On Monday morning, shortly after first period, 45 students assembled in the rotunda of Lawrence High School in Lawrence, Kansas to protest discriminatory and transphobic comments made in a group message of more than 200 people on the app GroupMe, according to the Washington Post. The high schoolers' sit-in, which reportedly grew to over 100 students, was organized by the school's Total Equality Alliance, whose representative told school administrators they would not move until action was taken to discipline the students who had made the transphobic comments.
According to Elliott Bradley, an LHS sophomore and member of the TEA, some of the school's football players had sent offensive messages on a GroupMe of over 200 students. One student reportedly asked “if a [slur for transgender person] hits you is it still hitting a woman or no?" and another insisted that only what is written on people's birth certificates can determine one's gender. The messages were sent on Wednesday, and the football players in question were allowed to play in a game on Friday. To Bradley, this showed that "LHS is valuing their players over their minority students.”
In their conversation with Assistant Principal Mark Pruet on Monday, TEA members demanded the school hold accountable those students "who participated in harassing transgender students," and suspend the student athletes involved for "unsportsmanlike conduct" under the school's "Philosophy of the Student Athlete," which states that playing a sport is "a privilege, not a right," and that those involved represent not only themselves and their team, but the entire LHS community.
Protesters also asked that these students deliver a written apology to those who were harassed, and for “public recognition that the main group responsible” were athletes. They also called for LGBTQ education classes, and new governing bodies at the school to handle issues of discrimination, including a panel of five teachers and two students to serve as "decision-makers on punishments for any future incidents of discrimination and as support for all students.”
Bradley told the Lawrence Journal-World that he did not expect all of their demands to be met, but that he and other LGBTQ students just wanted to feel heard and respected.
As senior Rollin Love told the University Daily Kansan, “The entire protest was purposed around the inaction we as students saw from the administration in dealing with transphobia and discrimination going beyond the group chat.”
Around 3 p.m., protesters began to disband, saying some of their demands had been met, though it remains unclear which ones. In an email to parents and press on Monday afternoon, school officials said they would look into the students' concerns.
“Lawrence High School’s administration has been meeting with students who staged a peaceful protest in the school rotunda today," Julie Boyle, the school district’s director of communications said in an email. "The students’ concerns stemmed from feeling disrespected by comments other students made in an online chat room last week. 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.”
On Wednesday, school administrators told the Lawrence Journal-World that students who violated school policy in the GroupMe would be disciplined, but they did not say how.
“Certain comments and things that were mentioned have been addressed by administration,” interim Superintendent Anna Stubblefield told the Journal-World. “But we’re not going to comment on which comments (specifically), because that isolates which student it was.”
As for the LGBTQ students and their allies who participated in the protest, this is just the beginning. “If they ignore what we have expressed our concerns about, they know we’re going to do it again, whether in a sit-in or a forum,” said student Jonovan Shepard. “But they know they can’t ignore it.”