Preteens discussing sexual identity and orientation at Germantown Hills Middle School have created minor uproar.
In a Dec. 12 letter, GHMS principal Kate Williams said several students this year were openly discussing their sexuality in class, at lunch and recess and in hallways, causing a “significant disruption to the learning environment.”
“Students do not have the right to dictate when or where they will discuss their sexual orientation or identity,” Williams wrote. “As a school, we are trying to instill in our students, who are early adolescents, when it is appropriate to convey one’s sexual orientation and when it is inappropriate.”
Williams continued, “Today, we had a student distribute stickers to other students that quickly became a disruption to the learning process. Comments and questions regarding the stickers, which were rainbow hearts, were being made during class.”
The stickers were banned, she said, explaining that the decision had nothing to do with the stickers, but had everything to do with the disruption they caused.
The administration and counselors, she vowed, were to meet and discuss ways of dealing with the issue of discussing sexual identity, and a town hall meeting was planned for Dec. 19.
William’s letter was not well received by civil rights groups and supporters of the LGBTQ movement, however. Rebecca Glenberg, ACLU of Illinois senior staff council, responded harshly to Williams’ words.
“We commend your commitment to every student’s right to obtain an education without having to endure bullying or harassment,” Glenberg responded. “Unfortunately, the approach reflected in your letter undermines that goal.”
Glenberg said the letter suggested that sexual orientation and gender identity are not suitable things to talk about with friends and peers, that it’s inappropriate to express pride in one’s identity with symbols like rainbow heart stickers, and that kids should talk about such things in private with an adult.
“Even if not intended, the message to LGBTQ students is that they be ashamed of and keep secret their identity,” Glenberg said. “The peers receive the same message.”
In open letter to the school district, Hillary J. Wasson, adjunct professor of Social Work at Illinois Central College disparaged over Williams’ words. Wasson and her family moved to Germantown HIlls just before her daughter entered kindergarten.
“We have been so glad we decided to move here and haven’t questioned our choice,” she wrote, later questioning the district’s motives in the LGBTQ matter.
“The letter stated that it wasn’t the fact that the rainbow stickers were related to sexual orientation, but rather just the fact that it was distracting. This is the part that leaves me the most flabbergasted,” Wasson said. “If the fact they were rainbow stickers doesn’t matter, why include that in a letter about how kids need to keep their mouths shut about their sexual orientation/gender identity?”
The town hall meeting became a closed meeting. To prevent violating the Illinois Open Meetings Act, District #69 superintendent Daniel Mair said no more than two school board members could attend the Dec. 19 meeting, to prevent a quorum.
In a statement, Mair said the meeting was closed to the public at the request of parents concerned about the privacy of their children, and only GHMS parents, students and staff could attend.
This did not stop local civil rights groups and LGBTQ supporters from standing vigil outside the meeting. Others marched with signs, such as, “Respect Existence Or Expect Resistance”, and “Closets Are For Clothes, Not Our Children”.
As protesters rallied outside, certain goals were set during the meeting that the district intends to implement in the coming months; launch a program of positive reinforcement for students who adhere to the district’s “Code of Conduct”, and promote respectful disagreements and discussions on empathy.
The district also plans to work with the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance for professional development of staff and others in the areas of “creating affirmative environments for all students and support in the understanding of best practices for serving LGBTQ adolescents.”