DAYTON, Ohio (WCMH) — Debate on LGBTQ+ inclusion is unfolding in two Ohio school districts after gender-fluid high school students were crowned prom king and queen and a neighboring district removed protections for LGBTQ+ students.
Kettering Fairmont High School crowned seniors Dai’Sean Conley and Rosie Green prom king and queen, garnering backlash from a vocal group of community members. Now, a 42-year-old Beavercreek man is facing charges for threatening LGBTQ+ students who attend the high school.
Within the same week and eight miles south, the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek School Board of Education removed anti-harassment protections for LGBTQ+ students during a five-hour long meeting where dozens of students and community members testified.
The two incidents in the Dayton area reflect ongoing conversations in schools and statehouses nationwide as lawmakers propose a record-breaking number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills. Ohio is one of nearly two dozen states introducing legislation reshaping how LGBTQ+ students learn and participate in schools and athletics.
High school prom crowning sparks threats
Brandon Moore, 42, of Beavercreek was arrested Wednesday after he called Kettering Fairmont High School to threaten students who identify within the LGBTQ+ community, according to the Kettering Police Department. Moore is facing one misdemeanor charge of inducing panic and telecommunications harassment.
The threat came after Conley and Green were voted by the school’s upperclassmen to be crowned prom king and queen on April 22. Conley told NBC4 the pair initially received encouragement after their crowning and were “showered in love” by their peers.
“It was a really, really sweet moment for me and I just felt so much love,” Conley said. “I couldn’t have asked for it to go any better, and I didn’t really hear any negative feedback.”
However, a debate began to grow in the following days as community members against Conley and Green’s crowning organized to testify before the district’s board of education. Conley became aware of the backlash through a Facebook post with disrespectful and untrue comments about them and Green.
“They were sexualizing the identities that Rosie and I have,” Conley said. “[They were] trying to make it into something so much more disgusting. It was not anything correct.”
A handful of those individuals attended the board’s meeting on May 4 to denounce LGBTQ+ inclusion in middle school and high school. Dayton resident Susan Blanford argued that the crowning was one of several “mandates and dictates currently being imposed” and “in contrast to the morals and ideas of Christianity and fairness of the majority.”
In response, a group of parents and students reached out to Conley to organize a rally outside the high school in support of the LGBTQ+ community. Conley said the event garnered the attention of students and allies across the school district, including the congregation from a supportive church in the area.
“It wasn’t just me and the LGBTQ+ community that goes to my school, there were people who were actually hearing about this and they wanted to come and show their support,” Conley said.
The high school will have an increased security presence following Moore’s threats, and classes were canceled on Tuesday after a student was arrested for posting a threat on social media.
Kettering City Schools said there are no plans to change the prom selection process, which entails write-in nominations and a voting period when all juniors and seniors can cast a ballot for one king and one queen.
“This is a student-led process overseen by Fairmont’s United Student Body (USB), Class Council, and Administration. This is the same process that has been followed for many years,” the district said. “If the student organizations are interested in changing the process, we will assist them in evaluating and determining any future changes and will continue to respect this to be a student-led initiative.”
Anti-harassment protections removed
A second debate on LGBTQ+ inclusion in schools unfolded eight miles south of Kettering as the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek School Board of Education voted 5-0 on April 27 to remove sexual orientation and gender identity from the district’s anti-harassment policy statement. Uncounted students and community members attended the nearly five-hour meeting in opposition.
The policy stated that the district was “against discriminatory harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity,) disability, age, religion, ancestry, or genetic information.” However, the board of education said the law surrounding the definition of “sex” remains unsettled and cited recent litigation and legislative disputes.
“[The definition of sex] is hotly contested, highly debated, constantly evolving in all different venues all around our county,” said Audra Dorn, vice president of the board, during the meeting on April 27. “Because of that, in our current version, our board policy, I find, is overly broad and in generality and it doesn’t properly summarize the law as it applies to our district.”
The board told NBC4 it believes it makes more sense to be consistent with the specific language used in federal and state statutes rather than trying to make assumptions about how these words may or may not be interpreted.
Still, several community members shouted “shame on you” as Dorn continued to explain the board’s rationale. Meredith Brinegar, psychologist and parent of a Bellbrook middle school student, said she has heard from students who continuously face discrimination.
“Whether you intend it or not, [these changes] send a message to LGBTQ+ students that they are not valued and may not be protected,” Brinegar said. “It also sends a message to current and future LGBTQ employees. I fear we will lose out on diverse and qualified teachers and staff because of this policy.”
Jennifer Alexander, a Centerville resident, encouraged the board to table the conversation and to host a “community work session” to provide a forum for teachers and counselors to share their opinions on the change.
“It is public record that each of you are registered Republicans in this county,” Alexander said. “Yet, as public school board members, you are supposed to leave your political ideologies at that damn door and your religious beliefs at home.”
Libby Durham, a Bellbrook high school student, said they feel unable to identify as their authentic self out of fear of experiencing bullying. Reagan Daily, the president of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance organization, said LGBTQ+ students have been facing violent harassment.
“There have been threats against the GSA club. Last year, there was someone who threatened to shoot up the GSA,” Daily said. “Last year, they came to our meeting and threatened us.”
The board affirmed to NBC4 that it does not tolerate discrimination and harassment, and said it does not see these changes to be a lessening of protections for students so much as a recognition of the unsettled nature of the law. In addition, members motioned to work on a local policy to further support for at-risk populations and pledged to meet with students and clubs like the GSA.