High school's difficult enough. LGBTQ students shouldn't have to fight their school boards, too.

York Dispatch editorial board

"I just want to get through math."

That's what Red Lion Area High School senior Parker Smith told his district's elected school board members last week as they considered a raft of policies that would discriminate against LGBTQ students.

High school is difficult enough already, what with the pressure for young people to know what they want to do with their lives while they're still navigating dating, friendship and, of course, algebra. Today's youth also have to deal with the unrealistic standards set by social media influencers and the residual stresses of lost classroom time due to the pandemic.

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It appears districts like Central York, Red Lion and South Western want to make life more difficult for students by dabbling in the culture wars.

Red Lion already handed down a discriminatory "emergency directive" last December requiring students to use the facilities that correspond to the gender on their birth certificates.

That policy was bad enough, requiring busy staff members to double as the potty police, forcing students like Parker to race across school to a private, gender neutral restroom.

Red Lion Area senior Parker Smith plans to fight for his fellow transgender students as the school board considers restrictive bathroom, sports and pronouns policies. Meredith Willse photo

“I nearly peed myself having to run all the way across campus trying to get to the guidance office,” Parker said after last Thursday night's board meeting.

Now, Red Lion officials are doubling down.

Taking the lead of York County Republican state Rep. Dawn Keefer, one proposal the school's considering would ban transgender students from competing in athletics unless the team is already co-ed — and there aren't many co-ed sports, particularly once students reach high school.

Furthermore, the district has written a policy about names and pronouns that would require parents to submit documentation in order for staff to properly address students.

If parents jump through that hoop — certainly not a given, as many LGBTQ people come from abusive, intolerant households — there's a provision being considered that undermines the wishes of the affirming parents. Under the draft policy, students and staff would be exempt from respecting a student's gender identity if doing so is "inconsistent with their beliefs."

Red Lion is once again bullying its LGBTQ students.

Even before this winter's "emergency directive," a misnomer if there ever was one, the district had a long history of bigotry. Back in 2013, the school district refused to include a transgender student on its ballot for 2013 senior prom king. Instead, the school listed the trans boy on the ballot for prom queen using his birth name.

And Red Lion has some powerful allies. The district recruited a far-right Harrisburg thinktank, Independence Law Center, to help author these policies. Ironically, the nonprofit's stated mission is to "defend human life" — a commitment that presumably does not extend to LGBTQ lives.

Last week, State Rep. Wendy Fink, R-Windsor Township, even turned out to express her support, publicly declaring that she would stand behind the district in defense of the policies.

State Rep. Wendy Fink, speaking at the Red Lion school board meeting about trans policies in Red Lion on Thursday, May 18, 2023.

All this makes Parker's stance even more courageous.

This young man has been bullied for much of his young life, and now he's facing similar harassment from powerful political forces, including his elected state representative.

Parker's about to graduate, meaning he won't have to make the dash across campus himself, but he plans to keep fighting.

“My friends are still in this school,” he told us last week. “They’re still being affected even after I leave. They need somebody to fight for them.”

This is a situation where the righteous position is clear: Red Lion must not advance these discriminatory policies.

We stand with Parker and all of the young people who face bullying at the hands of powerful adults.