Students at Bearden High School protested recommended changes in the language of the district's harassment policy pertaining to LGBTQ students and employees on Friday.
The demonstration organized by the Bearden High School Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) was planned to protest changes some students worry could lead to discrimination.
The changes would remove language like "actual or perceived gender" and "sexual orientation" and replace them with the word "sex" in the school district's harassment policy for employees and students.
"They are trying to take away the protections that already exist for LGBT people instead of just adding the word sex into the existing policy," said Bailey Burroughs, a member of the Bearden High School GSA and organizer of the demonstration. "It's alarming. As an LGBT student myself, and having family members, and friends, and even staff that I know that would be put at risk by this, I'm horrified."
The policy as it stands would continue to include protections from harassment of anyone based on age, national origin, disability, religion, race, color, genetics, veteran status "or any other federally protected area."
The Knox County Board of Education brought up the topic at their meeting in September. Board members said that if the changes in language were adopted, there would be no change as to who is protected.
"When you say sex, it covers everything," said Gloria Deathridge, Board of Education member representing the first district. "I don't want people to think we just ignored them and try to take it out, because we didn't. We tried to cover it and use a different type of terminology."
Citing guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Tennessee Human Rights Commission, the county's deputy law director said the changes would fall in line with the language in state and federal laws and would still cover all people.
"When you're talking about sex legally, and specifically in regards to discrimination, you're talking about gender identity and sexual orientation," Knox County Deputy Law Director Gary Dupler said.
In a statement, the district wrote, "Knox County Schools does not tolerate discrimination or harassment of its students and employees for any reason. Proposed changes to the policies would not limit those protections."
The board is expected to decide how to move forward at their board meeting in October.