Democracy Dies in Darkness

Early Lead

When football players join in to mock transgender people, Kansas high school students protest with a sit-in

September 20, 2017 at 7:42 AM

Holding signs that said “trans rights = human rights” and “I shouldn’t have to be cis to be safe,” students at a Kansas high school cut classes and held a sit-in Monday, protesting an extracurricular text conversation that included slurs about transgender people and involved more than 200 students, including football players.

More than 100 students refused to budge in the Lawrence High rotunda, citing derogatory comments and slurs that compared transgender issues to mental disorders and asked, “if a [slur for transgender person] hits you, is it still hitting a woman or no?” Yet another stated that the gender listed on a person’s birth certificate should determine a person’s identity. One issue being protested: Football players who were in on the conversation were allowed to play in a game Friday night. That decision, sophomore Elliot Bradley told the Lawrence Journal-World, led students to believe that “LHS is valuing their players over their minority students.” So Etana Parks and Jonavon Shepard, co-presidents of Total Equality Alliance at the school, organized the sit-in.

Bradley, who is TEA’s events coordinator, said the seniors’ text conversation in the GroupMe app “wasn’t really a shock to us, but it was alarming. It was really difficult for us to handle, knowing that these are people who represent our school.” The high school in Lawrence, home of the University of Kansas, is a little more than 30 miles west of Kansas City.

The protesters created signs that also read “end transphobia at LHS,” according to the University Daily Kansan. They demanded an apology, asked for “public recognition” that athletes were the “main group responsible” and called for LGBTQ education classes and suspensions for student-athletes for unsportsmanlike conduct under the school’s “Philosophy for the Student Athlete.” It states that sports participation is a “privilege, not a right” and that an athlete “will be looked upon as a role model.”

Students decided to hold the sit-in because of what they perceived to be administrators’ reluctance to take action for something that happened outside school and was unaffiliated with clubs or staff. “The entire protest,” senior Rollin Love told the Kansan, “was purposed around the inaction we as students saw from the administration in dealing with transphobia and discrimination going beyond the groupchat.”

Administrators spent the day interviewing students, and the protests ended peacefully at the end of the school day.

“Lawrence High School’s administration has been meeting with students who staged a peaceful protest in the school rotunda today. The students’ concerns stemmed from feeling disrespected by comments other students made in an online chat room last week. Lawrence High is committed to ensuring a safe and welcoming learning environment for all students and does not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind,” Julie Boyle, the school district’s director of communications, said in an email to the Journal-World. “When the facts about these issues are gathered, the administration will take action as is appropriate in accordance with Board Policy and the Student Handbook.”

Administrators at the school have not responded to a request from The Washington Post for an update.

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Cindy Boren arrived at The Post in 2000 as an assignment editor in charge of baseball and NFL/Redskins coverage. She switched to full-time writing, focusing on national sports stories and issues, when she founded The Early Lead blog in 2010.

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