By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN, Neb. — The parent who first sounded the alarm about a gender sensitivity training program in Lincoln schools says the training documents were leaked to her by teachers, but she never intended to create a media firestorm with them.
Rachel Terry, who has two children in the Lincoln school system, had made inquiries about a bullying program at the same school last year, so the teachers went to her with their concerns about gender inclusivity training Irving Middle School they undertook in September.
The training program made international news, particularly its “12-step program to gender inclusiveness,” where teachers were advised not to use “gendered expressions” such as “boys and girls” or “ladies and gentlemen,” but instead call students campers, scholars, readers, athletes or even a class mascot such as Purple Penguins.
After being contacted by Irving teachers, Terry emailed the training handouts to other parents and asked them to join her at a school board meeting Tuesday at 6 p.m., but she didn’t set out to make news. In fact, she initially rejected interview requests, but broke her silence after Superintendent Steve Joel held a press conference Thursday to condemn some national coverage as inaccurate. (She has since appeared on Fox & Friends and granted a couple of interviews.)
Joel said the training offered guidelines, not mandates, and defended the training program as important to combat bullying and make all students feel comfortable at school.
Joel said the teachers should have felt comfortable raising concerns with their principal, but Terry said they feared retaliation if they spoke out. She’s lived in Lincoln since 2012 and has never seen such an emphasis on bullying for sexual orientation and gender identity — including when she lived in the notoriously liberal community of Boulder, Colo.
Last year, her 11-year-old daughter came home upset about a bullying assembly in which high schools drama students acted out bullying scenarios, including one after a student came out as gay. The play included profanity and “talk about sexuality” that disturbed her daughter.
After many emails and phone calls, she eventually traced the assembly back to the high school drama teacher who wrote the script. School officials agreed to notify her before any future assemblies, and followed through. They allowed her to attend their next one for eighth-graders, a one-act play called “Anne & Emmett” about martyrs Anne Frank and Emmett Till.
The play didn’t bother Terry, but she was disturbed by the director’s comments afterward. Terry said he compared the martyrs to Matthew Shephard, a gay 21-year-old Wyoming man who was murdered in 1998, Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American who was shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida, and Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was raped and murdered near Falls City, Neb., in 1993.
Shortly after that, Terry learned the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles was doing outreach for LPS, and started looking into the district’s focus on sexual orientation and gender identity under “the guise of the bullying program.” She said she got virtually no response from LPS.
Terry notes that one of the gender inclusiveness training handouts was created by the Center for Gender Sanity, which helps with people transitioning to a different gender in the workplace.
Terry wants the district to stop using the training materials — saying they come from questionable sources — and will tell the school board as much Tuesday night. She expects about a dozen other parents to join her.
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