Kim Davis’ lawyers claim a Pennsylvania school district violated “parental rights” after showing a handful of LGBTQ-themed YouTube videos to students.
Earlier this year the Gay-Straight Alliance at Emmaus High School screened a series of anti-bullying videos over the morning announcements. The clips — which included the tongue-in-cheek BuzzFeed segment “9 Questions Gay People Have About Straight People” — were planned as part of the school’s annual “Day of Silence” event. On April 12, LGBTQ students and their allies across the country took a vow of silence for one school day to raise awareness about anti-LGBTQ bullying.
Students say there were no concerns raised about the videos raised that day. Similar videos screened in previous years with no issue.
Conservative groups, however, say that the school violated the rights of parents to vet materials presented to their children. In a letter sent to Superintendent Michael Schilder last week, the right-wing law firm Liberty Counsel claims that East Penn School District “required the high school students to view these videos, without prior notice to their parents or an opportunity to opt-out, which is a violation of parental rights.”
Liberty Counsel — which defended Davis in court after she was jailed in 2016 for refusing to sign marriage licenses in Rowan County, KY — is now demanding access to those videos.
“The East Penn School District has violated parents’ rights and must release the links to the four videos and all public records regarding ‘Unity Week’ and ‘Day of Silence’ immediately,” claims Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel Mat Staver in a statement. “Parents have the right to know the exact nature of the special-interest propaganda their children have been subjected to when at school.”
These groups have characterized the videos as part of a propaganda campaign on the part of GLSEN to brainwash children into accepting their LGBTQ peers.
In a press release, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins claims that advocacy groups like GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign “have relied on a campaign of secrecy in schools for years.” Perkins, whose organization has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, quotes an East Penn parent in calling the videos a “purposeful, planned indoctrination” campaign.
“I do not support a publicly-funded school pushing any political or social views on children,” says Mike Huff, whose son attends Emmaus High School.
Family Research Council and Liberty Counsel allege East Penn School District has blocked parents from accessing the videos after stating they are part of a student project and, thus, cannot be made public information. That claim “does not pass the straight face test,” Staver says.
“The District required more than 2,800 students to view these videos, with no prior notice to their parents, and no opportunity to opt-out,” the Liberty Counsel president claims. “This is a gross violation of parental rights.”
Students at Emmaus High School have stood by the school district’s decision, saying right-wing groups have grossly mischaracterized what took place.
Aidan Levinson, who runs the morning announcement program, debunked conservative claims that the videos were a campaign orchestrated by GLSEN. In a phone conversation with INTO, the soon-to-be Senior says the clips were “selected by students and approved by the club advisor of the GSA.”
Levinson adds that the submission process was “completely normal” and by-the-book.
“Each day the night before students put together a script,” he says. “They collect all the information and the announcements requested by the administration, and we put together a show. Sometimes they run ads for clubs at the end, sometimes they run packages on a sports event that happened. This time we were running advertisements for the GSA club.”
Ryan, a member of the high school’s GSA (who requested a pseudonym be used), confirmed Levinson’s claims in conversation with INTO. The videos were “100 percent submitted by the students,” Ryan says.
The student claims the GSA hoped to “raise awareness” about what it’s like to be LGBTQ today. Although members of Generation Z are more accepting than previous generations, queer and trans youth are twice as likely than their peers to experience bullying in schools. According to HRC, 42 percent of LGBTQ young people say their community is not accepting of people like them.
Although Ryan claims the East Penn School district is “for the most part liberal,” that doesn’t mean students are immune from homophobic bullying.
“The hardest part is the language that other students use extremely casually,” Ryan says. “You’ll hear people call each other ‘faggots’ in the hallway like it’s no big deal — like there are no students around who could be affected by it. It’s extremely disheartening.”
Students say that the right-wing backlash has actually illustrated the challenges LGBTQ youth face in schools across the United States.
A series of recent school board meetings about the controversy have been packed with local Tea Party members and representatives from anti-gay hate groups, Levinson claims. Diane Gramley, president of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania, claimed there was a double standard at play during an appearance at the July 9 session.
“Would the school allow the opposite view to be presented to the students?” Gramley asked.
During one of the meetings, Levinson said he got so upset about what conservatives were saying about queer and trans people that he had to excuse himself from the event. Although Levinson identifies as an ally to the LGBTQ community, he alleges that a Tea Party activist “used a homophobic slur” against him on his way out.
In addition to the links to the GSA videos, conservatives are calling for Emmaus High School to allow students to opt-out of the announcements.
LGBTQ advocates have universally opposed releasing those materials.
Adrian Shanker, president of the local Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, tells INTO that publicizing the videos could open queer and trans students up to further harassment from conservative groups.
“LGBTQ students have the right to a safe and bully-free learning environment, including the right to a Gay-Straight Alliance in schools,” Shanker says in a phone conversation. “That’s actually settled law going back decades. The idea that the actions of a Gay-Straight Alliance would be open to public scrutiny is really beyond the pale.”
While anti-LGBTQ groups have claimed the videos are part of a larger agenda, GLSEN Director of Communications Chris Tuttle says the opposite is true. Liberty Counsel does this sort of thing in schools all the time.
“Last year, they threatened legal action against an educator in Florida for displaying Safe Space posters, while another teacher was threatened with a lawsuit for helping her school organize GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week — one of the nation’s largest anti-bullying campaigns in K-12 schools,” he tells INTO.
But as students point out, the controversy is much ado about nothing. Parents were already provided descriptions of the videos. INTO was able to easily access a majority of the clips simply by Googling that information.
Even if parents were given the specific links to the videos, Tuttle says it wouldn’t matter.
“Liberty Counsel wouldn’t be happy with any student videos, or student-led clubs, or school curriculum that includes LGBTQ people and affirms the identities of LGBTQ youth,” he says.
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