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Tennessee middle school’s Gay Straight Alliance sparks debate at board meeting

One parent said he would remove his three children from the school system if they continued to support the GSA

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rainbow families, gay news, Washington Blade

LAKELAND, Tn. – The creation of a “Gay Straight Alliance” (GSA) at a middle school in a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee, sparked a heated debate at a local school board meeting last week. 

Lakeland Middle Preparatory School’s pro-LGBTQ+ club starts when students return from winter break on January 3, 2022. Local news outlet Lakeland Currents reported that the school sent out an email to parents promoting the new club that said, “Join The G.S.A!”

Though the club is meant to provide a safe and supportive environment for LGBTQ+ students, some parents have fiercely opposed the club at a Lakeland School Board meeting on December 6. 

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 two were particularly concerned about social media 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.”

The Los Angeles Blade reviewed Christopher’s Facebook page and found no content related to the GSA. 

Another parent, Matt Thi, said he would remove his three children from the school system if they continued to support the GSA. “Where do we draw the line?” he asked the board. 

Former Lakeland Mayor Wyatt Bunker also 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.”

At the end of the public comment section, the board explained to concerned parents that they could not intervene, fearing potential litigation if they did. 

“Policy for the school says they will not deny any club based on that club’s belief,” said Eric Plumlee, the Lakeland School Board attorney, adding that “policy did not just come out of thin air. If you are going to allow some of them, you have to allow all of them.”

LSS Board of Education YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXA0cLbvshA

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Tennessee 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 7th grader takes his own life after anti-LGBTQ+ bullying

Stephanie Langston, Eli’s parents described him “as a peaceful soul who wasn’t afraid to be himself.”

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Eli Fritchley

SHELBYVILLE, Tn. –  A 12-year-old boy took his own life after enduring apparent months of what his family and others labeled ugly vitriolic anti-LGBTQ bullying and abuse.

Eli Fritchley, a seventh-grader at Cascades Middle school located in Wartrace in Bedford County, was found on Sunday night, November 28th, 2021, by his mother who walked into her son’s bedroom and discovered his lifeless body.

In an emotional interview with Nashville ABC news affiliate WKRN 2‘s reporter Stephanie Langston, Fritchley’s parents described him “as a peaceful soul who wasn’t afraid to be himself.”

“He didn’t care, or at least we thought he didn’t care, and that’s what’s really difficult for us because we thought he didn’t care,” his parents said as they teared up.

Eli painted his nails, loved the color pink and wore the same SpongeBob sweatshirt nearly every day.

“I think probably because he was in the same clothes every single day that they used that as a weapon,” his mom Debbey explained, saying he loved doing the laundry and cleaning his clothes every day.

His parents told Langston that their son was not accepted by his peer group at the school.

“He was told because he didn’t necessarily have a religion and that he said he was gay that he was going to go to Hell. They told him that quite often,” said Debbey.

His parents heard his cries but didn’t realize the extent of the pain that the youth was experiencing adding that their son never blamed anyone.

“It was really abusive. I don’t think it was ever physical. I think it was just words, but words hurt. They really hurt,” said his father Steve.

“This has just blindsided us. This is something we would have never, ever expected,” his mother added. “That’s been really hard. That image was terrible until we got to hold him yesterday. Now that image is gone, because the only thing we could think of yesterday when we were kissing and loving on him was how angelic he looked. He absolutely looked angelic. He’s just an angel,” she cried adding, “We all failed him. We all failed him. It’s as simple as that.”

The parents told Langston that they are determined to stop bullying adding that they hope raising awareness will ensure that other kids or their parents goes through the heartache they are experiencing.

“I honestly think education, education, education for everyone where bullying is concerned because it is a problem, not just in Bedford County. It’s a problem everywhere,” they said.

According to WKRN 2, “the Fritchleys were regulars at Penalties Sports Bar & Grill in Shelbyville. The owners of the restaurant, Rob and Shondelle Lewis, say they are like family and they are heartbroken over the loss of Eli. In an effort to help, they created a Gofundme as the Fritchleys are looking to start a foundation to bring awareness and help educate people about bullying and suicide awareness.”

I hope and pray, this unfortunate event we are going to make something of it. We’ve got to. We are going to come up with some sort of antibullying program through this Gofundme page where I pray to God this will not happen again,” said Rob.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health examined depression and suicide risk among LGBTQ youth from rural areas and small towns compared to urban and suburban areas.

The Key Finding was that nearly half of LGBTQ youth in rural areas and small towns reported that their community was somewhat or very unaccepting of LGBTQ people compared to just over a quarter of those in urban and suburban areas. The data also shows that LGBTQ youth living in rural areas and small towns had slightly greater odds of depression and attempting suicide.

If you or someone you know are feeling distressed, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. If you are an LGBTQ+ youth and need help, you can reach out to The Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text 678678 to talk to someone 24/7.

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Bedford County parents grieve son bullied before suicide

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