LGBTQ+ groups band together to challenge school district over Don’t Say Gay policies

Author: Greg Owen

Three LGBTQ+ advocacy groups in western North Carolina have fired an opening salvo in their effort to overturn the state’s discriminatory Don’t Say Gay law.

The Don’t Say Gay legislation, also known as the Parent’s Bill of Rights, bans instruction on “gender identity, sexual activity, or sexuality” in kindergarten through fourth grade and requires parents to be notified “prior to any changes in the name or pronoun used for a student in school records or by school personnel,” with some discretion accorded to school administrators.

The law went into effect immediately with its passage, and in the months since, school districts across the state have been grappling with how to implement it.

In a complaint addressed to the Title IX Coordinator for Buncombe County Schools, the three groups allege SB49 violates the education provisions of Title IX.

“The policies passed by the Buncombe County Board of Education to comply with the state law SB49 (alternately called the ‘Don’t Say LGBTQ’ law and the ‘Parents’ Bill of Rights’) create a hostile educational environment for LGBTQIA+ students, families, staff and faculty,” the complainants write, “and in doing so violate Title IX and Buncombe County Schools’ obligation to provide every student with a safe and non-discriminatory school environment.”

The complaint cites Title IX’s ban on sex discrimination in educational programs that receive federal funding, which includes discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

In October, the Campaign for Southern Equality addressed their allegations over Title IX to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, which responded, “Absent a determination by USED Office of Civil Rights or a court order affirming your position, neither the State Board nor DPI can knowingly fail to comply with a duly enacted state law.”

The groups’ strategy then moved to obtain just such a determination from a local official entrusted with enforcing Title IX. In Buncombe County, that responsibility falls to Shanon Martin, Title IX Coordinator for Buncombe County Schools.

“We request that, should these allegations of a Title IX violation be confirmed, the Buncombe County Schools Title IX Coordinator instruct the Superintendent to delay all implementation of the SB49-related policies passed on December 7, 2023, until such time as the federal complaint against DPI and SBE has been resolved,” the complaint to Martin reads.

Craig White, supportive schools director at Campaign For Southern Equality, told Blue Ridge Public Radio that his team expects to file a federal complaint in January.

Rob Elliot, chairman of the policy committee for the Buncombe County Board of Education, said figuring out how to enforce SB49 has been “very stressful” and a “noisy, big, complex legal discussion.”

“We don’t exist just under the confines of this one new law, Elliot said. “This doesn’t define our entire world. We exist under a whole universe of federal law and state law, all of which we have to abide by as well.”

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Actual Story on LGBTQ Nation
Author: Greg Owen

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