Students at Lawrence High School skipped classes Monday to stage a peaceful sit-in protest of a perceived “pervasive culture of discrimination” against LGBT classmates.
The sit-in was organized by the LHS Total Equity Alliance in response to comments made in a group text between members of the football team that became public last week.
The text conversation included more than 200 students, and displayed dialogue comparing transgender identities to mental disorders, expounding on the topic in several directions.
According to LHS sophomore and TEA events coordinator Elliot Bradley, allowances made for football players responsible for the messages to continue play after the text was made public tells students that “LHS is valuing their players over their minority students.”
“It 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,” he said.
Motivated by a lack of response from LHS staff, 45 members of the TEA met outside the school at 10 a.m. The protest had grown to roughly 70 students by the noon hour.
Bradley told the Lawrence Journal-World that the administration was informed of the sit-in in advance, when the protesters presented a list of demands calling for student-athletes involved in the harassment of other students to be held accountable.
“We talked to [assistant principal] Mr. Pruet for probably about five minutes, and then we, as a group, sat down in solidarity and said, ‘We are not going to move until action is taken,’ ” said Bradley.
Raven Andersen-Rolland, an LHS senior who has suffered harassment personally in the past, told reporters that some of the group’s demands had already been met.
In an emailed statement, district spokesperson Julie Boyle told parents and the press, “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. 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.”
The protest was disbanded by 3 p.m., and Boyle assured parents that no threats to student safety were made over the course of the day’s events.