Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Anti-LGBT bias allowed and encouraged at Sequoyah High School

The call for action to confront anti-LGBT bias at Sequoyah High School is growing. Last night, I received a call from a concerned mother in Monroe County, Tennessee. She expressed support for the group of students and parents hoping to charter a Gay-Straight Alliance at Sequoyah.

She knows first hand how Sequoyah students who don't fit in are targeted for bullying or harassment. Her son was assaulted in a poorly supervised class at the school in 2009. Several students captured her son's beating on camera phone and later circulated the video among their peers. Despite ample evidence of the assault, the school and district administration did not nothing to confront or correct the behavior of the students who assaulted her son. Read this mother's account of what happened in her own words:
I don’t know anything about being gay, but I’ve got friends who are gay and lesbian. I have a son that was beaten severely at the high school in 2009 and bullied repeatedly. In my opinion, it’s my opinion only, that there is a very bad history here of . . . especially in that school of . . . if they find something wrong that they can zero in on or if you rock the boat then you are zeroed in on and it’s never ending. My son was absolutely tortured down there. And when I tried to stop the bullying and harassment and intimidation, it was not only not stopped by the faculty, but, in my opinion, they took part in it. They held his diploma. They didn’t print his senior page in the yearbook even though we paid $300 for that. They held his transcripts. He ended up . . . . he wanted to go his prom, but he was afraid to go to his prom. He did not want to go to his graduation. They have ruined his life. And he is 19 years old now. And he left school early just to get away from it all because it was never ending. And it’s still going on to this day. We eventually had to get an attorney.  
My son is not the only one. I have had repeated parents come to me and come talk to me and ask my advice. And I can make you a list. Most of them end up saying that we have to live here. It’s no use. And, in my opinion again, this is one of the most corrupt towns and areas I have ever seen.  
I tried to get on the school board to do something. I was cut off by the Director of Schools. I tried three times. I could not get on the school board agenda. I tried to get public records. It took me over a year. I finally had to go to Nashville and get the open records counsel for the State involved. And even then, I was limited on what I could have. It’s amazing what goes on here. People, in my opinion, are afraid. They are afraid for themselves, they are afraid for their children, they are afraid for the families and they are afraid for their businesses in retaliation for what will happen.  
We need somebody, not just for the gay and lesbian teens but just for people in general, at this school. We need somebody from out of town to take a look and to help make a stand. People are afraid.
This brave mother gave me permission to share her story. I withhold her name to protect her privacy and her family's safety. Her son is not gay, but she believes the systemic culture of fear and intimidation perpetuated by the Monroe County School District must be confronted to provide a safe environment for the children who attend its schools. While addressing the safety of her own son, she learned from another parent that the administration of Sequoyah High School is not addressing specifically anti-gay bullying.
The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education has said that
Gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and similar student-initiated groups addressing LGBT issues can play an important role in promoting safer schools and creating more welcoming learning environments. 
Organizations like GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) offer tested resources for creating safe environments for all students in schools regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. We've shared these resources with the group of students and parents seeking to form a GSA at their school. I called and emailed the Monroe County School District Director Mike Lowry earlier this week to offer TEP's assistance in identifying ways to promote a safe environment for all students at Sequoyah High School. Director Lowry has not called back.

It's time for Sequoyah High School to confront the unsafe environment that its principal and school district director appear intent on covering up. Management through inaction is not management at all - especially at the expense of children. 


Callie Wise said...

As an employee of the state that works closely with the K-12 group, I think the superintendent, school board, and particularly, the high school principal need to be talked to about how their behavior and the allowance of harassing behavior on their campuses is directly undermining the state's call (and the fed call with Race to the Top funds coming to TN, specifically) to increasing graduation rates. This parent only gave one example of a young person feeling so threatened that he couldn't finish school. I can't tell you how many young LGBT kids I see in classrooms sitting by themselves, cowering in corners, praying they aren't noticed just trying to survive from day-to-day. SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!!!!

Michael Leslie said...

Please sign this petition to allow the students to form a Gay-Straight Alliance at Sequoyah High School. You can make the petition even more powerful by adding your thoughtful and persuasive comments for the county school officials. Remember, our goal is to get people to open their hearts and minds! After signing, please invite your friends to sign as well.

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