Livingston Academy students recently organized to form a new group – Students Advocating for Equity (SAFE) – with members banding together against discrimination and educating themselves and others about groups within the school that need support.
This organization has formed and developed as a result of the lawsuit that has been brought against the Overton County Board of Education (OCBOE) by Richard Penkoski.
As previously reported in the Livingston Enterprise, Penkoski named the OCBOE in a lawsuit claiming First Amendment violations—among other things—after his daughter had been sent home from Livingston Academy for a dress code violation. Her t-shirt had read, “Homosexuality is sin – 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.”
“[The student] wearing that shirt made a lot of people feel uncomfortable,” SAFE Co-President Evelyn Taylor said.
“A lot of people felt like there was nothing that could be done, but I thought there is something that we could do. We could start a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA),” she added. “And here we are.”
GSAs are student-run organizations that unite LGBTQ+ and allied youth to build community and organize around issues impacting them in their schools and communities. Across the nation, these organizations have evolved from their traditional role and serve as safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth in middle schools and high schools, and have emerged as vehicles for deep social change.
A growing body of research confirms that the presence of a GSA has a positive and lasting effect on student health, wellness, and academic performance. It can also protect students from harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and improve school climates for all students in the long-term.
SAFE Co-President Tucker Mountain, informed there was talk of wanting to form a GSA organization at Livingston Academy for quite sometime; however, struggle to find sponsors hindered an organization from forming—until now.
Despite its formation, the organization has not received a warm welcome at Livingston Academy. Students and sponsoring faculty alike have been met with protest and harassment from their peers.
Soon after the formation of the group, a number of students “spoke out against” SAFE, referring to them as a “gay club.” Students petitioned against their peers forming this all-inclusive group. Snapchats from various Livingston Academy athletes were shared with obscenities and name-calling.
Sponsoring faculty were also on the receiving end of harassment from opposing students and one day last month, additional School Resource Officer support was needed on campus to deescalate the tension.
For more on this story, pick up a copy of this week’s Livingston Enterprise.