snacks.
This is the email announcement being called inappropriate.
But things got much uglier at a second board meeting last month, after the teacher who sponsored the GSA, drama teacher Mandy Christopher, was accused of being a “predator.”
The accusation stemmed from a TikTok video that showed Christopher talking to a student in a parked car. Parents told the school board at the meeting this past Monday that it was “disturbing.” The video has been deleted and Lakeland Currents reporter Matt Wright said it’s “unclear” what the video actually showed despite it being a central topic of discussion at the meeting.
A woman who identified herself as the grandmother of the student in the video spoke at the meeting: “Ms. Christopher is not a predator, she’s just a friend.” She said that her granddaughter is queer and wants to attend the GSA.
Others at the meeting continued to attack the club.
“It’s not appropriate,” said parent Rachel Goss, adding that kids who have “sexual problems” should talk to counselors, not clubs.
Parent Sara Mace said that her two kids at the school will still be “exposed” to the GSA even if they don’t attend it, referring to the announcement for it.
Other parents said that GSAs are about “far left indoctrination”
“We moved here for schools, but we will move back out of Lakeland,” one father said.
The district’s lawyer reminded the board that, under the Equal Access Act, the school has to allow all student clubs to form and can’t discriminate on the basis of content. The Equal Access Act was passed in the 1980s after conservative Christians pushed for protections for Bible clubs, but the law has been used multiple times throughout the past several decades to defend GSAs.
So many parents suggested banning all clubs in the school just t0 keep the GSA out. The school board said that it would look into a legal loophole, saying that they might be able to get out of the Equal Access Act’s protections because fifth-graders attend the school as well as older students, and it only applies to secondary education.
Horrell said that the students who wanted the GSA changed their minds on their own because they had a “legitimate lack of understanding the link to any sort of umbrella organization for GSAs.” The organization he was referring to was the Genders & Sexualities Alliance Network (GSA Network), which represents GSAs nationally. Horrell did not explain what he found offensive about that organization.
“That term [GSA] is used pretty generically about clubs like that,” Horrell said. “I think some of the things that were said at the public meeting I think really brought to the attention of the students that there was a parent organization.”
According to the National School Climate Survey, over half of LGBTQ students feel unsafe at school because of their identity, and three-quarters reported verbal harassment because of their sexual orientation. Over a third said they were physically harassed because of their identity.
A 2020 study by the University of Connecticut found that the presence of a GSA decreased bullying in schools and not just anti-LGBTQ bullying.
“By bringing together LGBTQ youth and supportive non-LGBTQ peers, GSAs provide a unique opportunity to foster social inclusion and acceptance,” lead author Leah Lessard told USA Today.