Students at DHS rally against LGBTQ+ legislation

Published 12:20 pm Monday, February 27, 2023

Students at Danville High School started a rally to protest against what they believe is anti-transgender legislation. About 30 to 40 students, teachers, parents and others gathered Friday afternoon to rally outside DHS.

They held signs saying, “trans rights are human rights,” “protect trans youth” and “say no to bill 150,” among similar messages. Four students and three teachers spoke at the rally in protest of Kentucky Senate Bill 150.

The bill passed through the state senate on Feb. 16. If passed as is through the House of Representatives, it would not require educators to use pronouns that align with a student’s gender identity, making it optional for teachers to use preferred pronouns in the classroom.

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The bill would also prohibit the state from requiring policies to keep students’ information confidential from their parents. It would require public schools to notify parents about activity regarding students’ gender identity.

However, schools can withhold information if based on prior conduct, they believe the parent would abuse or neglect the child.

Representative Max Wise, who filed SB 150, said in a news release that this policy promotes parental rights to information about their children. He said not requiring preferred pronoun usage would protect first amendment rights for teachers and students.

DHS junior June Wagner is a transgender student, and organized the rally with Sam Wilson, another transgender student and junior at DHS.

Wagner said that requiring schools to disclose students’ gender identity to their parents would violate students’ rights. Although they have parents who are supportive of LGBTQ+ rights, other students do not.

“I know a lot of kids who are scared to come out to their parents, because of fear of being rejected, or worse, the fear of being abused,” Wagner said. “This bill enforces that by forcing schools to out students to their parents, which could lead to so many issues.”

The Trevor Project’s 2022 national survey on LGBTQ youth mental health found that 45% of LGBTQ youth considered attempting suicide in the past year.

According to the study’s other key findings, fewer than 1 in 3 transgender and nonbinary youth found their home to be gender-affirming.

LGBTQ youth who felt high social support from their family reported attempting suicide at less than half the rate of those who felt low or moderate support. LGBTQ youth who found their school to be LGBTQ-affirming reported lower rates of attempting suicide.

The bill’s policy on not requiring preferred pronoun use would allow teachers to mis-gender students, Wagner explained. However, they said teachers at DHS are supportive of LGBTQ+ students.

DHS science teacher Chara Blank spoke at the rally saying she opposes the bill 100%. She said her students become like her children, and she wants to fight back when they feel attacked.

“I have respect as my number one rule because my children need to feel safe in my space,” Blank said. “When they are safe and supported, they are successful.”

She continued, “A student is far more engaged when they know that they have the safety in the classroom to experience the classroom. My job isn’t just to teach people about science, my job is to help support these students to be the people they already are, and become the adults they are going to be.”

A press release by the Danville Independent School District said the board of education is aware of the student-organized protests at DHS.

Danville School Board Vice Chair Jennifer Pusateri said, “The research is crystal clear: when students are in an environment where they don’t feel accepted, welcomed, and empowered, their ability to learn effectively is compromised.”

Wagner further explained that not requiring the use of preferred pronouns would encourage discrimination between students. They said although there is not a lot of student discrimination against LGBTQ+ students at DHS, there have been fights and arguments about LGBTQ issues between students who won’t change their opinions.

Students had another protest in the morning on Friday, which 50 students participated in. They put up flyers, chanted and marched through the halls. This upset some students.

“There is a percentage of our student body that went around taking down our flyers, ripping them up,” Wagner said. “Our legislators are encouraging that behavior. I think this bill will encourage already-misled or transphobic students and encourage them to do what they’re doing more.”

Another requirement of SB 150 is that a school should provide parents with two weeks’ prior notice and an opportunity to review materials on human sexuality instruction. If any parents do not approve of the lessons taught, they could provide alternatives. Wise said this would strengthen parent engagement in children’s education.

The bill would also provide schools the authority to seek emergency medical services for a student; give conditions for student confidentiality; and establish requirements for any public school’s curriculum on human sexuality.

DHS student Georgie Farmer spoke at the rally saying that these proposed policies do not make them feel like a normal student.

Farmer is in theater, on student council, gets all A’s and sometimes plays an instrument. But now as a trans student, they have to protest their rights.

“If you told the Kentucky Senate all the extracurriculars I do, all the clubs I’m in, my grades, they would not bat an eye; they would maybe even say, ‘that’s a good student, a student we want in schools.’ But if you tell them my gender identity, my pronouns, the fact that I’m comfortable as a trans kid, I become a problem they need to fix,” Farmer said. “I get labeled as confused, brainwashed, going through a phase, a distraction, an issue.”

Student Axe Knoll, who is gender nonconforming, encouraged everyone in attendance to contact their state representatives and senators to tell them they don’t support the bill. They said to keep messages short and to the point, telling lawmakers how this bill affects them.

Daniel Elliot is Boyle County’s state representative, and Amanda Mays-Bledsoe is the county’s state senator.

“The bills, the transphobia, the hate, are bad and they’re terrifying, but we have this; people are here to support us, to support our rights, and that means a lot,” Knoll said.

Students across the state are opposing this same legislation, along with other bills on bathroom bans and legislation against gender transition services for minors.