JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Before the school year began, a number of teachers in Duval County spent some of their preparation time taking down stickers identifying their classroom as a safe space for students in the LGBT community.
The Duval County Public School District says the removal of the stickers was part of its plan to rebrand its "All in for Safe Schools" campaign that complies with the Parental Rights in Education Act.
While the district says that taking down specific LGBT signs and stickers is a message meant to include all students, advocates for teens in the LGBT community say that's not how the message was received.
"It's really tough for teens in Florida right now," said Jimmy Midyette, Director of the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality. Midyette says that losing the symbol of a safe space in school eliminates another option for teens in the LGBT community.
"They feel like they're under siege," said Midyette. "When they turn on the TV, the governor is saying bad things about them."
Midyette adds that he's heard from students and parents of LGBT students who are worried about not receiving support when they're within school walls.
"What is really concerning to me is that students have talked about leaving the public schools all together and consider home school or some other alternative education arrangement," said Midyette.
There are options for students to find support outside of school.
JASMYN is a youth-centered group that provides resources for the LGBT community. A spokesman for JASMYN calls the removal of the stickers unnecessary and harmful.
"Removing stickers that youth seeking safe space have grown accustomed to seeing sends a chilling message," said Dan Merkan, JASMYN Director of Policy. "Especially when the removal is a politically motivated effort to erase symbols of unity and inclusion like the rainbow."
Regardless of which classroom windows have stickers on them, Midyette says that many students will remember who their allies are at school.
"It's probably still well known in schools who the safe teachers are, who the supportive teachers are," said Midyette. "You can take down a sticker, but you can't change the way a teacher approaches their students, so hopefully students know who those teachers are."
The Parental Rights in Education Act, also known as "Don't Say Gay", allows parents to sue school districts if the parents believe the districts are in violation of teaching curriculum regarding sexual orientation in the classroom.
If you would like to get in touch with JASMYN, they can be reached by clicking here.
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