Iowa students are turning to Instagram to call out teachers and peers for the routine homophobia, racism, misogyny and sexual harassment they experience everyday at school.
Submitting their stories anonymously via three Instagram accounts – dedicated to exposing anti-LGBT+ hate, racism and misogyny respectively – students have painted a damning picture of what it’s like to be a minority in the Iowa City community school district.
Their accounts reveal racist and homophobic slurs being used with abandon, students being shunned for their sexuality and rampant anti-LGBT+ bullying going unchecked by school authorities.
“Everyday I walk into school feeling like an outcast,” one writes. “I just wish students and at least teachers would see me as a normal human… But no, I can’t get through at least one week without being called a faggot or queer.”
“I had to deal with a lot of violent, homophobic bullying at Northwest Junior High,” says another. “When I was there none of the administration seemed to do anything about that despite witnessing it happen to me and other students.
“[The principal] is completely incompetent when it comes to protecting the kids that are the most vulnerable.”
Another writes simply: “Once, I wore my flag to school, and was told to burn it to the ground. That hurt.”
Black students reported being shown images of lynchings, hearing the N-word and having to endure classmates using Blackface. Multiple girls reported being sexualised, sexually harassed and even raped.
City High freshman Rachel Johnson started the @lgbtaticcsd account after seeing the stories of racism and sexual harassment in the school district on @blackaticcsd and @girlsaticcsd.
Since the account opened on July 22, Johnson and her friends have posted more than 100 stories from LGBT+ students across the district.
The submissions identify a variety of discrimination and bullying LGBT+ students face, but two patterns in particular stood out to her.
“One was just how many people talked about constantly hearing the F-slur and hearing ‘gay’ used as an insult,” Johnson told the Daily Iowan. “Just so many people talked about that and how it was just a normalised thing.”
The other trend she noticed was the name of particular teachers that recurred in multiple stories.
The posts have now gained so much traction they’ve caught the attention of teachers and administrators.
“It just makes your heart hurt for students that have either experienced those things or witnessed those things in our school community,” interim superintendent Matt Degner said.
“That’s definitely not what we want to be about, or the type of or the time of experience and climate we want to have for our students … As a human being and as an educator, I just feel bad and feel that we have a lot of work to do, and we have a lot of improvements to make so that students don’t have that experience in our schools.”