In Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach, Florida, two girls held hands and the world came crashing down. Consequentially, the lesbians have been banned from holding hands while walking to class because what’s next, dogs holding hands? They’ve also been threatened with suspension. Furthermore, the principal outed them to their parents! One girl was already out, but the other wasn’t. Yeah. So!
The girls, who are indeed girlfriends, say they’d been warned before about holding hands but, confused about why straight kids were allowed to hold hands but they weren’t, continued holding hands.
“We were walking to class when he rolled up on his golf cart and said, ‘Didn’t I tell you two to stop doing do that?’ and then he took us to his office. He gave us a speech and then separated us before calling our parents, which was wrong. My mother already knew but my friend’s mom didn’t know she is into girls.”
In other words (via Queerty):
Two weeks ago, Karlton Johnson the Principal of Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach, Florida spotted two students holding hands, and he jumped in his Princemobile (a golf cart) to chase them down, separate them, and then call their parents to gossip about them. Yeesh. If ever there was a situation that called for an It Gets Better video, this is it.
This is his contact information:
Principal Karlton Johnson:
One of the girls, a junior with a 3.5 grade point average, emailed school officials regarding this incident, saying:
“There has been a situation in my upcoming [sic] school, Blanche Ely High, dealing with discrimination against the gay/lesbian community. Our principal here has tried to suspend me and my friend for holding hands. And I would like to know if such actions are necessary for something so fragile.”
North Area Superintendent Sharon Airaghi was sent the complaint and on May 13th. Her response? TOTALLY OKAY! Totally within his rights and so forth. Also:
“However, let me take this opportunity to share with you that our District operates under what is termed as ‘site-based/school-based’ management system. This means that the principal, within the guidelines of District’s policies, has jurisdiction to create in-house measures that impact the entire school. These measures fall under the principal’s purview as a site-based manager.
“It is my understanding that the holding of hands on campus is not an acceptable practice at Blanche Ely High School. This practice is applicable to all students, regardless of age, race, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, national origin, religious sects, as indentified in School Board’s Nondiscrimination Policy.”
Broward County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs wasn’t so sure. On Monday night, her public outreach coordinator distributed an email to the media:
According to the article, earlier this month the school’s principal confronted an interracial lesbian couple who were holding hands, brought them into his office, gave them a speech and then separately called their mothers, one of which did not know that her daughter was gay. The School Board has cleared the principal of any wrongdoing, stating that the school has a blanket policy against holding hands that applies to all genders, races, sexual orientations, etc. However, a search of Blanche Ely High School’s website links only to the School Board’s code of conduct, and does not reference any school-specific policy against hand-holding.
Commissioner Jacobs was frustrated to learn that this kind of discrimination is happening in our schools in this era. She believes that Broward County passed a Human Rights Ordinance for a reason, and singling out gay students for an innocuous, harmless activity like holding hands is not within the spirit of that ordinance or the community.
A senior pastor of the Pompano Beach Worldwide Christian Center Church is supporting the principal despite being critical of him in the past. In fact he’s not sure when everyone discarded the memo about cooties and lust:
“I am surprised there is not a clear policy that prohibits all kids from hugging, kissing or holding hands/ He should be commended for trying to make the school a better environment for learning.”
The Director of Youth and Family for Sunshine Social Service Inc (I have no idea) told the South Florida Times she was ‘particularly concerned that the school district supports “outing” or revealing a student’s sexuality.’
“It’s irresponsible because these kids are literally being put in danger. I see it all the time. The parents are not prepared to hear this information and the youths end up abused or homeless after being thrown out of the house. This is serious.”
Her response to the principal’s decision?
“I think that it’s a homophobic reaction from the principal because clearly they are not suspending boys and girls for holding hands, only gays. We are talking about holding hands here, not kissing or some other activity.”
This is undeniably problematic. But it’s also awesome that these girls are standing up for themselves. It keeps happening, kids speaking out — kids who can’t wear what they want in the yearbook or take a girl to prom or be on this-or-that court with another lady. In some areas of the country, this generation has grown up in a much more tolerant universe than the one I knew or people older than me knew. They also have more access to media than ever before because of the internet, which means a shorter path to having local stories told nationally.
A video of the story can be seen on CBS News. CBS was, in a tragic convergence of a bad event + a devastatingly horrible event, not the only camera crew on campus this week. The Broward County School Board just awarded a $1 million settlement to a student who was raped by her math teacher at Blanche Ely. The survivor’s attorney says two other female students had complained to school officials about the math teacher being inappropriate, but he continued teaching because school officials report that in situations like this,“they typically believe the teacher and not the student.” Katerria, now 19, held a press conference Wednesday morning, speaking out /showing her face for the first time. She wants victims of sexual abuse to know that they are not alone. She plans to go to law school.
These are some brave kids. I hope adults figure out sooner rather than later how to do right by them.