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BLUE PENNSYLVANIA: IN THE STUDENTS' OWN WORDS

The last Blue Pennsylvania email gave an overview of many of the racial, ethnic, and anti-LGBTQ+ policies in various suburban school districts. But what is it like to be an LGBTQ+ student in a place like the Central Bucks School District (CBSD), where, the new school board has discouraged employees from advocacy or displaying materials representing positions on various social issues; while encouraging guidance counselors to effectively “out” these students to their parents?

While many LGBTQ+, feel vulnerable at school, they also feel invisible, and unable to express who they are, which has taken a severe emotional toll. Many of these students have voiced those feelings through testimony at various school board meetings.

PRIDE FLAGS

When pride flags could no longer be displayed, one bewildered CBSD student testified: “It’s only a rainbow,’ and while responding to Superintendent Abe Lucabaugh’s statement that pride flags do not make kids safe, a CB West High School student explained: “It doesn’t make them safe, but it does make them feel more seen.

And a Lenape Middle School student gave one of the most poignant testimonies:

Dr. Lucabaugh … says that he wants schools to be completely apolitical. And honestly, that may have been one of the worst excuses I’ve ever heard in my entire life. I want to know exactly, Mr. Lucabaugh, when I became a ‘side’ for the left or right. When I lost my right as a human and a child and a student at your schools, and when I became a sign for you to hide away in a closet.

STUDENT SAFETY

While many in the LGBTQ+ community have been dismayed by these directives, they have also expressed concerns that other directives have compromised their safety. If an LGBTQ+ student wants to be called by a certain name or a certain pronoun, guidance counselors will typically contact the student’s parents. According to one testimony,

Not every student wants to be outed to their parents because their home environment might not be safe.

For many LGBTQ+ students, the problem came to a head last year with the suspension of a teacher, Andrew Burgess. As one student described their experience,

At the beginning of the year, I came out as trans. I told all my teachers…All of them were accepting of it…However, the 8th grade student body seemed to have a different opinion on that. I’ve been constantly harassed. I’ve been bullied... I’ve had people call me a myriad of slurs. I’ve had things thrown at me…Every time…I would go to guidance… I was always told that they wanted to help me… Every time I would go to guidance, I was always told things that were along the lines of ‘they’re just immature,’ ‘they’ll grow out of it.’ Every time I walked out of that counselor, I never felt safe. I never felt validated. I just felt . . . the exact same thing I felt when I was getting called slurs. I felt bullied. I didn’t feel like I was cared for. One time, I decided to go a different route. I told Mr. [Burgess]… And he was on top of it. He knew exactly what to do. He knew how to help me, and he knew how to support me…He wanted me to feel safe. After months and months of feeling invalidated, of feeling weird in my own skin, after feeling like I’m the problem, and that… I’m just wrong, I finally felt ok. So I stopped going to guidance and I went to Mr. [Burgess]… And then, on May 6, at 11:30-ish, Mr. [Burgess] got a letter saying that he was suspended. And at that exact same time, I lost one of the only people that has ever really cared for me. That really wanted to stay by my side and help me. That actually wanted to get things done instead of letting things slide. I lost the only person that really cared about me as a person.

Despite Superintendent Lucabaugh’s acknowledgement that “For [LGBTQ+ students], a … really successful day… would be if a student hurled an insult or a slur their way and an adult stepped up and said, ‘no, we’re not doing that”, with his blessing, the Central Bucks School District passed Policy # 321, in January, which effectively prevents teachers from such intervention.

IT DOESN’T NEED TO BE THAT WAY, AND YOU CAN HELP

On Wednesday, April 12, at 7 PM, the Blue Pennsylvania Committee of Philly Neighborhood Networks is hosting an evening, entitled “DEFEND STUDENTS’ RIGHTS: END HARRASSMENT AND CENSORSHIP!”. We will be joined by Ronna Dewey, from Red Wine, and Blue – a national women’s organization that has been at the forefront of countering anti-Democracy movements in the schools, and Democratic school board candidates in districts impacted by book bans and other attacks on vulnerable populations. We will conclude with a call to action – how and where you can donate your time, talent, and money to these candidates and their campaigns. Interested? SIGN UP HERE, and/or to contribute, CLICK HERE.

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