Beaumont Family Claims LGBTQ Discrimination

Although conflict has been resolved, the incident opened a discussion on LGBTQ issues at the middle school level

On Apr. 13, 2016, a group of students and adults alike gathered outside of Beaumont Middle School in protest. An eighth-grade student, Stella Guralski, was reportedly discouraged from giving an in-class presentation on LGBTQ rights, despite students in her English class initially being told they could present a speech in front of their peers on a topic of their choice.

“My teacher told me I couldn’t do LGBTQ rights as a topic for my speech because, apparently, it’s ‘inappropriate’ for eighth graders,” said Guralski. “They tried to make various accommodations, but all I really wanted to do was talk about LGBTQ rights to my class with no compromises.”

They tried to make various accommodations, but all I really wanted to do was talk about LGBTQ rights to my class with no compromises

— Stella Guralski

As of April 20, 2016, FCPS policy 09.42811 regards discrimination as “unlawful behavior based on race, color, national origin, age, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability…that adversely affects a student’s education or creates a hostile or abusive educational environment.” It also states that “District staff shall provide for a prompt and equitable resolution of complaints concerning harassment/discrimination.”

Beaumont Principal Kate McAnelly commented on the situation in a phone interview, explaining that the issue was that speech simply needed to be modified to fit the requirements of the assignment.

“The topic needed to be narrowed so that it could be turned into a persuasive, argumentative speech,” said Principal McAnelly. “The teacher [has been] trying to work with Stella since well before spring break to get to topic narrowed.”

After meeting those requirements and finishing the writing of her speech, Guralski was allegedly told by her English teacher that she would not be allowed to present it to her class.

Guralski, who is being raised by two mothers, said that her family decided they needed to voice their opinions, and they chose to protest in front of the school. In addition to the Guralskis, nine other students and adults were present.

Lea Yiannikouris, one of Guralski’s best friends and a fellow eighth-grade student at the middle school, said that she decided to join the protest in order to help “get the word out” about Stella’s situation.

“We both thought [the situation] was wrong,” said Yiannikouris.

The protest received some negative attention from students at the middle school.

“The entire school found out about it,” said Yiannikouris. “[Students] were talking about it the whole day; students were making rude comments and mocking the protest.”

Additionally, the students started an online thread using the hashtag #letstellaspeak. Comedian and LGBT activist Lea DeLaria, who appears as “Big Boo” on Orange is the New Black, weighed in on the issue by tweeting that “teaching hate is inappropriate for eighth graders or ANYBODY,” and she included an Instagram link to an image titled “Let Stella Speak.” Students also included the image in many of their tweets.

According to the FCPS policy, students who believe they have been subjected to discrimination are instructed to inform their principal who can include the superintendent or a civil rights compliance officer as deemed appropriate.

Students began posting this image along with #letstellaspeak. Image courtesy of Lea Yiannikouris via Twitter.

However, Principal McAnelly as well as Guralski, have confirmed that the conflict has been resolved.

“We have had a number of meetings with the administrators, and someone from [Fayette County Public Schools administration] met with us,” she said. “I’m giving my speech on the Day of Silence [April 15], so it’s kind of perfect.”

However, concerns about support for LGBTQ students in public school is far from over. Currently in Fayette County, each of the high schools has a Gay-Straight Alliance club, but none of the middle schools appear to have a similar program according to the “clubs” tab on each school’s official website.

When asked about the possibility of adding GSA at Beaumont, McAnnely said, “Nobody has come and talked to me about a Gay-Straight Alliance. We’re a school that offers a lot of clubs, [and] we’re always looking to have a wide range of clubs.”

“I definitely want to join [Dunbar’s GSA] next year,” said Guralski. However, had Beaumont offered a GSA during her time at the school, Guralski said she would have been an active member. “Kids should be exposed to this subject at an earlier age than high school.”

I’ve been trying to get a GSA started at Beaumont, and I have contacted multiple teachers who said they would be willing to help.

— Blake Johnson

The president of Dunbar’s Gay-Straight Alliance, junior Blake Johnson, has been in contact with some faculty members at Beaumont about starting a chapter there.

“Since probably Sept. or Oct. I’ve been trying to get a GSA started at Beaumont, and I have contacted multiple teachers who said they would be willing to help,” he said.

He said that starting a GSA club at Beaumont is something he hopes to do because “I know what its like to grow up gay…and I know there are middle school students who are struggling with their sexuality. Having a GSA can only help students by educating them, and having them learn about each other and themselves.”

At this time, there are no set plans for the creation of the club at Beaumont, but Johnson said he hopes to hear back from a potential faculty adviser soon.