Homophobia Condemned by Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth
BOSTON—The Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth was shocked and dismayed to learn of the homophobic incident that occurred at a Franklin School Committee meeting in late October during which several adults repeatedly heckled an LGBTQ student speaker, Mackenzie Atwood, who shared her experiences of being bullied at school for being LGBTQ. It should go without saying that it is never acceptable to verbally harass a child, especially not when they are exercising their freedom of speech at a civic event. This kind of behavior has no place in civil society, especially not in our public schools. The Commission applauds Superintendent Sara Ahern for issuing an immediate and strong rebuke of this behavior.
While all students are protected under the state’s anti-bullying law, LGBTQ students in Massachusetts continue to face high rates of school-based bullying, violence, and suicide attempts. Recent data from the 2019 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey (MYRBS) found that 17.1% of youth in Massachusetts identify as LGBTQ. The MYRBS further found that, compared to their non-LGBTQ peers, LGBTQ students are twice as likely to experience bullying, three and a half times as likely to skip school because they feel unsafe, and four and a half times as likely to attempt suicide.
Not only is the incident in Franklin disturbing, but it is also indicative of a growing problem in the Commonwealth and nationwide in which a small minority of people attend school committee meetings and other similar public forums to intentionally cause disruption, often using hostile and intimidating tactics.
For the sake of all of our children, schools must be places where students feel safe and have their voices uplifted. For the sake of a fair democratic process, attendees of school committee meetings must maintain civility to ensure everyone’s voice can be heard. The Commission encourages Franklin and other school districts experiencing similar issues to utilize the Commission and the Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students as a resource and partner to ensure our schools are safe and affirming places for all students.
The Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth is an independent state agency tasked with providing expert advice to the Commonwealth on how to improve services and decrease inequities facing LGBTQ youth. In addition to issuing policy recommendations, the Commission co-administers the Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students in partnership with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The Safe Schools Program provides training and technical assistance to schools across the Commonwealth, organizes the statewide network of Gender and Sexuality Alliances (GSAs), and works to make schools safer for all students.
[From a News Release. This originally ran on the Nov. 11, 2021, issue of The Rainbow Times.]