Home Education Shelter for LGBTQ students in the heart of Alabama

Shelter for LGBTQ students in the heart of Alabama

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Shelter for LGBTQ students in the heart of Alabama

HOMEWOOD, Alabama – Ever since a brand new charter school opened its doors in the Birmingham suburb of Alabama last fall, there has been some unrest on the outskirts.

Some cars drove by slowly, with incomprehensible shouts from the open windows. The woman used the phone to film the campus. Strangers left threatening voicemail messages.

The episodes were vaguely threatening – they became the subject of gossip in school corridors, and one went on police record – but it takes a lot to deeply shock students at the school, the Academy of the Adoption of the Magic City in Homwood. Many said they had been through a lot.

Tyler, a 17-year-old senior and a member of the transgender community, said for years he lived in fear of violence and performed social roles that never fit. “I need to unlearn these things,” he said. “Coming here, everything is completely different.”

The State Charter School, which enrolls about 240 students in grades 6 to 12, aims to be a hospitable place for students who are gay, natural, non-binary, cisgender, or transgender. This makes it a lonely institution in that state recently passed a law it would make it a crime to provide what doctors call gender-affirmative surgery or hormone therapy to people under 19 years of age.

The law also does not allow educators to “encourage or compel” students to conceal from their parents “the fact that a minor’s perception of his or her gender or gender does not correspond to that of a minor.” It was supposed to take effect on Sunday, though, now disputed U.S. Department of Justice.

Michael Wilson, director of the academy, worried that the law could be used to attack the school. “It simply imposes on teachers another layer of responsibility that they should not bear,” he said, adding that talks about gender identity “should be between the child and the parent when the time comes.”

The school sought to be a refuge from long debates about culture. Hallways in the academy are decorated with rainbows and affirmations. “You’re beautiful,” the posters say. “They love you.” But laws are being promoted by conservative politicians in Alabama and other countries some LGBTQ youth felt isolatedand the academy itself was nominated by the Republican candidate for governor, who calls the institution a “transgender public school.”

In fact, the school is open to students from all walks of life. In interviews, some students said they enrolled to avoid racism or bullying in their old schools. Others wanted the place to be openly gay, transgender or non-binary. Some appreciated the school’s mask mandate, which is still in effect.

And many said they just wanted to study quietly.

“We don’t need to come here and put up signs everywhere so we know they love us,” said 14-year-old eighth-grader Uniper. “We shouldn’t do that. We are just an ordinary school. “

Temperance, a 13-year-old seventh-grader, agreed. “I am very happy that we have a place to speak,” she added. “I know there are a lot of things that make this a more political school, and that’s …”

“Really, very stupid,” said Uniper, one of several students identified by name only to protect their privacy.

The Magic City Acceptance Academy fought for existence. His charter was denies the city of Birmingham more than two years ago, which prompted a move to Homwood, near the city lines of Birmingham. This application was also deniedthis time by the state, but the school finally received approval in November 2020, opens its doors in August. (The charming city, Birmingham’s old nickname, refers to the city’s rapid growth as a metropolitan city at the turn of the 20th century.)

The school operates under the auspices of an organization called The Birmingham AIDS Programwhich also works a medical center which serves many LGBTQ patients, including some whose treatment involves hormone therapy.

Following the signing of a law restricting health care for transgender adolescents, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said children should be protected from “radical drugs and life-changing surgeries when they are at such a vulnerable stage of life.”

Karen Musgrove, executive director of Birmingham AIDS Outreach, said providing children and teens with needed care – be it medical care, mental health services or community support – could lead to a downturn. high levels of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts affecting the LGBTQ community.

She recalled that on the first school day of the academy last year the students were terribly quiet. “They were so scared and they were beaten so bad,” she said. “Now they have friends.”

Students quickly discovered that there were no lockers, physical education textbooks and bells. They study on laptops provided by the school. They know that the lesson is over when they hear the light chimes of the xylophone over the loudspeaker. And they don’t need to worry about restrictive toilet laws: every bathroom is gender-neutral, single and accessible to people with disabilities.

17-year-old Rory, a transsexual, came here after years of harassment in other schools and periods of deep despair.

“If I hadn’t been so optimistic about my future,” he said, “I don’t know if I would still be alive.”

The Transgender Health Act has made a painful lesson in citizenship. History teacher Rory Daniel Evans has set up a projector so students can follow the legislative process in real time. As Rory watched state lawmakers discuss his future, he realized that his goal – hormone therapy – was slipping away.

“It looks like all the progress I’ve made has just been suspended,” he said.

That day in class some students were shouting. Others cried. “We had to become real and postpone the lesson plan for a minute because it was real emotion,” Mr. Evans said. “And fear.”

The students, he added, relied on each other to embrace the news. “I guess the only thing that matters is that at least they were here,” he said.

Educators said many students came to the academy with a long history of bullying, harassment or family alienation.

“They come to us with such a big injury that we have to start peeling the layers of their onions on day 1,” said Nikki Matthews, deputy director. “Because we build on this foundation their social and emotional strength and who they are, education will come.”

While many students said they feel safe among their teachers and classmates, some also faced a new kind of vulnerability. Sometimes, when a lot of LGBTQ people gather in one place, Rory said that “the goal is to feel that the target that lies on my back every day gets 500 times bigger”.

In recent weeks, the school has been the subject of conversation for Tim James, a Republican nominee for governor who is running for the right of incumbent President Ivy. (She has shifted to the right She herself, and polls suggest she is likely to win.) His political advertisement, which used photos that appeared on the school’s public Facebook page, highlighted a drag show the school held to raise money for the bee of national history.

According to Dr. Wilson, sporadic disruptions at the academy occurred shortly after the ads appeared on television, forcing the school to increase its security staff. “I mean, I guess we’ve learned a lesson that we don’t post a lot of photos anymore,” he added.

In an e-mail response to questions, Mr James said the drag show was an example of “exploitation and, at best, emotional abuse of children”, adding that the school itself was a sign that the cultural war between common sense and madness has reached Alabama ”.

Students at the school talked about Mr. James’ company with disobedience – many rolled their eyes – and fear. “I’m scared to come to school,” said Temperance, a 7th grader.

Amid violent political storms, the Magic City Acceptance Academy is also facing a more prosaic challenge of preparing students for their studies as the first year of school ends this month. He plans to add Mandarin courses next school year to complement this year’s Spanish and French, and later may also offer Advanced Placement classes. According to Dr. Wilson, next fall the number of students is expected to grow to about 350.

This will include Rory, who maintains his grades and thinks about college. He wants to study agriculture to possibly become a beekeeper – even if moving on would mean leaving the first school where he ever felt safe, being himself.

“It’s a really strong community,” he said. “While it may be scary, I’m still optimistic that all will be well.”

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