Metro Weekly

GOP Candidate Attacks LGBTQ-Affirming School

Tim James, seeking to primary incumbent Gov. Kay Ivey, has criticized the charter school for receiving taxpayer dollars.

Magic City Acceptance Academy – Photo: Facebook.

An LGBTQ-affirming charter school in Alabama claims it’s had to increase campus security after a Republican gubernatorial candidate attacked the school for “exploiting” the youth who attend the school.

Tim James, who is challenging incumbent Gov. Kay Ivey in the GOP primary, criticized Ivey for allowing the Birmingham-based charter school of about 240 students — believed to be the only explicitly LGBTQ-affirming charter school in the southeastern United States — to receive taxpayer dollars, reports Salon.  

“Now here in Alabama, we charted the first transgender school in the South using millions of your tax dollars. The faculty put on a drag show for children,” James says in a 30-second spot now airing on television that shows the faces of students and teachers at the school. “That’s not education. That’s exploitation.”

While the charter school, now in its first year, is open to all students — not just LGBTQ youth — looking for a refuge from bullying, James has accused the faculty of “abuse” for exposing children to LGBTQ-related issues, for holding the drag show, and for allowing children to explore issues of identity, which he referred to as “perversion.” 

James has promised that, if elected, he would defund the charter school and shut it down. While Ivey has already signed several anti-transgender or anti-LGBTQ bills into law — including a ban on transgender athletes competing on sports teams that align with their gender identity, a law prohibiting trans youth from accessing gender-affirming health care, and a law that prohibits LGBTQ-related discussions in schools — James is hoping that capitalizing on the school’s existence will endear him to social conservatives who invariably will determine who the next governor of the heavily Republican state will be.

According to a New Gray TV/Alabama Daily News poll, 46.1% of Republican primary voters in Alabama would prefer Ivey, while James came in second, with only 12.4% of primary voters selecting him as a first choice. That result would trigger a runoff election, as a candidate must win more than 50 percent of the vote to secure their preferred party’s nomination. If Ivey continues to hold a similar lead, James’ best chance is to blame the incumbent for not shutting down Magic City Acceptance Academy, in the hope of forcing her into a runoff election where he can challenge her on a one-to-one basis.

But school officials at Magic City Acceptance Academy say James’ rhetoric has already placed a target on the school’s back and is “scaring the hell out of our kids,” according to principal Michael Wilson. Wilson says the school has had to partner with a local wellness center to provide counseling for some of the students.

“The Tim James ad is nothing short of an adult bullying children,” Wilson, said. “It’s causing more anxiety. You are talking about kids who are four times more likely than their straight counterparts with suicide ideation.”

The first week that James’ ad ran, Wilson told the Birmingham-based CBS affiliate WIAT that someone drove by the school and yelled slurs at students standing outside. In another incident, a woman attempted to film some of the students without their permission before being stopped by staff.

Screenshot of Tim James’ commercial attacking the Magic City Acceptance Academy – Photo: Tim James for Governor.

Wilson said that some of the students pictured in the ad are angry that they are being used as campaign fodder. He said a parent of one of the students pictured in the commercial sent the James campaign a cease-and-desist letter. The campaign then edited the photo to exclude only the child in question, while leaving others visible.

The James campaign claims they never received a letter, only an email from a parent angry about their child’s inclusion int the commercial, and “obscured the student from the ad” in response. But the campaign also slammed the complaining parent, saying that if she were “truly concerned about her child, she would remove her from the Magic City Acceptance Academy, period.”

Alabama Democratic Party Vice Chair Patricia Todd, a former state representative who was the first out LGBTQ person elected to the Alabama Legislature, called James’ ad “extremely dangerous to youth,” adding: “If anything happens, such as a hate crime to those kids, that will be on [James’] hands.”

Wilson told WIAT that, regardless of the machinations of politicians, the school would stand by its mission to serve as a place for students who have been marginalized or bullied in traditional schools.

“We’re an educational space for all students,” he said. “We’re built on pillars of trauma-informed care because most of our kids have faced marginalization of some kind — because they’re LGBTQ, because of color, because of the level of poverty… We’re the space where we hopefully break down barriers so that kids can continue to learn and continue to grow and eventually become the adults that they want to be.”

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