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Support for LGBTQ students after SPS board 'gender identity' comments – News-Leader

A group of Springfield parents, friends and family members of LGBTQ students stepped up their support this weekend after two Springfield school board members were part of a radio show Friday focused on gender identity issues.
Board member Steve Makoski, guest host of the two-hour show on KWTO, said gender identity issues can be distracting in the learning environment and “does hinder student achievement.” Maryam Mohammadkhani, board vice president, questioned the impact of “Safe Space” stickers in the classroom.
Makoski, Mohammadkhani and one of three other guests — a public policy advisor for the Missouri Baptist Convention — expressed concern adults in the school setting may “groom” vulnerable students, either ideologically or sexually.
The group, PFLAG Springfield, said it launched a new website and billboard in light of recent issues in the district — including removal of Pride flags from a few classrooms at one high school — and what it described as “anti-LGBTQ+ and specifically transphobic rhetoric” used by board members during the show.
“It is clear that the personal opinions of Makoski and Mohammadkhani are in fact influencing the policies they support and decisions they make in their roles on the SPS Board of Education. At separate points during the KWTO program, both board members referred to hard-working, caring, and effective teachers as groomers. This language is not only abhorrent and unacceptable, it is dangerous,” said Aaron Schekorra, president of the PFLAG Springfield board.
More: On radio, SPS board member talks gender identity, Pride flags, Safe Space stickers
“Painting those who disagree with you as dangerous individuals whose aim is to harm the children they work with in their classrooms, is rhetoric that can, and will, incite violence. Steve Makoski even went as far as to call for people to take action and come ‘to the defense of these children’ and to ‘step up and intervene.'”
The billboard on Battlefield Road, just west of Glenstone Avenue, includes the message: “Springfield students, we’ve got your back.” It also encourages the public to make their “voice heard” by emailing the entire school board and PFLAG Springfield through a new website
“This line of attack on the queer community has become all too common in our community and it is disappointing to see it applied to some of our most underappreciated civil servants, teachers,” Schekorra said. “Already, PFLAG Springfield has heard from educators who do not feel safe in the classroom as a result of rhetoric like this.”
As of midday Tuesday, 30 emails had been sent to the board and a handful agreed to share their messages with the News-Leader.
In one email, Kit Creemer, the parent of two transgender children, suggested the board members who participated in the radio show ought to spend time with the family of an SPS student who is transgender.
“Shadow the student at school for a day and see what types of obstacles they face, how it feels for them to see a Safe Space sticker on a teacher’s door, and learn to view teachers who take a special interest not as ‘groomers’ but as caring human beings who want to keep all children alive and well,” Creemer wrote. “Spend a day with the parent of a transgender child and experience the extra stressors society places on them as they fight for their kid’s well-being rather than callously and ignorantly implying they are a participant in their child’s destruction.”
Creemer cited a 2020 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed 29 percent of transgender youth have been threatened or injured with a weapon on school property; roughly 30 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual students have been bullied on school property; and 29 percent of transgender youth have attempted suicide. 
Creemer also cited The Trevor Project’s most recent National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, which showed 52 percent of all transgender and nonbinary young people in the U.S. seriously contemplated killing themselves in 2020.
“We need school board members, administrators, teachers, and support staff who educate themselves on the data, learn how to protect and help LGBTQ students flourish, and possess a strong desire to lessen the prominence of these statistics in the Springfield Public Schools,” Creemer wrote.
“Some educators have this desire and demonstrate it by the work they do with LGBTQ students and the inclusion of Pride flags and Safe Space stickers in their classrooms.”
More: After Pride flag removal, SPS issues reminders for employee speech, conduct
In the letter, Creemer said Makoski and Mohammadkhani “thought it appropriate to use their positions on the board to share their musings about gender identity on a radio talk show. With that irresponsible action, they further ostracized and potentially endangered already marginalized Springfield public school system students who, as school board members, they have pledged to serve.”
In a statement from PFLAG Springfield, Schekorra said the Safe Space stickers send a signal to LGBTQ students who are at higher risk of bullying and issues at home that may impact their ability to learn in school
“Removing students’ ability to determine a safe and affirming adult to speak with about issues they may be facing, discussions that can lead to appropriate and necessary action, will only further marginalize LGBTQ+ students and exacerbate these issues throughout the district,” Schekorra wrote.
“Despite the wish that every inch of the schools is safe for every student, there are indeed unsafe spaces in Springfield.”
Previously: In emails, new SPS board members push for discussion of diversity, equity issues
Schekorra added: “Mohammadkhani and Makoski call these issues a distraction, when all the evidence points to having identified, safe and supportive educators being a positive influence on the education students receive.”
Springfield parent Asher Hackworth, who identifies as trans, wrote to the board that the Pride flag is flown all year at their home as a way to “show our community that this is a safe place for us to live.”
“However, in order for this to be a safe place to live and to love, we need the support of our community as well,” Hackworth wrote.
Hackworth said LGBTQ+ students face discrimination and bullying and are at higher risk of suicide than peers.
“Many many queer kids in the area do not have that from their parents and social circles. Many kids are kicked out of their homes if discovered to be LGBTQ+. LGBTQ+ youth in the foster system have the greatest difficulty finding foster homes,” Hackworth said.
“This is why it is of utmost importance for SPS to be a school district protective and supportive and loving of the most vulnerable in our community. Our schools have a duty to the community to be a safe haven for all children.”
More: SPS contract with SAAB student group narrowly survives school board vote
Kelly Dudley, a parent and early childhood wellness expert with the Missouri Department of Mental Health, wrote that “kids learn when they feel safe.”
“Kids brains grow in healthier and stronger ways when they feel safe. Kids are more brave, display more empathy, and are able to utilize their developing executive functioning when they feel safe,” Dudley wrote.
“Knowing they are seen and accepted and loved by their teacher is what creates a sense of safety.”
Dudley added that LGBTQ teachers also deserve “just as much love and respect and support.”
Brian Vega, also a counselor, said there is a “huge body of research” that shows LGBTQ students are not as safe as their “cisgender-heteronormative peers.”
He wrote: “They need signage, safe spaces, and extra supports to help them persist to graduation. Please educate yourself on the needs of these students.”
Claudette Riley is the education reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to


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