Hundreds of students marched out of school in protest after a lesbian teacher was allegedly escorted off campus amid a row over “safe space” stickers on classroom doors.
Crowds of students were seen pouring out of MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas on Wednesday (22 September) in response to the school’s alleged “targeted discrimination” against LGBT+ children and teachers.
Many wore heart-shaped rainbow stickers on their faces and clothes, the symbol teachers used to show their classes were a safe space for LGBT+ students – until several weeks ago, when those stickers suddenly disappeared.
“I was freaked. The kids were freaked out,” said Rachel Stonecipher, an English teacher and sponsor of the campus’ Gay Straight Alliance, speaking to DFW News. “I was a little scared too because I’m the only openly, very obviously gay teacher, lesbian teacher.”
Stonecipher was among teachers who emailed asking for an explanation. A staff memo from the new principal said the school wanted “to set a different tone this year,” explaining: “The district’s position is that our responsibility is to make campuses a safe zone for all students, not just in our classrooms, but on every inch of our campus.”
Tensions grew as the school administration began “randomly” questioning students who attended the Gay Straight Alliance club.
Sophomore Alyssa Harbin described a “long, drawn out interrogation” that lasted 45 minutes – and although she was assured she hadn’t done anything wrong, the students who were questioned appeared to have one thing in common.
“All of these randomly selected people have been to at least one Gay Straight Alliance meeting making it feel extremely targeted,” she said at a meeting with school board members, as reported by DFW News.
Stonecipher told WFAA: “There’s a lot of hurt, confusion, and fear from students who feel like the administration has a problem with them for being LGBTQ+. It was emotionally terrible for them.”
They became even more alarmed when they saw Stonecipher being escorted off campus last week, and they say they haven’t seen her since. As the students marched out of class on Wednesday many carried signs with the teacher’s name, expressing their support for her.
“It’s not fair that, one, I have to fight for this, two, we had to go to this level, and it’s not even the first six weeks [of term],” one told WFAA.
So many students walked out of school that Irving Police were called to the campus. The school told Iriving Weekly that it was aware of the walkout and ensured that “all students are safe”.
“We value each student and strive to provide a welcoming and inclusive environment for every student, employee and family,” the Irving School district added in a statement.
“To ensure that all students feel safe regardless of background or identity, the district has developed guidelines to ensure that posters, banners and stickers placed in classrooms, hallways or offices are curriculum driven and neutral in viewpoint.”
When questioned by local media, neither Stonecipher nor the district could answer questions about the teacher’s removal or employment status. In a statement to CBS11, a spokesperson said it is policy that “teachers shall not use the classroom to transmit personal beliefs regarding political or sectarian issues.”
Students are taking a stand against anti-LGBT+ school policies
The walkout at MacArthur High School is the latest in a series of protests against anti-LGBT+ policies in schools. All across the US, queer students and allies have been taking a stand against alleged discrimination against LGBT+ students and teachers.
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Many centre on religious schools, like the Catholic Bishop Amat Memorial High School in California, where around 200 students walked out of class after teachers threatened to out a gay classmate to her parents if she didn’t attend counselling.
Another walkout happened in Valor Christian High School in Denver when a gay volleyball coach was allegedly forced to resign after school officials learned of his sexuality.
In June students, parents and alumni of Niles New Tech in Michigan staged a protest outside their school to draw attention to homophobic bullying that had gone largely unchallenged by officials.
And earlier this month more than a hundred students of Winterset High School in Iowa walked out of class to protest the suspension of a teacher who revealed he was bisexual. They also launched a Change.org petition in his defence, which gained over 4,000 signatures.
Many schools remain committed to their anti-LGBT+ policies and continue to fight their cases in long and bitter lawsuits. But the increasing pushback from student bodies and the media attention that accompanies it means they’re unable to keep these battles out of the public eye as they once could.