Brittany Dyer, green t-shirt, hugs Ellis Gentry, who is wrapped in a gay pride flag, prior to the start of the Springfield Public School Board of Education meeting. Dyer rallied supporters of the LGBTQ+ community to gather before the meeting and Gentry came from Nixa to be "Here for the community." (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Standing among 80 supporters of LGBTQ+ students outside the Springfield Public Schools administrative building on Feb. 28, Brittany Dyer said she hoped school board members would take notice of the turnout and ultimately agree to produce a statement of support for LGBTQ+ students and employees. 

It’s a request Dyer, Glo Center President Kyler Sherman-Wilkins and others have made throughout the school year. So far, the board and the district have not acted on it. Meanwhile, 365 people have signed a petition backing the statement of support

“My biggest hope is that they understand this isn’t just one or two parents that have these concerns,” Dyer said. “It’s a collective issue that our community is trying to address. And then, if I’m being honest with you, beyond the board I want to make sure those students and those staff and those families hear us and know that they are not alone and that they are supported here in our community.”

But Dyer and other event organizers also wanted their supporters to feel safe in the process. 

Before doors at the Kraft Administrative Center opened to let in scores of attendees to the Feb. 28 SPS board meeting, Dani Lacio circulated a sign-up sheet in the parking lot. Lacio, a Springfield-based equality organizer with the statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy group Promo, said they were signing people up for a private mailing list in response to heightened rhetoric on social media that led up to the meeting.

Dyer, who organized the “Stand for Pride in SPS” gathering, pointed to a Facebook post made by someone seeking to mobilize counter-protesters. It asked people to fly their Christian or American flags and, in response to Dyer’s publicized request for supporters to wear brightly colored clothing, instead “wear black or white to melt their little brains.”  

Springfield Public School Board of Education member Steve Makoski turns to a television monitor to listen to Board member Scott Crise speak from a remote location. Additional Springfield Public School police officers were present at the meeting. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

It also read: “ABSOLUTELY no violence. Just unification of patriots.” 

At a time when Missouri lawmakers have filed numerous anti-LGBTQ+ bills, including House and Senate versions of a “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Dyer said the poster’s need to clarify that violence not be committed raised alarms of its own.  

“There were literally protesters outside,” Dyer said while making a public comment to the board. “I had threats all week long on my life and my family’s life to speak at a public meeting. Can you imagine how our students are feeling in the classroom if it feels one percent how I feel here in this room? I am a grown adult, and I am anxious to be here. I am shaking right now. My life is threatened to be here for these students, and you remain silent.” 

Behind Dyer in the main meeting room, two people shook their heads and one mouthed the word, “No” as Dyer spoke of the threat of violence she experienced.

During a previous public comment session, Dyer told the board that a message of support in a school hallway saved her “from her own self-destruction.” A district-wide message could help hundreds of students at a time when surveys point to nearly half of LGBTQ+ youth seriously contemplating suicide.

“This district has continued to choose politics over people over and over and over,” Dyer said. “We are asking you for basic human decency, and we have gotten silence from you. This is not about progressives versus conservatives or Republicans versus Democrats. We’re talking about human lives. We are talking about children. I know that we can do better.”

Kaley Harris of Springfield is a paraprofessional in the public school system, and attended the board meeting Feb. 28. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Sherman-Wilkins, who is also an assistant professor of sociology at Missouri State University, said a statement of support is the “bare minimum” the district can offer students, before focusing the bulk of his comments on condemning the actions of Maryam Mohammadkhani during a Youth Empowerment Summit session on the MSU campus. 

Sherman-Wilkins first brought the request for a statement of support before the board at a September 2022 meeting, and he has asked for support during numerous public comment sessions that followed. 

“Academic success is contingent on having an environment where our diverse students feel supported,” Sherman-Wilkins said during the Jan. 17 board meeting, and he said the current environment wasn’t providing one for queer students at SPS. 

“Whether it be the Kickapoo pride flag debacle, questions about the appropriateness of Safe Zone stickers, sitting board members evoking the bigoted rhetoric of gays as groomers, combined with the state legislators’ insistence of introducing legislation that harms queer individuals, such as bans on gender-affirming care,” Sherman-Wilkins said. “All of this creates an environment where many of our queer students find it impossible to learn. I know this because they have told me.”

Dyer is submitting testimony in support of the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of parties protected from housing and employment discrimination by the Missouri Human Rights Act. The bill would also protect LGBTQ+ people from public accommodations discrimination, like being barred from eating at a restaurant. A version of the MONA bill has been submitted to the legislation every year, and has never been passed, “which is mindblowing within itself,” Dyer said. The latest version of the bill will be up for discussion in Jefferson City on Wednesday.

Draft of statement of support, written by advocates and proposed to SPS:

In January, Kyler Sherman-Wilkins emailed Springfield Public Schools board members a draft of the proposed language he requests the district adopt to support queer students and staff. So far, no action has been taken regarding the request. Here is the proposed draft created by Sherman-Wilkins:

WHEREAS the School District of Springfield R-12 Board of Education
is committed to maintaining a learning and working environment that is free from discrimination and harassment where all individuals are treated with dignity and respect; and

WHEREAS we acknowledge the pain, fear and anger that homophobia,
transphobia, and bigotry, both nationally and locally, have caused for our
students, staff, and their families; and

WHEREAS Springfield Public Schools will not tolerate any behavior which detracts from the positive, safe and respectful culture we expect in all of our schools; and

WHEREAS we desire to assure our students, parents, employees and community members that we will increase our work to maintain a safe and positive environment; and

WHEREAS we reaffirm our dedication to take all actions necessary to make our school district a place where people feel safe and valued; and

WHEREAS we recognize the many staff and students who are leading by
example and working hard to create learning environments that are
welcoming to all students, and we encourage them to continue their important work; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, the Springfield R-12 Board of Education on this XX day of
MONTH YEAR, hereby expresses dedication to enforcing established policies which prohibit discrimination, harassment and bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity; and promises continued collaboration with community groups to listen, take action and improve the culture of inclusion in all our schools.

Cory Matteson

Cory Matteson moved to Springfield in 2022 to join the team of Daily Citizen journalists and staff eager to launch a local news nonprofit. He returned to the Show-Me State nearly two decades after graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Prior to arriving in Springfield, he worked as a reporter at the Lincoln Journal Star and Casper Star-Tribune. More by Cory Matteson