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Lakeland students withdraw GSA request after pushback

Last month, some parents and other community members railed against creating a GSA at a Lakeland School Board meeting on December 6, 2021

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Lakeland Preparatory School (Blade file photo)

LAKELAND, Tn. – Students at Lakeland Preparatory School in Tennessee have withdrawn their request to form a “Gay Straight Alliance” (GSA) after heated school board debates last month where some parents attacked the creation of a pro-LGBTQ+ club at the school. 

Local outlet Lakeland Currents reported that the school, which resides in a suburb of Memphis, sent an email Monday announcing the news. 

“Student leaders have withdrawn their request for a GSA club,” the email read. “Instead, they have requested approval for a new club called Allies of Diversity.”

According to the email, the club will “explore equity, diversity, and multiculturalism as it relates to students’ lives within the Lakeland community. Allies of Diversity welcomes all people, cultures, genders, orientations, beliefs, and religions.”

The GSA was supposed to begin Monday as Lakeland students returned from winter break. 

Last month, some parents and other community members railed against creating a GSA at a Lakeland School Board meeting on December 6, 2021. 

Former Lakeland Mayor Wyatt Bunker spoke at the meeting, saying, “Is this the school system that we fought for? [A school system] that now clearly doesn’t align with our values.” 

Bunker added: “At this point, we have to take a stand.”

Chad and Heather Reynolds, who have an 8-year-old and 13-year-old in the school system, told the board that they want their sons to be educated, not “indoctrinated.” 

The couple was particularly worried about alleged Facebook posts by the GSA’s main sponsor, Lakeland drama teacher Mandy Christopher. 

“It’s all over her social media accounts,” Chad Reynolds said. “She has an agenda to infiltrate our school system with her beliefs.”

However, a Los Angeles Blade review of Christopher’s Facebook page found no content related to the GSA. 

At a later school board meeting, Christopher was accused of being a “predator” for a TikTok that supposedly showed the teacher with a student in a parked car, according to the Lakeland Currents. The video has since been deleted, and it is unclear what exactly happened in the video. 

“Ms. Christopher is not a predator, she’s just a friend,” Robbie Stephens, the grandmother of the student in the video who said her granddaughter is a part of the LGBTQ+ community. 

At the time, the board explained to attendees that they could not intervene, fearing potential litigation if they did. 

The club’s goal was to provide a safe and supportive environment for LGBTQ+ students. 

According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), GSA’s presence in schools creates a safer environment for LGBTQ+ students, with students less likely to hear homophobic remarks and more likely to feel safe in schools with a GSA.

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Tennessee

Tennessee bans collegiate Trans athletes

The law also requires Tennessee colleges to determine a student-athlete’s gender using the student’s “original” birth certificate

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Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Lee/State of Tennessee YouTube

NASHVILLE – Republican Governor Bill Lee signed a bill last Friday that effectively bans transgender women from competing on college sports teams consistent with their gender identity in Tennessee.

The new law, Senate Bill 2153, “prohibits males from participating in public higher education sports that are designated for females.” The law also requires Tennessee colleges to determine a student-athlete’s gender using the student’s “original” birth certificate.

Every university and college in the state will also be required to adopt and enforce a policy ensuring compliance with the new law. The measure would also prevent any government entity, organization or athletic association from taking “an adverse action” against a school that complies with the law or a student who reports a violation.

“This law sends a horrible message that trans and nonbinary youth can be excluded from the many benefits of participating in sports,” Chris Sanders, the executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, said Friday in a statement issued by the Human Rights Campaign. 

“More broadly, it also stains those who are complicit and creates habits of lawmaking that endanger everyone in Tennessee,” he said. “Legislation crafted from animus and ignorance protects no one.”

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Tennessee

Terminated CEO who bullied LGBTQ+ teen sues comedian Kathy Griffin

“Yep. This is what it means to be an LGBTQ+ ally. I will fight this suit and I will not settle. I don’t think he got fired because of me”

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Screenshot/WKRN News 2

NASHVILLE – The former Chief Executive Officer of a Franklin, Tennessee-based healthcare company, who was terminated a year ago after his homophobic tirade against a former LGBTQ high school student, announced that he was suing comedian Kathy Griffin claiming Griffin’s Tweets led to his dismissal.

Samuel Johnson, was fired by VisuWell in April 2021 hours after a Tik-Tok and Instagram reel went viral, which was also tweeted by Griffin.

Nahville ABC News affiliate WKRN 2 had first reported the story after a cell phone video posted to multiple social media platforms went viral. In the video taken at the Harpeth Hotel in downtown Franklin, Dalton Stevens, a senior at Franklin High School, was with his boyfriend and date Jacob Geittman when Johnson walked up to Stevens and ridiculed him for his formal prom attire, a red full length dress.

“Slander terms thrown towards me of like ‘You look bad,’ ‘You’ve got hair on your chest, you shouldn’t be wearing a dress,’ ‘You’re not a man,’ blah, blah, blah,” Stevens told WKRN. “The fact that he thought he had the audacity to come tell me what I was supposed to wear and what I was supposed to do because of his standards.”

Stevens told the station that, “I very much view clothes as genderless,” His boyfriend chimed in with “You can have your thoughts and opinions, [but] keep them to yourself,” Geittman said. “You don’t need to go up to a teenager in public on their prom night and publicly shame and harass them for what they decided to wear.”

In a series of tweets on the company’s Twitter account, VisuWell issued a formal statement then added that “in response to those asking for additional clarity on Sam Johnson’s termination as CEO, we can confirm that Mr. Johnson is no longer employed by VisuWell in any capacity.

He no longer has a position on the Board of Directors or any informal advisory role. His behavior was not representative of our values, which include respect and compassion for all.”

After filing his suit in U.S. District Court Johnson tweeted:

Griffin responded: “Yep. This is what it means to be an LGBTQ+ ally. I will fight this suit and I will not settle. I don’t think he got fired because of me. I hope these kids are ok.”

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Tennessee

New law restricts funding to schools allowing Trans students to play sports

“Telling transgender students that they can’t participate as who they really are amounts to excluding them from sports entirely”

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Tennessee State Flag (Blade file photo)

NASHVILLE – Republican Governor Bill Lee signed a bill last Friday that allows for the withholding of state funds from any Tennessee school districts that don’t comply with the trans-exclusionary law Lee signed in March of 2021, Senate Bill 228.

The law, S.B. 228, bans trans children from participating on middle and high school sports teams that match their gender by requiring student athletes to prove the sex they were assigned at birth with an “original” birth certificate or other forms of proof. 

Written into the language of the law, Tennessee’s Department of Education would withhold a portion of state funds from local school districts that fail to determine a student’s gender for participation in middle or high school sports. The measure does not specify exactly how much money should be withheld by the state.

“Telling transgender students that they can’t participate as who they really are amounts to excluding them from sports entirely – depriving them of opportunities available to their peers and sending the message that they are not worthy of a full life,” said Henry Seaton, ACLU of Tennessee’s transgender justice advocate, in a statement.

Last Fall, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Tennessee and Lambda Legal filed the lawsuit on behalf of Luc Esquivel, a 14-year-old boy from Knoxville, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, arguing that the law is discriminatory and unconstitutional. 

Tennessee lawmakers are also advancing a separate bill that would ban transgender athletes from participating in female college sports. Republicans have also pushed another measure to let teachers and school districts use the pronoun that a transgender student does not prefer, exempting teachers from facing employment punishment and protecting schools from civil liability. Both proposals are expected to clear the General Assembly, the Associated Press reported.

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