Students at the Carver Middle School in Leesburg, FL are speaking up. Their voices are being heard, but their passion may not be enough to change the minds of administrators. Bayli Silberstein, an openly bisexual 8th-grade girl, is courageously leading her school in the fight for a Gay-Straight Alliance.
Uprise ensued when the School Board announced the possible ban on non-academic extra-curricular student groups. If enacted, the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) would be restricted from forming. The proposed club was denied a title in the 2011-2012 school year, and this year the battle is stirring national attention.
Many sported fire-engine-red tee-shirts which displayed the words, “Standing with Bayli,” to demonstrate their support of Silberstein and the student club. Over 100 parents, students, locals, and even pastors attended the Lake County School Board meeting on February 18, to discuss the proposed Gay-Straight student club, reported the Orlando Sentinel.
Students, surged with emotion, passionately urged that the GSA is necessary in order to combat bullying. In a recent video interview, Silberstein commented on her beliefs, saying “I wanted to stand up for what I believed in and I wasn’t going to take no for an answer…its not fair to cancel all the clubs just because they don’t think this one makes sense.”
Silberstein pointed out that, for many, Middle School represents a time to explore to help understand ones self.
“Thats what middle school is, it’s finding out who you are and its really difficult when you see other kids who already know who they are getting put down for it. So its even harder for them to come out about it in 7th grade or 8th grade…if they already know whats going to happen, they don’t want to have to go through that,” said Silberstein.
The American Civil Liberties Union explained that through the federal Equal Access Act “schools can not discriminate among clubs based on what they think students should or should not discuss.”
However, District 3 School Board Member of the Lake County School district, Tod Howard, explained that Lake County Middle Schools have ten-year-olds and eleven-year-olds attending, and is concerned about whether or not the content of a GSA club is fit for young students.
“I am most concerned that it’s age appropriate, not just the GSA but all clubs,” he told 429Magazine. “Our staff has no control over information distributed in that club…the conversation is completely student led.” He pointed out that “we have students that still believe in Santa Claus.”
Howard told 429Magazine that, “you can let everyone know out there that we are not a bunch of homophobes and bigots. We are really trying to do what is best for all of the students. It’s really important for us to make a decision for all of our students, all forty thousand of them”.
“’I expected more from adults,” said Silberstein “I didn’t think they would be so judgmental about this.”