A poster series featuring LGBTQ celebrities is being removed from Gentry Middle School this week. This series is a part of a poster celebration of LGBT History Month.
The posters are of celebrities — including singer Miley Cyrus, actress Laverne Cox, YouTuber/comedian Shane Dawson and former MU football player Michael Sam — who identify at different points on spectrums of genders and sexualities. The posters also have descriptions of those terms, such as gay, genderqueer, transgender, nonbinary, intersex, asexual, polysexual, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual and straight ally.
The posters are being replaced with ones about Jaguar PAWS, the school’s gay-straight alliance organization, Columbia Public Schools spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said. Posters about the history of the multicolored pride flag will remain on display.
Every month, the teacher-run diversity committee, which organized this month’s poster display with leadership members of Jaguar PAWS, chooses a topic of focus. Last month was Hispanic heritage, and next month is diabetes awareness, Baumstark said.
Over the past few days, Gentry parents have questioned the poster display, according to a letter that Principal Fairouz Bishara sent to parents Monday afternoon. The letter stated the information on the posters is not a part of school curriculum.
“It is not our intention, by any means, to advocate for any type of sexual orientation nor to encourage sexual activity, but to promote compassion and empathy for others,” Bishara wrote in the letter.
Parents of Gentry students and children at other Columbia schools have engaged in a vigorous conversation about the posters on Facebook. However, the half-dozen reached for this article declined to comment.
The poster display received some criticism from the larger Columbia community. Radio host Gary Nolan described the poster display to his listeners during his broadcast Friday. Nolan emphasized that parents should be informed of all sexual education, which he said includes the Jaguar PAWS poster display.
“Now if you ask me, when you put up a word and a definition that’s teaching — you’re teaching somebody,” Nolan said during his show on KSSZ/93.9 FM. “And I’d be damned upset if I had a kid that was exposed to this.”
Elijah Bruce, a regular “Greg Nolan Show” listener, learned about the poster display from the radio broadcast. Bruce said sexuality is just one aspect of an individual’s identity. He agrees with Nolan that parents should be made aware of anything taught in school of a sexual nature before that discussion takes place, he said.
“I strongly feel that if it’s of educational value, then it needs to conform to a regular standard,” Bruce said. “If it’s not of education, then it doesn’t really have a place in our school system in that way.”
Nolan’s show posted images of the display on its Facebook page. Former Gentry student Thomas Fenner commented on the post that LGBTQ youth are more likely to be bullied, so it is important to teach children to love and support each other, regardless of sexual orientation.
“I never chose to be gay, but your kids get to choose to be nice,” he wrote online.
Fenner attended Gentry for sixth and seventh grades, from 2009 to 2011, when same-sex marriage was not legal nationwide. He said he is happy the Gentry staff supports the LGBTQ community today.
“The posters aren’t trying to push being gay on people — it doesn’t work that way,” Fenner said.
Fenner said he likes seeing Gentry’s posters show well-known people who happen to be in the LGBTQ community. When Fenner grew up, he watched movies that featured only heterosexual relationships, he said. He said he appreciates the increased LGBTQ representation that comes through recent movies such as “Love, Simon,” in which a high school teen comes out.
“I refuse to sit back and let the LGBTQ community be hidden because people refuse to open their hearts,” Fenner said. “Gentry was simply showing their love to the students and staff who are homosexual.”
Bishara directed an interview request to Baumstark. However, she wrote in the letter to parents that by choosing LGBT History Month, “our goal as a school is to bring knowledge, empathy and compassion to a community that is represented at all levels of our school system. They are our students, our teachers and also parents.”
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