New Rankin County, MS School Policy Sends Harmful Message to LGBT Students

by HRC Staff

Jackson--Today, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, responded to a new policy, created by the Rankin County School Board in Mississippi, which aims to prevent students from forming organizations that support LGBT students. According to the Clarion Ledger, Superintendent Lynn Weathersby stated a group wanted to form a “gay club” and sought counsel on how to “limit organizations like that on campus that [it does not] want to endorse and don’t want.”

“This policy sends a harmful message to LGBT students in Rankin County that they are not welcomed within their classrooms, at school functions or on the bus. The board’s actions tell LGBT students that they should be ashamed of who they are and that their lives are valued less than their peers,” said HRC Mississippi State Director Rob Hill. “Keeping our children safe is critical. We demand the Superintendent, and the board, reverse its decision to publicly humiliate, degrade and embarrass LGBT young people. “

Federal law provides protections for student groups. According to the Department of Justice, “it shall be unlawful for any public secondary school which receives federal financial assistance and which has a limited open forum to deny equal access or a fair opportunity to, or discriminate against, any students who wish to conduct a meeting within that limited open forum on the basis of the religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the speech at such meetings.” The American Civil Liberties Union cites several cases in which the courts upheld students’ rights to form organizations that support LGBT students, such as Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs). Cases dating back to the 1990’s demonstrate students have the legal right to start clubs that provide a safer school environment, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Repeatedly, the courts have ruled all students must be treated equally with dignity and respect.

A 2014 HRC survey of LGBT Mississippians shows almost half of respondents experienced harassment at school—the most (42%) happened at the high school level. Even more disturbing, a third of LGBT students in rural areas experience harassment on a weekly basis. Respondents also noted supporting LGBT students in schools and their communities as a top priority. The Magnolia state has no statewide anti-bullying protections. HRC Mississippi is working to advance equality for LGBT Mississippians who have no protections in housing, workplace, or public accommodations; legal state recognition for their relationships and families; state rights to jointly adopt children; and state protections from hate crimes.

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