A school district in Missouri has told high school teachers that they have to remove stickers and cards indicating they are LGBTQ+ allies.
District officials emailed students' families on Monday that the Grain Valley School Board had "received a concern about the display of cards and stickers by some high school teachers to signal students could feel safe approaching them regarding personal LGBTQ questions."
In a copy of the email, which was shared by local county government candidate Justice Horn, the board also wrote that it had directed administrators to have these safe space stickers removed.
"Our goal is for every classroom to be a safe place for all students, not just in classrooms where teachers choose to display a particular sign," the district wrote in the email. "We remain committed to providing professional development to help our staff create a safe, collaborative, and inclusive environment, consistent with our core beliefs, where each student feels a sense of belonging. The use of these cards, however, is determined to not be an appropriate step at this time."
Parents, teachers, and LGBTQ+ rights activists have condemned the move.
Horn wrote on Twitter that he attended Grain Valley South Middle School and was bullied for being gay. He shared that he attempted suicide because of the bullying.
"Today's move is taking what little visibility LGBTQ+ students may. This may seem small to some, but to queer students who may feel like they don't have a place, this means the world. This may save a kid from making a similar decision like I did because we didn't have these," Horn wrote.
\u201cToday, Grain Valley, MO teachers were instructed to take \u201cSafe Space\u201d stickers off of their classroom doors.\n\nIn 2011, I tried taking my own life because I was bullied for being gay while attending Grain Valley South Middle School. My parents moved me out of the district. (1/2)\u201d
"The fact that there were some teachers that had the signs and some teachers that didn't indicate that there were not safe teachers, which personally I feel is the biggest issue here. No student should ever feel like any teacher is not safe to talk to," parent Lacy Lynn told The Kansas City Star.
A gay graduate of the district, Travis Holt, told the outlet that the decision was "disheartening."
"I was honestly just kind of sickened by it, because as a society we've taken steps toward progress, and it honestly feels like a step backwards on the school board's part," Holt said. "That was my home. I went to school there. And it's hard to see. I found comfort with some of the teachers there, and that's maybe not going to be the same for students going forward."
In a statement to the Star, Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, executive director of GLSEN,said, "Young people may feel less safe coming out in this current political climate, so it is critical for teachers and school staff to express their support for LGBTQ+ youth and create an environment where students can feel safe sharing their identity without judgment or harassment."
Willingham-Jaggers added, "This can include visible displays of support like putting up a safe space sticker or poster, or introducing yourself to your class with your pronouns. It can also include highlighting books and resources with positive LGBTQ+ representation and discussion of LGBTQ+ history in classes."
In an email to The Advocate, a spokesperson for the school district said, "We appreciate the comments we have received since communicating the decision to remove safe place cards and stickers from high school classrooms. The feedback will help us be better. An inclusive environment is essential, including for our student LGBTQ community. We recognize there is important work ahead of us to ensure an inclusive school environment."
The spokesperson continued, "In the upcoming weeks, we will host listening sessions for our community stakeholders, so our students, families, and staff have an opportunity for dialogue. School board members and the administration will participate. We will use this input to drive the action that will follow so that together we become the school district our community expects."
If you or someone you know are feeling distressed, call the National Suicide Hotline at (800) 273-8255. If you are an LGBTQ+ youth and need help, you can reach out to the Trevor Project at (866) 488-7386 or text 678678 to talk to someone 24/7.