Note: This is a continuing series of interviews with students from Union County High School’s Gay Straight Alliance in Maynardville, Tenn. For a little background on the history of the GSA and their non-renewed teacher sponsor Chris Richeson, please read this post.
Briana Crowley was a sophomore at Union County High School last year when she experienced hate alongside her friend Brady Blanton. Brady, president of the school’s new Gay Straight Alliance, had rainbow bracelets promoting the GSA and was giving them to interested students.
“At lunch, a guy came up and asked if he could have one,” said Briana. “Brady said yes. The guy takes it and breaks it right in front of us and throws it on the table. It made me feel angry. I want to know why he couldn’t just let it alone. He didn’t have to come up to us and start any type of drama.”
This incident was just one piece of what Briana describes as a culture of discrimination and hatred against LGBTQ students at the school, students going out of their way to let the GSA know that it wasn’t welcome there. And, she said, many teachers did nothing to stop it.
When the GSA posted flyers for an after-school showing of the movie “Philadelphia,” students opposed to the GSA waged a campaign to tear the flyers down. When students tore the posters down, GSA students put more in their place.
One day, Briana and her friends caught an opposed student in action.
“The guy came up to the posters are we were about to walk away. He ripped the posters down and tried to walk away as fast as he could,” she said. “We asked him why he did that. He started yelling negative things at us. I don’t remember what exactly, but there were cuss words. There was a teacher walking down the hallway, and all she said was, ‘Girls, go to class.'”
As the year progressed, Briana saw more and more backlash against the GSA. It leaked onto social media. Briana felt that the GSA was unfairly blamed for unrest at the school.
“The GSA was in trouble because we were told we were spreading violence,” she said. “Even though we were the victims we were treated like we were doing wrong. We were accused of spreading violence or telling people they were wrong for not supporting gay rights.
“It was really awful to see because a lot of it came from the adults that are supposed to look out for us.”
Briana did not have Chris Richeson’s classes, but she remembers him being a positive influence on students in the hallways, finding positive ways to warn students against bad behavior.
“He was always extremely accepting of everyone,” she said. “He genuinely cared about every single student. He treated you like a person. He wasn’t afraid to stick up for us even if it meant losing his job.
“He is literally one of the best teachers at the school. They just had no logical reason whatsoever to fire him. I think it’s really bad because I don’t think the school board really cares about the students and what they have to say. He had a huge impact on our lives. He helped everyone.
“If the school board doesn’t see that, then they don’t deserve to have him in their school system.”
Briana was in the audience during the school board meeting in which Richeson and GSA students addressed the school board. The school board affirmed that the GSA could continue at UCHS, but they did not respond to student requests to rehire Richeson.
“I think that it was a great thing that all the supporters of the GSA were there and standing up for something we believe in,” she said. “The speakers were courageous, but I don’t think the school board cares what we have to say. I think they let us speak because they thought if they didn’t they would get some backlash for that.”
School in Union County starts in just a few weeks, and so far no teacher has volunteered to sponsor the GSA. After what happened to Richeson, Briana is worried that no teachers will come forward.
“I’m worried that we won’t have a sponsor, and if we don’t I don’t know what we’re going to do,” she said. “If we do get a sponsor, that would be great just to keep spreading awareness and love and do what we started out to do.
“Even though we don’t have (Richeson), we still have each other. We’re going to continue to fight for what we believe in, no matter what.”