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LGBTQ+ affirming charter school in Alabama survives one year

by Tanesha Peeples
LGBTQ+ affirming charter school in Alabama survives one year
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Magic City Acceptance Academy, located in Homewood, Alabama, is the country’s first LGBTQ+ affirming charter school. The academy first opened its doors in 2021 with a mission to facilitate a community in which all learners are empowered to embrace education, achieve individual success, and take ownership of their future in a brave, LGBTQ-affirming learning environment.

With 240 youth currently enrolled, the student body consists of young people who identify as trans, gay, straight, bisexual, queer and gender-neutral.

Students report coming to the school seeking refuge from bullying and a space where they can be themselves. Research has shown LGBTQ youth in Alabama are three times more likely to attempt suicide compared to their peers. Also, they’re twice as likely to not go to school because they felt unsafe or experienced violence on campus.

In Huntsville, Alabama, fifteen year old Nigel Shelby committed suicide in 2019 because of extreme bullying at his school. Nigel’s mother Camika Shelby wished her son had the opportunity to attend Magic City Acceptance Academy.  In an interview with NBC she said, “It’s sad that you have to open a particular kind of school for these kids to feel safe when they should feel safe in any school.”

LGBTQ+ affirming school faces attacks from governor

Shelby’s family is currently suing the Huntsville school district claiming it violated Title VI, which prohibits intentional discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin, and Title IX, which prohibits public schools from ignoring harassment based on gender stereotyping.

While the school’s mission is to promote safety and acceptance, it has been the target of several campaign attack ads by Alabama’s gubernatorial candidates.

Current Governor Kay Ivey recently signed a bill into law criminalizing gender-affirming care, making it a felony to provide trans youth certain medications and preventing them from accessing facilities in schools that match their gender identity. Kindergarten through fifth grade teachers are also prohibited from engaging in instruction related to sexual orientation or gender identity. 

In an interview defending the legislation, Ivey said, “If the Lord makes you a boy when you’re born, you’re a boy. If the Lord makes you a girl when you’re born, you’re a girl.”

Principal won’t back down 

Ivey’s challenger Tim James has also targeted the school. In a 30 second campaign ad, he stated, “Now here in Alabama, we charted the first transgender school in the South using millions of your tax dollars. The faculty put on a drag show for children. That’s not education. That’s exploitation.”

Because of these political assaults, the school has had to increase security measures to protect students and staff. And while students are relieved to have a space to call their own, some also expressed having a larger target on their backs with attending such a unique school.

Nonetheless, Founding Principal Michael Wilson plans to forge ahead with the school’s mission. He said, “In this day and time, we need to be intentionally inclusive in all spaces. We need to create learning communities that are rooted in social and restorative justice. These are the ideals I espouse as an educator and believe these are the pathways to success for all students.”

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