BBH Pride calls for additional training, protections for LGBTQ+ students

by Melissa Martin

BBH Pride, a local organization dedicated to creating a supportive and inclusive environment for the LGBTQ+ community in Brecksville and Broadview Heights, has asked school district administrators and the board of education to add five policies to the district’s new strategic plan.

On Jan. 17, the board was asked to:

  1. Provide better support and resources for the Gay-Student Alliance club.
  2. Create a GSA at the middle school and protect club advisers who in the past have been victimized by harassing parents and other community members.
  3. Allocate professional development hours for teachers and staff specific to LGBTQ+ issues. Educate them about the importance of safe spaces and encourage all staff to have visible messaging that indicates LGBTQ+ students are safe in the classroom.
  4. Issue a statement asserting that the district is affirming of LGBTQ+ students, administration and staff.
  5. Implement diversity and inclusion training.

“We know that these measures not only expand minds and create global citizenship, but they also save lives,” said BBH Pride Director Jennifer Speer, adding that analytics show lower rates of depression and suicide in schools with strong GSA clubs and affirming messaging.

Speer said the nonprofit is willing to provide the manpower, resources and, in some cases, the funding needed to implement the proposed policies.

“Honoring, serving and protecting these students and their families will signal a culture of care within a district whose reputation is and must continue to be that of a leader in the state,” Speer said. “We are not here to complain, to harass teachers or preach to you. We are here to help.”

The district’s strategic plan will be completed this summer, and Superintendent Jeff Harrison said all public input – even ideas and opinions met with resistance – will be considered as part of the planning process. He said all members of the community were invited to share their thoughts during a planning session in February.

Harrison said the strategic plan will be shared with the public and the school board this summer before the plan’s adoption. Neither the school board nor the administration indicated whether BBH Pride’s request will become part of the plan.

A handful of community members who addressed the board during its Feb. 21 meeting spoke negatively about BBH Pride’s proposals.

Brecksville resident Patrick Martelon told the board he believes it is wrong for members of BBH Pride to appear before the board asking it “to force political, social and religious ideologies on my children.”

Martelon said no parent wants to see children bullied in school but added he doesn’t believe there is an epidemic of bullying in BBH schools, of LGBTQ+ individuals or otherwise.

“If there is bullying, it is always addressed swiftly,” he said.

Martelon said he doesn’t believe professional development in the schools should address DEI or LGBTQ+ issues because the sexuality of students has no place in the schools. He added that one student organization should not be given preferential treatment over another.

“The GSA should not be promoted, funded or mandated by the staff or the administration,” he said.

Brecksville resident Jan Lukas agreed.

“I am offended by the fear-mongering of this board and in this community by the one-sided, presumptuous speakers at the January meeting,” Lukas said. Their “comply-with-our-demands- or-kids-will- die” mantra is emotional extortion. Blaming schools for teen suicide is wrong.

“Neither is it the school’s job to determine a child’s gender or psychological distress. It’s the parents’ job to care for a child who is confused, anxious or depressed, who may or may not be struggling with sexual identity. This adult group makes dubious assertions, claims victimhood and does not speak for all Brecksville-Broadview Heights LGBTQ+ citizens.”

Members of BBH Pride also addressed the board Feb. 21, saying the organization’s claims that the LGBTQ+ student population fare better in a supportive environment are well documented, most recently in Oklahoma’s Owasso Public School District, where a 16-year-old nonbinary student, Nex Benedict, was assaulted in a school bathroom by three older female students on Feb. 7.

BBH Pride member Laura DeJulius expanded on the Benedict story, saying the Owasso schools did not call for an ambulance, but Benedict’s grandmother transported them to the hospital, where Benedict was treated and released. The next morning, however, Benedict died.

“As a parent, I beg you to take action and to not to wait until this happens in the BBH schools,” DeJulius said, noting that the district needs to catch up to area schools that have already put those principles into practice.

“Ask trans and nonbinary kids if they are scared and uneasy [in school bathrooms] and they will generally tell you, ‘Yes, I’m scared. Sometimes I am terrified,’” she said.  The reality is the students who are hurt, bullied or scared to use the bathroom are the trans, non-gender fluid and nonbinary students, not the other way around. Nex Benedict is living proof of that and sadly, they are not alone.”

Broadview Heights resident Erin O’Connell-Morse, who chairs BBH Pride’s transgender support group, echoed DeJulius’ sentiments.

“We should all be disturbed by this,” she said. “We must stand up for our most vulnerable students. … Stand with me and BBH Pride to send a message that intolerance is unacceptable and harmful by adopting the measures outlined in our call to action.” ∞