'We just want acknowledgement’ — Springfield LGBT families plead for recognition by school board
Conservatives, along with Springfield LGBT families, had reasons to attend Springfield’s school board meeting this week.
The Springfield school board meeting Tuesday night was heavily attended, with officials opening up an overflow room to handle the crowd. LGBT advocates turned out, and so did conservative folks who wanted to show their own numbers.
“I just heard there’s some announcements, and I have no idea what about, and it involves our schools, so I’m just curious to hear what this is about,” said Angela Romine.
Romine is a local conservative politician elected to Springfield City Council a few years ago. She later resigned in favor of an unsuccessful primary campaign for Missouri Senate. Romine arrived at school district headquarters more than an hour before the meeting was due to start.
So did Dan Griggs.
“I’m here in support of LGBTQ," Griggs told KSMU. "Like, we just want acknowledgment, you know, with support in the group. We want open support for LGBTQ.”
Before doors opened at 5 p.m., dozens of residents thronged an interior parking lot at district headquarters. Officials handed out tickets to enter the main boardroom.
About 60 people made it in. Brittany Dyer was one. She and her wife have a 7-year-old son who attends Springfield Public Schools.
Dyer said, “We’ve been asking the board for five months now to issue a statement of support for our LGBTQ+ students, staff and our families, and that has gone completely unanswered by the board.”
KSMU obtained a copy of the draft statement a few days before the meeting. It asks Springfield’s elected school leaders to acknowledge harms caused by homophobia and transphobia and to enforce policies that prohibit discrimination, harassment and bullying — while taking steps to improve a so-called “culture of inclusion” at the district.
Dyer, the mom who wanted to speak out in favor of the draft statement, was able to sign up for one of just 10 slots made available for public commenters who want to talk to the school board.
Slamming her hand on a lectern, Dyer told board members, “Can you imagine how our students are feeling in the classroom, if it feels 1 percent how I feel here in this room? And I am a grown adult. And I am anxious to be here, I am shaking right now. My life is threatened to be here for these students.”
Her comments show the frustration experienced by many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Missourians as state lawmakers consider numerous bills targeting LGBT communities, including one sponsored by an Ash Grove Republican, Senator Mike Moon. If passed, his bill would likely set a national precedent, prohibiting schoolteachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity with students at all grade levels.
After public comment was over, Dyer and a couple dozen supporters decamped to a wine bar on Commercial Street where they relaxed, eating pizza and fruit. Toddlers bounded across the room, and friends sat family style at a long table.
Ginney Norton, an education professor at Drury University, was part of the gathering. She told KSMU about some of her concerns with Springfield Public Schools.
“I think a lack of support, right? "Norton said. "So the action at the beginning of the school year asking faculty members to remove pride flags, right, so that’s communicating a lack of support. And then here we are talking about how many students exist in this school district — and we know that research generally says half of all LGBTQ students experience suicidal ideation.”