On Wednesday, students at the MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas performed a walkout after the school allegedly engaged in "targeted discrimination" against LGBT+ children and teachers.
Students marched out of their classrooms wearing rainbow hearts that had previously been used to mark safe spaces in the school. Only a few weeks prior, those stickers had been removed without warning.
Rachel Stonecipher is an English teacher and sponsor of the campus' Gay Straight Alliance. She kept the stickers on her door as one of the few openly lesbian teachers in the school.
Stonecipher told DFW News:
"I was freaked. The kids were freaked out."
"I was a little scared too because I'm the only openly, very obviously gay teacher, lesbian teacher."
Stonecipher was one of many teachers looking for answers from the school administration.
A memo was sent to staff by the principal:
"We want to send a different tone this year."
"The district's position is that our responsibility is to make campuses a safe zone for all students, not just in our classrooms, but on every inch of our campus."
"To ensure that all students feel safe regardless of background or identity, the district has developed guidelines to ensure that posters, banners and stickers placed in classrooms, hallways or offices are curriculum driven and neutral in viewpoint."
It also said teachers need to keep their personal opinions on their personal time, essentially claiming the safe space for LGBTQ+ students stickers are political or sectarian.
A spokesperson told CBS11 the policy states:
"Teachers shall not use the classroom to transmit personal beliefs regarding political or sectarian issues."
Students had previously gone to the school board to express their concerns about removing the stickers. It was a way students knew who they could turn to for help.
Tensions grew after several students who were previously known to attend the Gay Straight Alliance meetings were "randomly" questioned by administration.
Sophomore Alyssa Harbin described to board members she sat at the head of a table for a 45 minute interview that felt more like a "long, drawn out interrogation."
"All of these randomly selected people have been to at least one Gay Straight Alliance meeting making it feel extremely targeted."
Stonecipher was escorted off campus last week.
Junior Breanna Belvin told trustees:
"GSA students are also extremely concerned for one of our sponsors, Ms. Stonecipher."
Students have gotten an outpouring of support on social media, calling out the board and everyone enforcing this "neutrality" policy.
Belvin said Stonecipher has not been seen at school since she was removed from class last week by administrators.
No one in administration nor Stonecipher could comment on her employment status or being removed from campus.
She did send a message to all those holding signs with her name on it at the protest:
"I'm fine. The kids don't need to be concerned about me."
"Look, this job is way too hard, way too hard to be a teacher for us not to be here because we care."
Stonecipher said, stickers or not, there are teachers at MacArthur High School that will always be allies to the LGBTQ+ students.
According to Irving Weekly, two teachers who refused to take down their safe space stickers were disciplined by the principal for taking a stand. Students became very upset after learning about this.
Irving ISD provided a statement about the walkout:
"Irving ISD is aware of the walkout protest that is currently taking place at MacArthur High School. All students are safe."
Several protests against anti-LGBTQ+ policies have been cropping up across the country. Students and teachers alike have been standing up against discrimination towards LGBTQ+ community members.
A California Catholic high school threatened outing a gay student to her parents. 200 students protested outside Bishop Amat Memorial High School for forcing disciplinary meetings and counseling and barring the gay student from sitting next to her girlfriend at lunch.
In August, around 50 students at Valor Christian High School walked out to show support for LGBTQ students and to tell administration they will not tolerate bigotry or discrimination. A volleyball coach was allegedly forced to resign after school officials learned of his sexuality.
A peaceful protest was formed at the Niles New Tech school in Michigan after the school did next to nothing after an LGBTQ+ student was bullied and told to kill themselves. One student said ever since they came to the school they had homophobic slurs thrown their way and they demanded the school put a stop to it.
A protest for the suspension of a teacher who came out as bisexual happened earlier this month at Winterset High School in Iowa. Students launched a petition which currently has over 4,000 signatures. Their goal is 5,000 signatures.
Thanks to the power of social media, it's become increasingly harder for schools to hide their anti-LGBTQ+ policies and the lawsuits they will fight to the bitter end at a huge cost to taxpayers or private school budgets.
Meanwhile, not being homophobic or transphobic is free.