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LGBTQ+ advocacy groups respond to Campaign for Southern Equality's S.B. 49 complaint

NC Marriage Bill

DTH Photo Illustration. 

On Jan. 30, the Campaign for Southern Equality filed a federal complaint against the N.C. State Board of Education and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction on how they have implemented N.C. Senate Bill 49, the Parents’ Bill of Rights.

S.B. 49 requires school personnel in North Carolina to notify parents about changes in a student's name or pronouns used in school records. The bill also prohibits the discussion of gender identity, sexual activity or sexuality in kindergarten through fourth grade.

The complaint was filed under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which protects people from discrimination based on sex. In the complaint, the Campaign for Southern Equality alleges that North Carolina public schools are violating Title IX by systematically marginalizing LGBTQ+ students.

Craig White, the supportive schools director for the Campaign for Southern Equality, said the Campaign’s main argument is that S.B. 49 has several provisions that create a hostile educational environment for LGBTQ+ students, including revealing a student’s gender identity without their permission.

The bill limits the ability of LGBTQ+ students — particularly trans students — to access affirming and inclusive educational resources, said Ray McKinnon, the executive director of PFLAG Charlotte, a LGBTQ+ advocacy organization.

“When you roll it all up, this bill — and bills like it — are, at their core, steeped in not concern for kids, but a desire to control kids and to legislate other people's ideas of morality onto others,” he said.

White also said the law creates barriers for LGBTQ+ students to receive health care at school. One of S.B. 49’s provisions requires parental permission for a student to take surveys, they said, including threat and suicide assessments, so counselors and social workers are unable to help students without it.

Some students are missing out on dental and vision screenings held at schools, too, because S.B. 49 requires parents to opt-in their children for certain services, Cameron Pruette, the director of intersectional initiatives for the Freedom Center for Social Justice, said.

“All of these put together send a message to LGBTQ+ students that school is not a safe place for you,” White said.

According to the complaint, the North Carolina State Board of Elections and North Carolina Department of Public Instruction are not providing educators with guidance on how to navigate statewide mandates without violating Title IX.

Pruette said the vagueness of S.B. 49 is causing confusion among parents and teachers, as well as leading school boards to make conflicting rules. This creates a silencing effect that makes children feel erased or unsafe, he said.

“We ask educators to do everything,” Pruette said. “They have to maintain classroom order with too many children, they have to have these educational standards, they have to do social and emotional learning, they have to do all these things. And then we're telling them, ‘Except not for these kids, right?’ Everyone feels safe and included, but not trans students.”

At its meeting on Jan. 18, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education decided not to comply with the parts of S.B. 49 that require parental notification of changes in student pronouns and prohibit the discussion of gender identity. 

Andy Jenks, CHCCS chief communications officer, said a key part of the district’s strategic plan is to create and maintain a culture of safety and wellness.

“It's working together with individuals and through relationships that are sustained over time, that you can serve our students in the best manner possible,” he said.

Jenks also said the board made a policy decision recently that requires administration to provide written guidance on S.B. 49 implementation to CHCCS staff, which he said is still in development.

White said they hope people view the Campaign’s Title IX complaint as a strategy. They said they want to see more complaints being filed locally and across the state to hold school districts and school boards accountable for their discriminatory actions.

“Using a student's name and pronouns that they have chosen for themselves is suicide prevention,” Pruette said. “It saves their lives, and it's such a simple thing that we could do. It's very few policies I can think of where if we just changed the words we used, we could save lives."

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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