A gay student who opened up about being tormented by homophobic bullies at school during a school board meeting broke down after those in attendance jeered and accused her of "indoctrination."
Mackenzie Atwood, an openly gay senior student at Franklin High School in Massachusetts, was addressing a previous speaker about protected classes against bullying when she was suddenly heckled by a woman from the audience.
Atwood recalled with local news station WBZ:
"This woman stood up and said, 'This is the type of indoctrination that's being taught in schools,' I believe. It was very emotional."
"It definitely induced a lot of panic in me."
You can watch a news report here:
The woman's outburst on Tuesday prompted Dr. Anne Bergen, the Franklin School Committee Chair, to intervene.
Bergen told the disruptive woman:
"This meeting will be conducted respectfully. There will no shouting out from the crowd. That is not how we ever, ever conduct meetings in this building."
Atwood, who sits on the school committee, told parents and staff she and her fellow LGBTQ+ classmates had been targeted because of their sexuality and gender identity.
When a parent baselessly claimed White students were being bullied at school due to their race, Atwood attempted to explain how everyone was protected—regardless of race, religion and sexuality.
But she added this was not the case at the school and marginalized people like herself were not always given the protection they deserve.
"Being in theatre—there's obviously that stereotype that everyone in theatre is gay, and yeah, you can say that it's pretty true because a lot of us are gay and it's somewhere we can be comfortable and that's a safe space."
She continued explaining how she has witnessed the bullying firsthand.
"But when kids are coming to theatre every single day telling me, 'oh, I got called a fa**ot in the hall today,' or 'I got called a racial slur in the hall today', that's not something to joke about, though it's become something that we're so numb to that it becomes a joke."
"So I think it's important to understand that yes, everyone is protected at the school, but being someone who is Caucasian is not something that you're getting bullied about."
When attendees responded furiously to Atwood's comments, she said:
"Being homosexual—which may I say, I am gay, call me what you want about that—I am being personally attacked in school about this."
Her comment led to the woman shouting:
"It has to stop, this is the indoctrination!"
An emotional Atwood responded:
"It is extremely disgusting that you can look me in the eyes and say that I'm not being oppressed at this school."
She ended her statement through tears and asserted there was "no such thing as the gay agenda."
Bergen banged her gavel and paused the meeting to reinstate order.
You can watch the entire 2 1/2 hour school board meeting, with Atwood's statement beginning at the 35:03 mark, here:
In response to the chaotic incident, Sara Ahern, the superintendent of schools for the district, wrote a reproachful letter sent to members of the Franklin Community on Wednesday, following the meeting.
"It is with a heavy heart and sincere anger that I write regarding the events that transpired at last evening's school committee meeting."
"The conduct, tone, and disruption by some members of the audience was appalling and a violation of Franklin Public Schools' core values of a safe and inclusive environment and a collaborative community as well as unacceptable with respect to public meeting procedures."
The Superintendent defended Atwood and described her conduct at the meeting as "eloquent and articulate."
Ahern also said the disruptive behavior from certain members in attendance "created a traumatic situation for the student and invalidated her statement of reality she so courageously shared."
"We are processing the impact of this traumatic event on those in attendance as well as the vicarious trauma ringing throughout the community."
"Last night's disruption is not an isolated incident. Vitriol in civil discourse has only been increasing in both in-person settings as well as online in Franklin and elsewhere."
"This is true for children and adults alike."
Ahern said the incident was not just limited to the schools, but "bias-based behavior" was also "permeating layers of the community."
"As adults, I implore you to be mindful of your behavior as you serve as important role models,"
"Our children are watching."
Laura Atwood, Mackenzie Atwood's mother, said of Tuesday's disruption:
"It's sad that we have adults acting that way."
She and her daughter believe positive change shouldn't start at school but at home.
The student added in the interview the responsibility lies with parents to be more educated about respecting others and their identities.
Laura Atwood said:
"Teach respect—it's the bottom line."