When several students at Sequoyah High School in Madisonville, Tennessee tried to start a Gay-Straight Alliance club after years of bullying, their principal said no. When the students circulated a petition and gathered 150 student signatures supporting the club, the principal banned petitions. When this brought local media scrutiny and the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the administration blocked the club based on its failure to secure an advisor. Although the students found teachers who seemed supportive and willing to serve as advisers, all eventually withdrew without explanation.
Now, according to the ACLU, Principal Moser has allegedly assaulted one student, Chris Sigler, for wearing a handmade shirt that read “GSA: We’ve got your back” – grabbing his arm and chest-bumping him while asking “Who’s the big man now?”
Despite the complaint filed by Chris and his mother, the Sheriff’s Department has failed to interview his sister, who witnessed the alleged assault, or his mother, who witnessed additional behavior from the principal.
Demand that the Sheriff’s Department fully investigate this incident, and further, that Monroe County Schools approve the GSA, state that teachers who agree to advise the GSA will not face repercussions (as demanded by the TN ACLU), and address the hostile environment that LGBTQ students face at Sequoyah.
Under the Federal Equal Access Act, students have the right to form a Gay-Straight Alliance club in public schools that allow other extra-curricular clubs. GSA clubs can be a lifeline for students dealing with bullying and harassment. The tragic deaths of many young people by suicide in the past year have illustrated the importance of safe spaces, resources, and anti-bullying campaigns for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. It is unconscionable for the district to erect barriers between its students and a safe learning environment, but Sequoyah’s refusal to allow a GSA – and the administration’s harassment of supportive students and teachers – amounts to just that.
Young people need to know that they can make it better, and that there are resources out there for them, including the Make It Better Project, the Tennessee Equality Project, GLSEN Middle Tennessee, GLSEN East Tennessee, and GSA Network.