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Dunbar Hosts Forum for LGBTQ+ Students

The district focus group for the students was canceled, so the FCPS high school Student Efficacy leads created their own.
Dunbar+Hosts+Forum+for+LGBTQ%2B+Students
Amelia Polashek

FCPS established focus groups for marginalized students to hear their voices and protect them from harassment or discrimination. The groups include BIPOC males, BIPOC females, Multilingual, Migrant, and Refugee Students, and LGBTQ+ students.

All of the groups met except one.

In November 2023, the forum for LGBTQ+ students was canceled entirely. The meeting date was originally set for Oct. 15, 2023, but was later moved to Jan. 30, 2024. A couple of weeks after the change, the students and teachers who were planning on attending were informed that the January meeting was also canceled.

PLD’s Student Efficacy Leader and school librarian, Mrs. Amber Faris, expressed her disappointment and frustration with the situation.

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“It’s really disheartening to me as Dunbar’s Gay-Straight Alliance sponsor of 18 years,” she said. “We say as a district that we are progressive in terms of providing safe spaces for these students, yet I feel like our LGBTQ+ students are just kind of being brushed aside and treated like second-class citizens.”

Faris said that the reason for the cancelation was not elaborated to her or the other high school leads, but FCPS’s Student Efficacy director, Melissa Stewart, said that the reason behind it is likely Senate Bill 150 which went into effect March 29, 2023, after Gov. Beshear’s veto was overridden.

“I feel like [SB 150] has taken us a step back because we have teachers and staff who are now unsure,” Stewart said. “They are afraid. They don’t know what may or may not harm them as a teacher.”

If we’re not going to have the district do it, we’re just going to plan it ourselves.

— Rian Davis

Determined not to let the LGBTQ+ students be left out, Faris and the other high school GSA sponsors supported their students in creating an event to bring FCPS high schools together at Dunbar on April 10.

The event was voluntary, and all students in attendance had permission slips signed by parents to attend. There were 50 students at the event, and all six high schools were represented.

Rian Davis, the lead at Bryan Station High School, attended the event with her club members.

“The event was similar to the ones [the district] was having for other marginalized populations,” she said. The students felt ‘if we’re not going to have the district do it, we’re just going to plan it ourselves.'”

Stewart said she is glad that the event at Dunbar allowed the students to feel seen.

“We wanted to finish out that series of equity forums with our fourth group,” she said. “It’s not fair to [LGBTQ+] students and that’s not what our [Equity] office is about.”

Leo Figgs and SG Eames are two of Bryan Station’s Gay-Straight Alliance students who attended the event at Dunbar. They reacted to the more “grassroots approach” in organizing the April 10 event.

“I am disappointed in our district because it felt like they were champions for us, but then the event was canceled and we never got a reason why,” Eames said.

The event included three guest speakers and a collaborative review of data from GLSEN, a national organization that offers guidance to schools on how to be inclusive to LGBTQ+ students.

Lauren Sherrow, Lafayette High School’s GSA sponsor, said that she was happy that all of the students were able to “experience queer joy together.” She said she has hope for the future, and the event at Dunbar gave everyone a chance to see the work being done in other schools.

The students were also grateful for the experience.

“It’s cool to know that there are other GSAs at the other high school, and to hear what other people are going through,” Figgs said.

“I have always felt supported by the district, and have many times seen the district fight for our kids,” Sherrow said, “but right now the district’s hands are tied due to state legislation. SB 150 has negatively affected a lot of things.”

…right now the district’s hands are tied due to state legislation.

— Lauren Sherrow

One of the guest speakers was Willie Carver, 2022 Kentucky Teacher of the Year, activist, and author of Gay Poems for Red States.

Carver encouraged the students to understand their rights under the law. He discussed the 1984 Equal Access Act, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1990. It states that students have a right to extracurricular meetings if others exist regardless of the “religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the speech at such meetings.”

This federal law allows clubs like the Gay-Straight Alliance to meet on school premises during non-instructional time.

“If a school provides a forum to any non-curricular group, then the school must provide the forum to other groups regardless of their viewpoint,” Carver said.

SB 150 outlines several restrictions affecting public schools that include “not requiring or recommending policies or procedures for the use of pronouns that do not conform to a student’s biological sex… and that students not receive any instruction or presentation that has a goal or purpose of students studying or exploring gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.”

Still, it does not specifically prohibit focus groups.

“The cancelation felt like it was out of nowhere,” senior Juan Justo Martin said. “They were able to do it with the other groups so why were we excluded?”

Martin is a member of Dunbar’s Gay-Straight Alliance club.

The district website page for LGBTQ+ students reads “We are dedicated to ensuring lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer+ students have the opportunity to succeed through rigorous and relevant instruction, social-emotional awareness, and positive cultural identity.”

PLD Lamplighter reached out to the Chief Officer of the Unity, Belonging, and Student Efficacy office, Soraya Matthews on April 12 for comment.

“We’re just like everyone else,” Martin said. “and [the event at Dunbar] was one way to show queer kids that we matter.”

According to the Equity Council Committee (ECC) website, they meet at 6:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month. The calendar can be accessed here. The public can sign up to speak at meetings by filling out a Public Comment Sign-Up form.

Amelia Polashek contributed to this article.

This story was originally published on The Lamplighter on April 12, 2024.