Pittsburgh Public Schools Struggle to Protect LGBTQ Students from Christian Bullies #SpiritDay

SPirit Day Pittsburgh

Today is Spirit Day:

Spirit Day is a means of speaking out against LGBTQ bullying and standing with LGBTQ youth, who disproportionately face bullying and harassment because of their identities. Pledging to “go purple” on Spirit Day is a way for everyone — forward-thinking companies, global leaders, respected celebrities, neighbors, parents, classmates, and friends — to visibly show solidarity with LGBTQ youth and to take part in the largest, most visible anti-bullying campaign in the world.

It is a complicated time to be talking about LGBTQ youth in Pittsburgh.

Let’s start with the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

First, the good news. This week, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers approved a resolution “calling on the district to intentionally “recruit, retain, and respect LGBTQ educators” as well as to ensure that “Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ youth are valued, have a place in our classrooms, and deserve the opportunity of a diverse, full and safe education.” It is especially powerful that the person who led this charge is Billy Hileman who many of you outside of Pittsburgh may know from his historic work organizing the March on Washington and other tremendous activist works.

Spirit Day Pittsburgh

Spirit Day Pittsburgh

But … there’s this. Earlier this year, PPS entered into a tuition-training agreement with a private Christian university to provide educational supports for staff. Grand Canyon University is a hot mess and lots of red flags went up, including this from WESA:

The private Christian school based in Phoenix, Arizona is being sued by two former students for allegedly misrepresenting accreditation of some of its programs and the validity of its degrees across state lines, according to the Arizona Republic. A separate class action lawsuit was filed in September in federal court accussing the university of allegedly forcing students to pay for extra classes in order to finish their degrees, according to the Phoenix New Times.

Hamlet said Grand Canyon University did not disclose “existing litigation and the University’s relationship with for-profit affiliates” when it agreed to partner with the district.

“Concerns raised by District Solicitor Ira Weiss and information received after the October 1st presentation to the Board have convinced me that postponing the start of our program is the most prudent decision at this time,” said Superintendent Hamlet in a statement.

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What Superintendent Hamlet, Ira Weiss and really no one in an official capacity has mentioned is that this private Christian school. Private. Christian. School. Am I the only person who automatically thinks that warrants further investigation? Did we learn NOTHING from the Turahn Jenkins debacle?

Grand Canyon University embeds creationism, anti-choice values, and anti-LGBTQ values into its core “ethical positions” – a fact that was discovered by moi with a few clicks, maybe four total?

Support local blogging! Click to see what I mean.

So while I agree that the issues Mr. Weiss brought to light absolutely warrant terminating the contract (and reviewing the work of the person who missed those bits) BUT what about this part? Of all the universities in the entire world, they pick one that thinks LGBTQ people are not on par with cisgender heterosexual Christians? Come on … how does as one person on Facebook put it “harmful fundamentalist right wing christian views” warrant consideration for terminating the contract? And how did it not send up a red flag before the contract was signed?

It gets MORE complicated because the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers agreed to contract with Grand Canyon to the amount of $49,000 in the first year. I can only assume someone from the Federation did their research. I hope, right? So as important as the issue of subsidizing educational opportunities for paraprofessionals is, does that trump the rights of LGBTQ students and employees? Why isn’t the Federation addressing this seeming conflict between that decision and their resolution that LGBTQ students deserve full and safe learning environments?

LGBTQ kids get a resolution, but the Christian educators get $50k? Come on …

Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers

Then – of yes, there’s more – another bit from PPS involving Liberty University. Signs went up at Perry Traditional Academy on the Northside inviting students to meet with the recruiters from Liberty. Granted other schools were also recruiting, but this just sits poorly with me. Liberty University is a horrible place and this reeks of sliding Christian worldviews into our public schools without heightened scrutiny.

Perry Traditional Academy Liberty University
Posted on the bulletin board at Perry Traditional Academy. I used purple to fit with the Spirit Day motif
Posted on the bulletin board at Perry Traditional Academy. I used purple to fit with the Spirit Day motif

That’s not acceptable. This is the same actual school that eliminated its student food pantry (created by students for students) for some undisclosed reason.

Trust me – hunger on the Northside has not suddenly been cured. I live here. Did I mention that food pantry was organized and staffed in part by the Perry GSA? Hmmm …

So one step forward, two steps back with regard to preserving LGBTQ students rights to receive a public education without undue influence from religious organizations, especially anti-LGBTQ Christians.

While we should work to reduce bullying by other students, we cannot lose sight of the many, many ways in which Christians and Christianity have bullied children, families, elected officials, business leaders and … students. Creating a safe learning environment requires that administrators in leadership roles within the public education system are meticulous about protecting all of the students and staff from a slipper slope toward a Christian influenced education. All students, but especially LGBTQ students.

I’d like the Federation of Teachers and the School Board as well as the Superintendent to clarify these matters – to make it clear that they are not going to contract with faith-based providers and that they will ALL exercise due diligence when it comes to confirming that all contracted providers in any role do not promote anti-LGBTQ values that are antithetical to a safe learning environment.

Christianity has provided us ample evidence over millenia that they will bully, pillage, bribe, lie, cheat, steal, and literally beat their beliefs into children. I realize that not all Christians are like this, but I also believe that we need to remain ever vigilant about the systemic intrusion that is inherent in a faith-based on proselytizing. That’s our duty – to implement institutional protections to ensure bullies do not get disproportionate power and access.

And for God’s sake (see what I did there?), bring back the damn food panty.


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