Local teen pushes for Gay Straight Alliance at middle school

Local teen pushes for Gay Straight Alliance at middle school

A local 13-year-old is fighting for more freedom of expression, asking the Richland School District to reconsider its policies for LGBTQ groups and Gay Straight Alliances (GSA) at the middle school level.

Reid Romine of West Richland is an 8 th grade student at Enterprise Middle School. He came out as gay to his parents at 11.

“I wish that every kid could have parents who are so loving and kind,” he said. “It’s my responsibility with that privilege to stand up for the kids that can’t.”

In school, he said LGBTQ students faces an uphill battle with bullying.

“People say ‘oh that’s gay,’ so many gay slurs,” he said, describing one student who quoted bible verses at him. “‘You will be killed with your blood on your head and you will be condemned to hell’… Even when the teachers hear, they just ignore it.”

Reid took action through his school’s Equality Club, putting up a poster with a list of LGBTQ identities, all crossed out and replaced with the words: “I am human.”

The principal asked that the poster be taken down and redone to include other minorities, not just LGBTQ students.

“She said the other kids are feeling uncomfortable,” Reid explained. “We have no problem making more posters of support for other groups, but we don’t want to water down our message for LGBTQ students.”

In a statement to KAPP-KVEW by the school district, a spokesperson said the poster was re-done to be more inclusive per the Equality Club’s mission of “increasing kindness and promoting respect for all students.”

However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said diluting an LGBTQ message is an issue.

“What the courts have said, is that’s not okay,” explained Vanessa Hernandez, an attorney with the ACLU of Washington. “It violates the First Amendment and also the Equal Access Act.”

The ACLU sent RSD a letter with information about federal and state laws protecting LGBTQ student group expression.

“To force a club to change its name to remove the terms ‘gay’ or ‘LGBTQ’ from the term actually disrupts the club’s message and is a form of impermissible school censorship,” Hernandez said.

According to Reid, Enterprise Middle School staff said because it is not classified as a secondary school, stipulations surrounding the Equal Access Act are handled differently.

This means in some cases, extracurricular clubs do not always have the right to be explicitly classified as LGBTQ.

Hernandez disagrees, citing the case Carver Middle Sch. Gay-Straight All. v. Sch. Bd of Lake Cnty, Florida. The Court held that a Florida middle school was a “secondary school” for the purposes of the Equal Access Act.

In the meantime, Reid is focusing on his goals.

“Either be a pro tennis player or the president of the United States,” he laughs. “I just want to make a change.”

He plans to take to take his concerns and suggestions to the Richland School Board Meeting on Tuesday in the hopes members will consider adjustments to middle school GSA freedoms.