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Local groups urge federal court to support LGBTQ-inclusive lessons at Mt. Lebanon School District

A rainbow LGBTQ pride flag.
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Local groups are urging a federal district judge to side with Mt. Lebanon School District in a case that has dragged on for more than a year regarding LGBTQ-inclusive curricula.

The elementary school parents who originally filed the case in 2022 argued families have a right to opt their children out of LGBTQ-centered lessons. The question is part of a larger, nationwide partisan fight over parental rights.

“This litigation is not happening in a vacuum. There is a nationwide movement attempting to undercut the rights and protections of transgender individuals, and students are often at the heart of this,” said Jackie Perlow, a supervising attorney at the Women’s Law Project.

Perlow, along with lawyers at the Community Justice Project, filed the brief earlier this week on behalf of Lebo Pride, a local LGBTQ advocacy group.

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The group said opt-out policies like the one the plaintiffs are proposing undermine the effectiveness of lessons on inclusivity and stigmatize LGBTQ students.

“Allowing some students to get up and leave the classroom when the topic turns to your identity as a student is stigmatizing,” Perlow added. “It draws further negative attention to your identity.

“It makes students feel less able to be themselves in the classroom, less confident in their identity, less comfortable in that environment.”

As a district, Mt. Lebanon is one of the wealthiest in Allegheny County, and serves roughly 5,500 students. After the lawsuit was filed, students there began meeting regularly to develop a policy that would protect LGBTQ+ students from discrimination by both students and staff.

Among those students was Lexi Byrom, who graduated from the district in 2023. Her testimony was filed with the court via an affidavit alongside the amicus brief.

“If provided with representation and given the words to understand gender diversity, including the existence and experiences of transgender people, not only will students like me be able to understand who they are, but other students will also be able to understand and respect who we are,” Byrom said.

“An opt out feels like a public statement that really invalidates my existence as a human being, like it’s up for debate whether other students need to respect and recognize my very existence. And, those students who opt out would never learn how to deal with transgender people in the real world, when they leave school, which they will have to do.”

The parents who filed the lawsuit alleged their civil rights were violated when they were not given the option to opt out of lessons taught by a first-grade teacher about gender dysphoria and transgender transitioning.

According to an attorney for the school district, two of the three plaintiffs no longer reside in the district.

Each party will have the chance to file one last round of briefs by March 6. Attorneys said a decision in the case could come later this spring.

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.