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Pittsburgh LGBTQ student groups call for protections for their non-binary and trans peers

A person holds a cardboard sign reading "Black trans lives matter."
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
A coalition of Pittsburgh Public Schools Gender and Sexual Alliances and Student Unions are asking the district for greater protections for trans and non-binary students.

LGBTQ groups in Pittsburgh Public Schools are calling for more protections for trans and non-binary students following the death of non-binary Oklahoma teen Nex Benedict. The coalition of 10 Gender Sexuality Alliances and Student Unions penned the letter to the district, which seeks increased advocacy for queer students, curricula that’s more LGBTQ-inclusive and enforcement of the district’s gender-inclusive policies.

“The GSAs collaborating is really important because it shows that we’re not just segmented into all these different schools,” said Michael, a Brashear High School GSA member who preferred we not use his last name. “We all care about each other. We will collaborate. We are all PPS at the end of the day.”

The letter opens with the background of what happened to Nex Benedict, who was involved in an altercation at their Oklahoma high school in February and died the next day. Their death has since been ruled a suicide, but Michael and Frankie, another Brashear GSA student, say the deeper issues of bullying, transphobia and homophobia linger in almost every school.

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At their first GSA meeting after Benedict’s death, Michael said emotions were “raw,” especially considering not all the students involved in the group were aware of what had taken place.

“Some of our members were finding out about [the incident] for the first time,” Michael said. “They were processing while we were talking about it. So we really didn’t hold anything back.”

Those conversations led to action. Within days, Michael and Frankie started drafting a statement and reaching out to GSAs and GSSUs in other PPS locations. Frankie, also a senior at Brashear, said he hopes the letter will motivate districts even outside Pittsburgh to take action.

“What can we do in this school? What can we do in that school? We’re all talking about these issues, but what’s actually going on within each school? What are the problems we’re noticing?” Frankie said.

In the statement by the students are three main action points:

  • “Advocate for trans and non-binary students within the district
  • Address the woeful lack of LGBTQ representation in district K-12 curricula
  • Act now to ensure that the district’s gender-inclusive policy is equitably enforced in all Pittsburgh schools through high-quality training of all adults — not just teachers — who work directly with students.”

In 2016, PPS approved a policy that would allow transgender and gender expansive students to use pronouns, names and bathrooms that best fit their identity. But Michael and Frankie at Brashear said they hope that enforcement of these policies continue in PPS classrooms and extend to other area districts. They’re also hoping that adult educators step up to help foster inclusive and accepting environments.

“Every single school needs… just an adult who will fight for them and give them a voice,” Michael said. “When you have the support from an adult in your building and you know that you can go to them, it just makes it all better.”

While PPS didn’t respond to a request for comment, Michael and Frankie said they had separately reached out to Superintendent Wayne Walters and received positive feedback about actions he’d push for within the district.

Katie Blackley is a digital editor/producer for 90.5 WESA and 91.3 WYEP, where she writes, edits and generates both web and on-air content for features and daily broadcast. She's the producer and host of our Good Question! series and podcast. She also covers history and the LGBTQ community.