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Tennessee parents label teacher who sponsored a middle school GSA a “predator,” accuse her of “indoctrination”

Parents are demanding that the school board in Lakeland, Tennessee, shut down a GSA club at a local middle school.

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Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

Parents in a Tennessee school district lashed out at a local school board meeting, venting their spleen on a teacher who is sponsoring a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), also known as a Gender and Sexuality Alliance, at a district middle school.

Parents in Lakeland, Tennessee, complained that the school board allowed a GSA to be formed at Lakeland Middle Preparatory School earlier this year, claiming that it is inappropriate for middle school-aged children to talk about sexuality. Other parents accused the club of engaging in “left-wing indoctrination” of their children by talking about sexuality and anti-LGBTQ bullying.

No student is required to attend GSA meetings, yet parents say its mere existence is a threat to children.

One parent, Sara Mace, whose two sons attend Lakeland Prep, claimed that students who don’t want to attend GSA meetings will be unnecessarily exposed to LGBTQ issues, pointing to posters that advertise the club and promise attendees that they will play “icebreaker games” and that snacks will be provided.

Another parent, Heather Reynolds, told Lakeland Currents, the local newspaper, that the club would be unavoidable, even for those who never attend a single meeting.

“It’s going to be advertised in emails, over the intercom system and posters in the halls trying to bait 10-, 11-, and 12-year-old kids into their club meetings.”

Other parents balked at the fact that the club was advertised in an email announcement, calling it inappropriate. Some even threatened to remove their children from Lakeland schools if the club was allowed to continue.

Some parents have even gone so far as to accuse drama teacher Mandy Christopher, the teacher who sponsored the GSA of being a “predator.”

Many parents referenced a TikTok video showing Christopher talking to a student in a parked car, which they claimed was “disturbing.” The video has since been deleted and it’s unclear what the video actually showed, but that has not stopped parents from being outraged, with some even questioning Christopher’s intentions and accusing her of pushing an “agenda.”

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But Robbie Stephens, who said she is the grandmother of the student in the video, defended Christopher and sought to dispel the misinformation being spread by conservative parents. 

“Ms. Christopher is not a predator, she’s just a friend,” Stephens said, noting that her granddaughter identifies as LGBTQ and is a member of the club.

Related: Indiana school sued for allegedly discriminating against Gay-Straight Alliance

The situation was exacerbated last week when former Lakeland Mayor Wyatt Bunker denounced the club and called on the school board to suspend all non-curricular clubs until parents can weigh in on which clubs should be allowed. He added that if the school board refused to shut down the club, parents would have the opportunity to vote out the school board when they are up for re-election next year.

School board members said they struggled with what to do about the club, wanting to ensure kids who don’t feel accepted because of their identity have a “safe space” while also wanting to placate the angry parents. School board Member Laura Harrison asked Eric Plumlee, the attorney for the board, to explain how they club came to be allowed to operate.

“Either all non-curricular clubs are allowed, or none of them are allowed,” Plumlee said, noting that state law requires secondary schools (defined as grades 7-12) to provide equal access to all students, so long as a club isn’t disruptive. While Lakeland Prep includes grades 5 through 8, Plumlee said he considers the school to be a “hybrid” school, thus falling under the definition of a “secondary school.”

Board Chair Kevin Floyd suggested that the board seek out another legal opinion, and, in the meantime, pause the approval of the GSA. As such, the club will not be allowed to meet or advertise itself until after the board’s Jan. 10 meeting, at the very least. Once they obtain a second opinion, the board members will make a final decision on whether to disband the club permanently or allow it to continue meeting.

Defenders of GSAs say they offer a safe space where LGBTQ-identifying students can talk with each other and express how they’re feeling or raise concerns about their safety. According to the National School Climate Survey, over half of LGBTQ students feel unsafe at school, and three-quarters report being verbally harassed over their sexual orientation, highlighting the underlying issues that prompt the formation of GSAs. Additionally, a 2020 study by the University of Connecticut found that the presence of a GSA in a school decreased all types of bullying — not just bullying directed at LGBTQ youth — among the student body. 

See also:

U.S. Senate approves gay man as ambassador to Cameroon, where homosexuality is criminalized

Colorado GOP candidate claims Gov. Jared Polis isn’t really gay, is a serial abuser

Federal judge dismisses lawsuit from New York photographer who doesn’t want to shoot gay weddings

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