Moral Low Ground


Bayli Silberstein, Bisexual Florida 8th-Grader, Fights for Gay-Straight Alliance at Carver Middle School

A bisexual Florida eighth-grader’s efforts to start a Gay-Straight Alliance at her middle school– and the school’s refusal to allow the extracurricular club– have gained national attention.

Bayli Silberstein, 14, is an openly bisexual student at Carver Middle School in Leesburg, 44 miles (71 km) northwest of Orlando. The Orlando Sentinel reports that Silberstein has been trying to establish a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at the school since last year, hoping that such a club would help LGBT students combat bullying.

According to GSA’s national website, the mission of the Alliance is to work toward the creation of “safe environments in schools for students to support each other and learn about homophobia, transphobia and other oppressions,” to “educate the school community about homophobia, transphobia, gender identity, and sexual orientation issues,” and to “fight discrimination, harassment and violence in schools.”

Silberstein told WFTV that LGBT students at Carver are indeed being bullied and that she became the target of bullies in the seventh grade.

“It hurt,” Silberstein said of the bullying. “That is something I do not want to see continuing.”

But school officials aren’t allowing the creation of a GSA. The Lake County School Board is now considering a ban on all extracurricular clubs that aren’t related to academics in what appears to be an attempt to skirt anti-discrimination rules. School Board Chairwoman Kyleen Fischer, along with board members Bill Mathias and Debbie Stivender support the blanket ban, asserting that their position has nothing to do with specifically banning a Gay-Straight Alliance.

Critics are not so sure. And now the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has joined the fray, posting a petition on its website and urging the School Board to “stop the assault on students’ freedom of expression.” The ACLU is arguing that under the federal Equal Access Act, schools are not permitted to discriminate among clubs based on what they believe students should or should not discuss.

On Monday afternoon, more than 100 students, parents, religious leaders and community residents attended a Lake County School Board meeting to support and oppose the Gay-Straight Alliance. Many proponents wore red t-shirts in a show of support for Silberstein.

“A lot of kids are already mad with me, thinking I’m the reason their clubs are getting canceled,” Silberstein told reporters outside the meeting. “But I wanted to stand up for what I believe in and I’m not going to take no for an answer.”

“I expected more from adults,” Silberstein added. “I didn’t think they would be so judgmental about this.”

Rev. Brooks Braswell of the First Baptist Church in Umatilla, spoke out against the blanket ban, which he called “ridiculous.”

But there were also naysayers. Lori Pitner of Tavares compared the proposed Gay-Straight Alliance to a “gang.”

“It’s like gangs,” Pitner is quoted by the Sentinel. “More kids in gangs end up killed than are not in gangs. I don’t see this as any different.”

Silberstein vows to carry on her fight.

“I think that they [the School Board] believe if I move on to the high school they won’t have to deal with it, and I am not going to let that happen,” she told WFTV.

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