Archive for Monday, September 28, 2015

Clubs for LGBT students and allies now at all Lawrence middle schools

September 28, 2015


When Arla Jones was a teacher-sponsor of the Gay-Straight Alliance club at Lawrence High School — before there were such clubs at the middle schools — many students came with bleak descriptions of their years there.

“During that time, most of the students told awful stories about their experiences in middle school,” said Jones, who sponsored the LHS GSA club from 2004 to 2012. “Including stories of bullying and alienation, feeling that they were alone, or even that they were the only person experiencing what they were going through.”

But things are beginning to change. After two recent additions, all four of the middle schools in Lawrence now have a teacher-sponsored club for LGBT students and allies, and the school board is looking at additional ways to support LGBT students districtwide.

Jones, now a teacher at South Middle School and sponsor of its GSA Club, said that having a sense of belonging is a basic human need, and support for LGBT students is affirming not only to GSA members, but also to students who may not feel able to come to the club.

“GSAs are important because LGBT students need to feel safe and supported in school, in order to be successful in school,” Jones said.

LGBT youth are more than two times as likely as non-LGBT youth to say they have been verbally harassed and called names at school, according to a Human Rights Campaign report that surveyed more than 10,000 LGBT-identified youths ages 13-17 nationwide. The survey also indicated that LGBT youths are more likely to report being unhappy and that they do not have an adult they can talk to about personal problems.

West and Southwest middle schools both began clubs this year — the club at West started up last semester, and the Southwest club held its first meeting this month — making this school year the first in which an official club has existed at all middle schools. Clubs for LGBT students and allies began at Central and South a few years ago, and high school club leaders say that the recent additions have meant increased membership and activism at that level.

Expansion of middle school clubs

Tatyana Younger, a junior at LHS and president of the GSA Club, joined the club as an ally. Younger said offering support earlier is important, and she’s excited there are clubs at all of the middle schools now.

“A lot of people seem to think that sixth-graders are too young to understand these issues, but kids in all grades are being bullied and having issues,” Younger said. “Having an outlet is such a helpful thing for these students, so they don’t have to go through middle school feeling isolated.”

Several teachers are sponsoring the club at Southwest, and about 20 students from all grade levels and about five staff members attended the first meeting this month, said Brigid Murphy, a teacher at Southwest and one of the sponsors.

“The fact that so many staff members have stepped up to show support and attended the meeting gives these kids reassurance,” Murphy said.

The GSA at South Middle School formed in 2012, at Central in 2011 and at LHS in 2004, with informal, student-led groups existing at LHS before that, Jones said. The club at Free State has existed on and off since 2006. School clubs are usually student initiated, and have at least one teacher who sponsors the club and hosts regular meetings and activities for students after school. In addition to giving LGBT students a safe space within the schools, it’s also a place for allies, Jones said.

“GSAs are important for our students who have parents, friends, or relatives — often siblings — who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,” she said.

Districtwide initiative

One of the school board’s goals this year is to investigate issues related to LGBT students and implement supports. The goals, which were finalized Sept. 14, are generated by asking teachers, staff and administration what issues the district needs to focus on, said Lawrence schools Superintendent Rick Doll.

“The discussion started that this is a group of students in our schools that we need to be more concerned about,” Doll said. “We would like to learn more about what it means to be an LGBT student in our schools.”

The investigation into LGBT student issues is listed as one of the action steps of a larger initiative to develop district curriculum to raise the achievement of all students. Doll is in charge of the LGBT action step along with two other district administrators: Jose Cornejo, mental health facilitator, and Kevin Harrell, director of student services. As part of the work on the initiative, Doll said that they will gather information through discussions with teachers, parents and students about the challenges LGBT students have.

“If there are challenges that are special to this group of students, we want to identify what those challenges are and then start to plan for solutions,” he said.

Effects of more LGBT student clubs

Lindsay Buck, a teacher at LHS and one of the sponsors of its GSA club, has been sponsoring the club for the past four years. Buck said that in that time the number of students participating has approximately doubled — increasing from about a dozen students to more than 30 — a fact that she attributes to the addition of the first clubs at the middle schools.

“They come in already aware of the club,” she said. “They are comfortable in seeking us out; it’s not this brand new thing when they get up to the high school.”

Another effect of students coming to high school already familiar with a club is that they are interested in the organization playing a more activist role, Buck said. One of the goals of the LHS GSA is to help make LGBT students more visible and provide educational opportunities for others. The efforts are student-led, with teachers acting as guides.

Last school year, for instance, Younger, the LHS GSA student president, said that the club held the first pride week, using each day of the week to provide information about the subgroups of LGBT people to students, staff and administration.

“We set up a table in the rotunda,” she said. “We had kids come by and ask questions and had games to learn more about sexuality and gender.”

Younger said the club’s plans for this school year include participating in the homecoming parade, Pride Week and the Day of Silence, as well as workshops and educational presentations.

District timeline

Jones said that the recent change of law regarding same-sex marriage will undoubtedly increase the number of openly LGBT families, and that all parents, staff and youth in Lawrence will benefit from additional support and education at the district level.

"It’s my hope that the board’s initiatives will increase understanding and reduce anxiety surrounding LGBT issues in Lawrence and above all, make life better for LGBT youth," she said.

As far as what districtwide supports for LGBT students might look like, Doll said they could be facilities such as unisex restrooms; professional development for district employees; or curriculum and resources for parents and students.

The investigation into the topic will span most of the school year, and Doll said a report will be delivered to the school board in the spring, with implementation of any changes going into effect for the next school year. In the meantime, action can still be taken, Doll said.

“As we raise awareness about this, there is certainly nothing that would keep a school or a GSA from starting to do things right now,” he said.


Fred Whitehead Jr. 2 years, 8 months ago

"As far as what districtwide supports for LGBT students might look like, Doll said they could be facilities such as unisex restrooms"

Uh...most businesses like car repair shops and professional offices have these "unisex" restrooms now. Without all the fanfare and pomp associated with this silly topic. You have a restroom with facilities and place a sign on the door "Restroom", put locks on the door and toss out all the stupid "gender bender" icon signs.

What is so hard or illogical about that??

Justin Hoffman 2 years, 8 months ago

We don't agree on much but I agree with you 100% here.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 2 years, 8 months ago

Exactly. How many houses have gender specific bathrooms?

Nikki May 2 years, 8 months ago

I'm not going to lie, if it's a single bathroom with a locking door, I"ll go to the girl one first, but if I'm in a hurry and it's occupied, I have no qualms using the boy one. They lock, no one is coming in! Who cares who went to the bathroom in there last?

Brad Greenwood 2 years, 8 months ago

That may work if you have a few people in the shop or office, but the middle schools have around 500 students. If you try and make them all unisex with locks on the doors, you've got a lot of kids "holding it". A couple of single bathrooms with locks designated unisex would work fine, which I'm sure is what Dr. Doll was referring to. And there's nothing at all "silly" about this topic. Kids this age and at the high school need all the help they can get trying to figure out how they see themselves today.

Justin Hoffman 2 years, 8 months ago

"need all the help they can get trying to figure out how they see themselves today". In regards to unisex bathrooms and with all due respect Brad, a student needs to only look down while in the bathroom to know how to view themselves.

Brad Greenwood 2 years, 8 months ago

Since I saw no "due respect" in that response, all I can suggest is that you not make narrow-minded remarks like that about our students. They deserve a hell of a lot better than that.

Justin Hoffman 2 years, 8 months ago

Narrow minded? Nah. Just in touch with physiological facts. A student goes into a bathroom and looks down. If student has a you know what they are a boy. If not, a girl. Case closed. That simple.

Brad Greenwood 2 years, 8 months ago

Looking in extensive lists of "physiological facts", I can't find any reference to a "you know what". You think maybe there's more to sexual identity then this "you know what" of yours? Hmmm?

David Holroyd 2 years, 8 months ago

New bond issue for USD 497: Renovation of, removal of urinals in school facilities, to include but not limited to toilet seat lids being installed. Estimated cost: $535,785.45

Change orders accepted and paid monthly.

Bid now! Preferential awarding of bids to transsexual plumbers .

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 2 years, 8 months ago

I detest bullies of any kind, it has directly affected the lives of victims in the long term. I support any reasonable attempt to stop bullying.

David Holroyd 2 years, 8 months ago

So if a farmer I(not Jeremy) has an outhouse and it is "legal" will the farmer need at least four holes?

Arnie Bunkers 2 years, 8 months ago

I would think that kids that are inclined to bully gays will still do it, and maybe even more since they can see who is going into these meetings. I went to school with a few gays who were friends of mine and they were never bullied. Never. Why? Because no one knew they were gay. They didnt live that lifestyle and didnt promote thier sexuality at all. It wasnt until many years later that they came out and no one really cares how they live their lives.

Jeremy Arthur 2 years, 8 months ago

So your answer to bullying is that the kids who are being bullied should just stay in closet? They pretend to be someone they are not so as to not be harassed? Your response is the exact reason these clubs are needed.

You do realize that every time two kids hold hands with their opposite sex boyfriend/girlfriend they are promoting their lifestyle/sexuality? Why should LGBT teens not be able to safely do the exact same thing?

Jeremy Arthur 2 years, 8 months ago

Just saw your username, maybe I missed the tongue in cheek?

Keith Pullman 2 years, 8 months ago

Great! GSAs are great and I hope every school will have a GSA and that every GSA will be a welcoming place for all students whose gender identity, sexual orientation, or relationship orientation (think polyamory, for example) or that of their parents makes them a target for bullying.

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