A bisexual middle school student has become something of an LGBT celebrity in Florida this week, after her attempt to start a Gay-Straight Alliance club at her school became a countywide controversy.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, eighth-grader Bayli Silberstein, an openly bisexual 14-year-old, has been working to get a GSA at Carver Middle School since last year, and she now has the backing of the ACLU and many in her community.
Silberstein said she is hoping the club will help support LGBT students who feel bullied because of their sexual identity at Carver, according to Florida-based broadcaster WFTV.
But school officials seem less than enthused about the idea, reportedly denying her initial request for the club and delaying their response.
Apparently inspired in part by Silberstein's activism at Carver, the Lake County School Board is weighing restrictions that would place limits on on extra-curricular clubs in area middle schools. Earlier in February, board members Bill Mathias and Debbie Stivender, along with Chairwoman Kyleen Fischer, spoke in favor of banning all extra-curricular clubs in secondary schools, with two other members proposing they apply the proposed limits only in middle schools. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Chairwoman Fischer in particular spoke out against any sort of "social engineering" in schools.
WFTV reports that Silberstein and her supporters on Monday packed a school board meeting debating the restrictions, which board members claim are not motivated by the proposed GSA. Many in the crowd were wearing red “Standing with Bayli” shirts, and speakers testified on both sides of the issue. The high attendance numbers forced the meeting to change venues.
The Florida chapter of the ACLU publicized Monday's meeting, hoping that a presence at the meeting would "demonstrate to members of the Lake County School Board that the public supports Bayli’s right to form a Gay-Straight Alliance," according to a press release.
“People are upset and want the school board to know that sacrificing the needs of all students isn’t fair," wrote Joyce Hamilton Henry, Mid-Florida Regional Director for the ACLU, "and that Bayli and her friends should be allowed to form their club to make Carver a safer school.”
In a press release, Florida's LGBT-rights group Equality Florida said the district board's actions were not surprising.
“The Lake County School Board continues to enable bullies over the safety of their students,” Equality Florida’s Michael Farmer said. “This is just the latest example of the need for the Lake County School Board to adopt an anti-bullying policy and a nondiscrimination policy that includes LGBT students and staff.”