A pair of Pell City High School students claim they were discriminated against when the principal denied their request to have a float representing the lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, and queer student population in the homecoming parade.
Brianna Phillips, a 16-year-old junior, and Haley Youngblood, a 15-year-old sophomore, came up with the idea for a LGBTQ float for the Oct. 27 parade last month. Phillips said Principal Tony Dowdy seemed fine with the idea of letting students have a float at first. But that was before they told him the theme, they said.
Dowdy has not responded to multiple emails seeking comment about the situation.
Since the float was non-academic, the students said they had to get signatures from their peers. They returned to Dowdy's office on Sept. 27 with a petition with 110 signatures. Phillips claims Dowdy's demeanor began to change when they told him it was a LGBTQ-themed float.
"He basically told us that we were shoving down people's throats when we told him what it was," Phillips said. "And he said to throw all the signatures away."
Youngblood said she was stunned at Dowdy's response.
"Him saying that we couldn't after he found out about it made me mad, and it made me think he was against us (the LGBTQ students) and just didn't want us to be who we are," Youngblood said.
Phillips has been open about her bisexuality since a little more than a year ago. Although Youngblood has considered herself a lesbian since middle school, she started talking about her sexuality openly last year. Both students said they believed a float would make LGBTQ students less afraid to be who they are and they didn't want to give up on that mission.
The students said they plan to take the discussion to higher levels of authority. Phillips aunt started a petition on Change.org last week that has now received a little more than 50 percent of its 1,000-signature goal. The petition will be sent to Gov. Kay Ivey, the Alabama House of Representatives and the state Senate. Both students have been contacted by the LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality Alabama. Executive Director Alex Smith said the nonprofit is drafting a letter to send to the school. Phillips said they also want to present the petition to the city council.
"We normally get criticized and bullied for being ourselves," Phillips said. "I was thinking this is who we are and we are going to stand up for what we believe in. This is me. This us. We were going to be in there whether he likes it or not."
Even after the homecoming parade is over, both Phillips and Youngblood said they would like to create more events for LGBTQ youth. One of their goals is to create a PrideFest, a weekend-long festival celebrating LGBTQ pride, in Pell City. Whether it's the float or a festival, Phillips said they will continue representing the LGBTQ community.
"This isn't going to be an idea in the back of our head. This is goal and we are going to achieve it," she said....Read more