The Rutherford County Board of Education in central Tennessee is under quite a bit of fire from the state and national American Civil Liberties Union after deciding to remove all of GLSEN's 'Safe Space' posters (pictured) from classrooms at its Central Magnet School. The reason? The school board claimed the poster's content was too 'political' and 'of an inappropriate sexual nature' because it contained the words 'lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.'
The ACLU, however, says the school board's claims are "obvious mischaracterization[s]" and "grossly misconstruing the nature of the poster." Additionally, the ACLU says that legal action may be required if steps are not taken to reverse the decision:
"Removal of these posters is a violation of the free speech rights of students and teachers," said Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU-TN Legal Director. "Permitting some student groups but not others to display posters amounts to unconstitutional, discriminatory censorship."
GLSEN has also responded, stating that many students in Tennessee already feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, which can cause absenteeism, lowered academic achievement, and poorer psychological well-being. 88% of LGBT students in Tennessee have been verbally harassed and 43% have been physically harassed in the past year because of their sexual orientation, according to GLSEN's "2011 Tennessee State Snapshot."
"Removing a GLSEN Safe Space poster that promotes a positive learning environment free from harassment is alarming given that a majority of LGBT students in Tennessee report feeling unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation or gender identity," said Dr. Eliza Byard, GLSEN's Executive Director. "Every student deserves to feel safe in school and our Safe Space posters, a part of GLSEN's Safe Space Kit, play a vital role in conveying that very message. Students know they have an educator to turn to for support when they see our poster displayed in a school classroom or office."
The school board has yet to respond to the ACLU letter, which can be read here.
Tennessee is no stranger to silencing the voices of LGBT students and allies. The "Don't Say Gay" bill that was reintroduced in the Tennessee Senate earlier this year comes to mind...