News & Opinion: Amherst Community Turns Out To Support LGBTQ Youth


Protesters line up in front of Amherst Regional Middle School to show support for LGBTQ youth and to demand a public meeting with the Regional School Committee. Photo: Doug Anderson

Today we saw community in action, democracy in action, and support for LGBTQIA+ youth in action.   

Beginning at 3:30 p.m., approximately 75 people gathered in front of the Amherst Regional Middle School (ARMS) to reclaim the building as a safe space for trans and queer children. ARMS also houses the Amherst Regional Public School (ARPS) district offices, and in addition to showing our kids that we’ve got their backs and we will not be silenced or invisible, we called for the Regional School Committee, which directly oversees the superintendent, to call an emergency meeting and to hold a vote on placing School Superintendent Mike Morris on administrative leave while the community still awaits results from several Title IX and other investigations. As it stands right now, these results will land on Morris’ desk. How anyone wouldn’t perceive this as a colossal conflict of interest is difficult to comprehend.

Dozens of participants in today’s rally, speak-out, and car parade through the neighborhoods of Regional School Committee (RSC) members spent much of the past two weeks since Morris returned from his self-appointed medical leave emailing these RSC members asking for a meeting. These requests have been met with either silence or terse, one-sentence replies. 

Dozens of parents, teachers, and community members turned out in 90-degree heat for today’s rally, which came together over less than three days. The scene was a sea of rainbow and trans flags, people of all ages and races, and a beautiful array of LGBTQIA+ representation. 

The first hour was spent singing, chanting, speaking to the press – including the Boston Globe, Daily Hampshire Gazette, MassLive, and WWLP-22, waving flags, and letting LGBTQIA+ youth hear loud and clear that they are loved, heard, believed, fabulous, and irreplaceable. 

Protestor at the rally in support of LGBTQ youth at the Amherst Regional Middle School on July 28, 2023. Photo: Doug Anderson

Organizers communicated that these efforts are deeply and inherently intersectional and that the district’s failures to protect children from marginalized groups are systemic and ongoing. Those present also affirmed a commitment to continuing to show up, for as long as needed, until we see true accountability, transparency, and equity in response to this crisis – a crisis one organizer called “a public health emergency.” 

After about an hour of rallying, the group transitioned to a speak-out. About a dozen people took the mic for a few minutes each, sharing personal stories, and reiterating a commitment to doing everything possible to ensure that our schools are safe places for all LGBTQIA+ kids. 

One very brave young child raised his hand and spoke with his father’s help, saying that he “wanted everyone to know that when he was growing up, people called him ‘she/her’ and it was tough.” A mom with a rising-ninth grader who is trans was tearful as she spoke about how painful the past two years have been for her child due to transphobia at ARMS. 

At the rally in support of LGBTQ youth at the Amherst Regional Middle School, July 28, 2023. Photo: Jena Schwartz

After the hour-long speak-out, there was a collective moment of silence, in solidarity with each other and the vulnerable stories we’d just had the privilege of hearing. 

Following the rally and speak-out, about a dozen cars proceeded to caravan through Amherst, pride flags flapping from windows, drawing attention to the need to protect trans youth. Signs on cars also called for the RSC to meet sooner than the scheduled August 22 meeting, and to vote to place Morris on administrative leave. 

Residents in neighborhoods throughout town met the COVID-era-style parade with encouragement and enthusiasm, waving and sometimes cheering. One city bus driver even offered a gesture of solidarity as it passed the cars. 

The caravan also honked as it passed the homes of RSC members Jennifer Shiao, Irv Rhodes, Peter Demling, Allison McDonald, and Ben Herrington. Reactions varied. Some did not appear to be home. Shiao “waved and thanked the folks for participating in this show of support for our LGBTQIA+ community,” whereas one resident asked several drivers to roll down their windows. He likened the group’s action to poll worker intimidation.

The caravan concluded in the center of Amherst, with about 10 of us in front of Bank of America, where we stood with signs and flags until nearly 7:00 p.m. Many passersby and cars honked, waved, and expressed appreciation and support for our message of unity and our call for a meeting and a vote.   

What I would like to say now is this: Intimidation is an 11- or 12-year-old hearing their guidance counselor say they feel sorry for that child’s parents for “losing a daughter.” Intimidation is bullies in the hallways, classrooms, and bathrooms in one’s school, and adults in leadership positions turning a blind eye, or worse, lying and saying they didn’t know about it. 

Democracy is not intimidation. It is our responsibility as concerned residents, taxpayers, parents, teachers, staff, neighbors, and family members. 

The Regional School Committee has had four months to do the right thing. Mike Morris has had ample opportunity to acknowledge his failure to respond appropriately to complaints that came to him directly. 

We are still waiting for a genuine gesture to substantiate the apologies and claims of LGBTQIA+ support from the RSC and the superintendent’s office. Amherst loves its reputation as an inclusive, diverse, and LGBTQIA-friendly haven. This reputation is only as good as our willingness to hold ourselves and each other accountable. 

Read More
Story in the Boston Globe
Story in MassLive
Story in the Daily Hampshire Gazette

Jena Schwartz is a writing coach, editor, and author of three books. Her poetry and essays have been widely published, and she has served as Poet in Residence at the Jewish Community of Amherst.

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