The average middle school girl mostly thinks about what she's going to wear to school or when she's getting her braces off.
But 14-year-old Bayli Silberstein has made it her mission to advocate for the LGBT community and ensure a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) club is formed at Carver Middle School in Leesburg, Fla. She is waging a battle against a school district that has considered banning all clubs before allowing GSA. The lack of tolerance from the Lake County School Board is a clear reminder of the discrimination the LGBT community faces daily, but Bayli’s perseverance gives us the strength to continue in the fight towards equality.
Bayli’s first attempt at starting a GSA club was last year while she was a 7th grade student. The principal at the time told her the school did not allow clubs that did not correlate with the curriculum — a response she found odd considering the school had a bowling club and a Fellowship of Christian Athletes club. Bayli created a petition for students to sign, and submitted it to her new principal. This principal explained that this issue would have to be taken up with the Lake County School Board. For months, Bayli waited for a decision from the board. The board ignored her — then Bayli and her mother contacted the ACLU.
The Legal Director of ACLU Florida, Randall Marshall, sent a letter to the superintendent and school board attorney of Bayli’s school. Marshall reminded the district that according to the Equal Access Act, a school does not have the authority to deny a student group based on their ideology. A district must grant equal opportunity to all student clubs, not just the ones they find acceptable.
Instead of granting all students opportunities, the district has toyed with the idea of banning all extra-curricular clubs, rather than deal with a GSA.
“The position that the members of the school board have taken demonstrates why a GSA is so important at Carver Middle School. GSAs are intended to push for an end to bullying, harassment and discrimination against LGBT students and others,” said ACLU spokesperson Baylor Johnson. “If the school board follows through on its decision, it would show that bullying of LGBT students is not just a schoolyard problem, but a culture of discrimination that includes the administration.”
One school board member, Rosanne Bradeburg, claimed she does not believe LGBT bullying is a problem in the district.
“I’m in the schools quite a bit and I don’t see it,” Brandeburg said. “If bullying is happening in schools, please report it.”
How quickly Bradeburg is to forget that in 2011, a teacher associated with the district was fired for posting on Facebook that gay marriage was a cesspool and made him want to vomit. With teachers and an administration like this, I am sure students are just pounding on the doors wanting to express how they have been harassed because of their sexuality.
The only possible outcome for this extra-curricular activity ban is more hatred towards the LGBT community at Carver Middle School. If it is okay for the superintendent to bully LGBT students, why not other students? GSA is so vital for students needing a safe place to discuss their emotions openly about sex and gender. It doesn't make kids want to become gay, nor is it political propaganda. And it most certainly does not discriminate against anyone’s religious beliefs.
But what it does do is send a message that it is never acceptable to bully someone based on sexual orientation, regardless of your position on homosexuality. It is easy to express distrust and prejudice in the form of hate — it is tolerance that takes strength and courage.
I hope Bayli does not give up her fight to form a GSA, even though plenty of adults three times her age are telling her that her actions are harmful. Her strength to continue this battle in order to create a safe environment for her fellow classmates is inspiring. It is through her actions that students that come after her will experience a less hateful world.