Speaking up is hard. Personally, even as an adult I still worry about the implications of my speaking up about something I’m really passionate about. What if no one agrees with me? What if everyone just thinks I’m crazy? What if everyone hates me? These are all pretty standard things that go through my head when I say anything, and are magnified when I say something of significance.
If 14 year-old Bayli Silberstein has any of these thoughts, she hasn’t let it stop her. Silberstein has, for two years, attempted to establish a gay-straight alliance (GSA) club at her Lake County, Florida middle school. Silberstein was concerned about what she deemed to be an epidemic of bullying at Carver Middle School, aimed at students who identified as anything other than heterosexual. She has, however, been met with continued opposition from the school district. The Lake County school district reportedly denied Silberstein’s initial request for an on-campus GSA and also delayed their response. The school board then began talks about banning any extra-curricular clubs, with Chairwoman Kyleen Fischer speaking out against any “social engineering” in schools. Board members claim that these proposals are not motivated by Silberstein’s own proposal for a GSA.
Bayli’s mother, Erica Silberstein, shared her daughter’s concerns about the bullying at Carver, and contacted the ACLU after the school board continued to resist Bayli’s suggestion for a GSA. Silberstein told Florida news source, FlaglerLive, “As a parent, it was a struggle to hear about some of the things that were going on at my daughter’s school. These kids were asking for a support system, but the school didn’t seem very invested in the idea.”
Because Bayli had the courage to speak up, a Florida chapter of the ACLU publicized a school board meeting about the extra-curricular club restrictions late last month. Joyce Hamilton, Mid-Florida Regional Director for the ACLU, wrote in a press release, “People are upset and want the school board to know that sacrificing the needs of all students isn’t fair, and that Bayli and her friends should be allowed to form their club to make Carver a safer school.”
In a letter addressed to the school district attorney, the ACLU of Florida referenced the Equal Access Act as a reason why the GSA should be an approved club at Carver:
Under the Equal Access Act, schools may not pick and choose among clubs based on what they think students should or should not discuss. If a public school allows any student group whose purpose is not directly related to the school’s curriculum to meet on school grounds during lunch or before or after school, then it cannot deny other student groups the same access to the school because of the content of their proposed discussions. The Act specifically provides that a school cannot deny equal access to student clubs because of the ‘religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the speech at such meetings.’
Silberstein also gained the support of Florida LGBT-rights group Equality Former. Member Michael Farmer wrote in a press release, “The Lake County School Board continues to enable bullies over the safety of their students. This is just the latest example of the need for the Lake County School Board to adopt an anti-bullying policy and a nondiscrimination policy that includes LGBT students and staff.”
The school board’s March 11th meeting is the earliest they could vote on both Silberstein’s proposed GSA and all extra-curricular clubs at Carver.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue of LBGT rights and equality, it’s hard to not commend Silberstein for speaking up and demanding that her voice be heard here. This is a skill that doesn’t come easy, but this – speaking up regardless of how popular your opinion may be – is exactly how things get done and exactly how progress is made.
What do you think about Bayli’s proposed GSA? And what do you think the school board should do?
Featured image via Orlando Sentinel