As a student at Northwest, I wrote for our newspaper, Viking Saga. At the end of March, the board told us that we would no longer be allowed to publish a name that was not on our birth certificate or use gender-variant pronouns.
Saga staff disagreed with the new policy. So with our next issue, we knew we wanted to make a statement. Whether the administration, parents, or fellow students liked it or not, there were LGBTQ kids in Northwest, and taking away our freedom to be ourselves wasn’t going to change that.
For the month of June, we have published our “Pride” issue. Its only LGBTQ content: three articles and, on the front page, two rainbow icons. All of the other stories in the newspaper were dedicated to honoring Northwest’s expansive student life. This included articles about newly offered courses, Future Business Leaders of America students qualifying for a national competition, and the trapshooting team’s successful season.
So what? The school board told us that they were canceling our newspaper class starting next school year.
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Zach Mader, Vice Chairman of the Board, was quoted in the local newspaper, the Grand Island Independent, as saying, “If [taxpayers] read it [issue], they would have been like, ‘Holy cow. What’s going on in our school? »
I’ll tell you what’s going on: discrimination against LGBTQ students. And now, thanks to national media attention, taxpayers across the country are reading about it.
The removal of the journalism class from Northwest was an “administrative” decision that could not be debated, changed or questioned. There was no school board meeting and no official gave us a real reason for this action.
To deny students, LGBTQ or not, the ability to write and speak out is outrageous. The News Media Alliance found that students who wrote for their school’s newspaper or yearbook had higher grade point averages and composite ACT scores, and achieved better grades as freshmen than their peers who had not participated in any form of media production in high school.
The Saga had been publishing for 54 years. This year, we took third place in the Nebraska School Activities Association State Journalism Championship. None of these facts was enough to convince the administrators to continue supporting the newspaper. Instead, they showed that any perspective different from their own would be silenced.
This is not just a violation of students’ right to education and freedom of expression. It is also harmful to the well-being of the students. Policies that block our ability to write about LGBTQ topics or post stories that humanize LGBTQ peers only serve to create a more hostile educational environment.
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GLSEN, an organization that advocates for better educational environments for gay youth, reported in its 2019 National School Climate Survey that 59.1% of LGBTQ students felt unsafe at school due to their sexual orientation, 42.5% because of their gender expression and 37.4% because of their sex. The same study reported that 60.5% of LGBTQ students who reported bullying were either ignored by adults in their school or told to ignore the bullying.
Being bullied by your peers is one thing. But being punished by people who are supposed to protect your constitutional right to an education is despicable. Even the U.S. Department of Education recognizes the importance of fostering an inclusive environment, stating that “discrimination based on sex — including sexual orientation and gender identity — isn’t just bad, it’s is prohibited in American schools.
I graduated in May. To the gay students from the North West who come behind me, I want to say: it’s better. I am now studying at a university where I do not encounter any complications related to my gender identity. According to Campus Pride, at least 425 U.S. colleges and universities have gender-neutral housing, nearly 800 allow students to use a “chosen first name” on class listings and ID cards, and nearly 2,000 have policies. protecting LGBTQ students. There are places in this country where you can be yourself and be safe, even if it’s not in the halls of your high school.
And to students who took journalism at Northwest this year: keep writing. Even if the adults in the room try to stop you. Even if you think no one will ever read it or care. Expressing yourself through writing is an essential way to expose people to ideas and conversations they never would have thought of before.
When our journalism program was cut, I was crushed. But I didn’t give up. And neither should you.