By Taylor Kane, Staff Writer
“A death by a thousand cuts.”
This is how former teacher Willie Carver Jr., a gay man, described his experience working for a school district in Montgomery, Kentucky. After working in the district for twelve years, Carver tendered his resignation in June of this year due to continuous passive-aggressive anti-LGBTQ+ behavior. Examples include the removal of books containing LGBTQ+ material, the defense of students tearing down pride flags, and the accusation of Carver and other LGBTQ+ students of being “groomers.” The final straw for Carver, though, was the continuous discounting of harassment reports from LGBTQ students.
Carver is not the only member of the LGBQT+ community that has suffered in their school. Raeven Sheppard, a student at Dorsey high school and an LGBTQ+ person of color, has spoken out about their experiences with homophobia in their school community. They state that “LGBTQ issues on campus are overlooked” and that most schools should have “Gay-Straight Alliance, Gender-Sexuality Alliance or Queer–Straight Alliance clubs that create a safe space for LGBTQ kids.” Which brings me to my point – in comparison to other schools like Dorsey High, how LGBTQ+ friendly is our own territory, New Paltz High School?
Ms. Watkins, a social worker at this school and leader of the Pride Club, formerly known as the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), has been involved in New Paltz’s pride assembly for over twenty years and pride in general for thirty. When asked why Pride Club was established, her answer was very clear –
“To give a place for LGBTQ… teens to come together, talk about their lives, [and] to make connections.”
Having the Pride Club, which according to Watkins is largely social, allows LGBTQ+ students to find people that have similar experiences in order to create a strong community. Ms. Watkins believes that the high school is welcoming toward its LGBTQ+ students and staff and has been entirely receptive to all of her requests about activities for Pride Club. As she described it, the high school is an “example of the wider community” and is as accepting as the rest of New Paltz allows it to be. While Watkins admits that the high school is “not perfect”, she also says that it is a lot better than it “used to be ” and, compared to other schools in the state and country, is part of one of the more friendly and supportive districts.
Associated with the issue of anti-LGBTQ+ administration and policy in schools, LGBTQ+ students in the country have continuously been victims of watching LGBTQ+ book bans and removals. Some commonly contended titles include Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson, Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison, and This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson – all banned for containing LGBTQ+ material and being ‘sexually explicit’ and available in the high school library. Ms. Arkans, the high school’s library media specialist, is constantly introducing challenged books to our library’s shelves. “It’s become a political issue – what can be taught in school, what children can have access to, and then what libraries can have,” Arkans says. “It depends what state you’re in, but even in New York we’ve had challenges with libraries in Highland and Marlboro.” Even in progressively-inclined New Paltz, censorship – which Arkans assures that she is staunchly against in libraries – is becoming increasingly popular around us. Arkans works to ensure that “we [the high school] own and display [books] from all different perspectives,” an example being the“rainbow display,” which features LGBTQ+ books.
“New Paltz is a pretty progressive community overall,” Arkans says, “but it only takes one person to complain.”
To avoid potential issues with book bans resulting from blindly politically-motivated claims, the libraries of the district have “a form that [the library staff] ask parents to fill out that details if they’ve read the [disputed] book because,” Arkans adds, “ unfortunately people challenge books because they’re jumping on a movement.”
Arkans prompts students to fight the issue by remaining active in their communities and participating in petitions to save books from and possible future attempts at removal. Students can also aid in fighting against harmful policies, such as those instituted in Carver’s district in Kentucky or Sheppard’s school Dorsey High, by working to unite with their fellow peers and supporting our Pride Club and right to LGBTQ+ books. Fortunately for the students of New Paltz High School, we are lucky enough to be part of a school district with social workers and librarians that are dedicated to creating a safe, supportive, and informative place for LGBTQ+ students and their allies. So, I urge you to look into taking part in your community, whether it be through the library or supporting Pride Club at Pep Rally. While our district is better than many, there are always improvements to be made, and why shouldn’t those improvements begin with us?