In 2022, the “It Gets Better Project” allowed schools to “apply for up to $10,000 in grant funding to support school-based projects empowering LGBTQ+ students.” The project was called “50 States. 50 Grants. 5000 Voices.” The organization specifically pointed out that “grant funding” even went to schools in “traditionally conservative areas.” Carmel High School is a school that applied for a grant and received a full $10,000. The “It Gets Better Project” stated:
We are so excited to finally be able to announce all of the grant recipients, with each school receiving the full $10,000 in funding. Fifty grants are being awarded in 40 states plus Washington D.C., including many traditionally conservative areas. Submissions were received from a wide range of small rural towns, average-sized suburbs, and large urban cities.
The organization claimed that these grants were made available to schools thanks to the “generous support of American Eagle Outfitters, Inc. (AEO) through American Eagle and Aerie customer donations from all 50 states via their Real Rewards loyalty program, as well as in-store pin-pad promotion during Pride Month 2021.” In reference to Carmel High School, the “It Gets Better Project” stated that the grant “will involve producing community-wide Pride events.”
The “It Gets Better Project” is an organization that promotes LGBTQ issues to children. The organization states that its mission is “to uplift, empower, and connect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) youth around the globe.” This includes through “storytelling and media.” The organization explains: “We work in all forms of media to bring messages of hope to LGBTQ+ youth, spark conversations about the challenges they confront, and inform and positively influence their sexual orientation and gender identity journey.”
Carmel High School has a list of student clubs online that were active during the 2021-2022 school year. One student organization on the list is a Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) club. The district explains that it is a “student created club with a volunteer sponsor.” The district provides the following description for the club: “A Carmel High School club dedicated to loving and embracing every aspect of queer culture while improving the lives of LGBTQIA+ students!”
The GSA club’s Instagram account provides a link to a fundraiser on the platform GoFundMe. The title of the fundraiser is “Help Trans Student Get Out of Bad Home Situation.” Carmel High School’s GSA club is listed as the organizer of the fundraiser. The fundraiser has received more than $1,300 so far with a goal of $2,000. The GSA club’s goal is to raise enough money to help a transgender student from the school leave the household of the student’s mother without her knowing. The GSA club explains on the fundraiser:
Hello, we are the CHS Gender Sexuality Alliance and we are fundraising on behalf of a Carmel High School student who needs to raise money to get out of an abusive household. He cannot fundraise for himself because if his mom caught him trying to raise this money himself his situation would get exponentially worse. Once he turns 18 he will be kicked out. He does not have any other family to turn to and has less than a year to raise money. We are working with him to raise money to get by during his last year of high school and to prepare for college. He is doing what he can to get out of this situation including working at a job but right now anything would help.
On May 2, 2022, the school’s GSA club created a post on its Instagram account promoting an event called “Swap Your Style: A Gender Affirming Clothing Swap.” The post has the following description for the event: “GLSEN of Central Indiana values the importance of an affirming wardrobe and wants to help you build yours. The Swap Your Style Event will be an opportunity for local GSA members to swap clean, gently used, clothing, shoes, and accessories with one another.” The event was scheduled for May 21, 2022.
The organization GLSEN is known for promoting LGBTQ issues to young children. GLSEN states on its website that “while many LGBTQ+-inclusive school supports begin in middle or high school, it is critical for elementary schools to establish a foundation of respect and understanding for all people.” The organization has also appeared to show support for children taking “hormone replacement therapy” to transition to another gender:
Upon birth, we are typically categorized into one of two genders (boy or girl) depending on how our genitals are read. Throughout our lives, however, our many bodily characteristics work together to create a unique path of development, causing some of us to grow really tall, and others to remain short, or some of us to grow hair under our armpits and legs, while others remain bare. While this development often happens on its own during puberty, this change can also be administered through medicine, such as hormone replacement therapy. Since our society often conflates our bodies (or genitalia) with our gender identity, it is critical that we allow space for people to self-identify.
Carmel High School’s GSA club also pushed for students to protest the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in an Instagram post on June 27, 2022. The post has an image that states “March for Reproductive Justice.” The club’s post further explains: “Now is not the time to stay quiet. The overturning of Roe v Wade affects all of us. Show up and make your voice heard!” In another post on July 1, 2022, the GSA club posted an image that appeared to be students marching in protest against the Supreme Court.
On July 27, 2021, the organization Unify Carmel published a video of parents speaking at a School Board meeting for the school’s district – Carmel Clay Schools. The video features parents and concerned community members calling out the district for having books that promote transgender issues and contain explicitly graphic content in school libraries. One community member lists several books that are in the libraries of elementary schools in the district. These books are Phoenix Goes to School, Introducing Teddy, Sparkle Boy, and Call Me Max. All of these books feature either young children transitioning to another gender or children questioning their gender identity.
The school district’s website has a page titled “Equity and Inclusion.” The district explains on the page that “we are committed to educating our students to be citizens in a diverse and inclusive global community.” This page has a section titled “Community Events: 2022-2023 Courageous Conversations.” One event is titled “LGBTQ+ 101” and is scheduled for April 17, 2023.
The school district already held an event titled “LGBTQ+ 101” on April 28, 2022. The registration form for this event appears to show that the school district also held another event titled “How Mutual Aid is Intersectional with Anti-Racist Work.”
The “Equity and Inclusion” page has a section titled “DEI Resources.” This section includes links to LGBTQ organizations that target young children. One organization is called the “Indiana Youth Group.” This organization specifically offers transgender resources to young adults and children, including “Eskenazi Transgender Health Services,” “GenderNexus,” and “Riley Gender Health Program.” The Riley Gender Health Program specifically offers services that include “gender-affirming hormone therapy, treatment for menstrual suppression, psychological counseling, and surgery consultation and coordination.”
The “Equity and Inclusion” page also has a list of initiatives for the school district. These include:
- Creation of the districtwide Equity & Inclusion Planning Team.
- Formation of DEI committees at the school building level.
- Hiring of a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer.
- Launch of the Excellence in Equity Training series for CCS employees.
- Launch of DEI Webpage, Canvas Site, and Instagram account as avenues to share information and resources to various constituents.
- Implementation of districtwide DEI events.
- Creation and regular hosting of Courageous Conversations Series for community involvement.
- A cohort of staff participation in the IU School of Education Cultural Competency: Leading Radical Change Program.
- Formation of book studies utilizing DEI texts for staff members.
- Listening sessions to provide students, caregivers, and staff the opportunity to share their experiences concerning DEI in Carmel Clay Schools.
The school district then explains that achieving equity includes building a “capacity for culturally responsive teaching,” “questioning assumptions and examining our own biases,” “challenging systems of power and oppression,” and “creating counter-narratives to the common habits and assumptions that inhibit inclusion.” The phrase “culturally responsive teaching” is often used to describe a method of teaching that includes the race and ethnicity of students as part of the lessons taught in classrooms.
The “Equity and Inclusion” page further explains that the school district has a “DEI Officer,” “Executive Equity and Inclusion Committee,” “DEI District Committee,” and “DEI School Committee.” The following descriptions are provided for these entities:
- DEI Officer – Oversees districtwide initiatives and serves as a resource and support for committees and individuals. Works with stakeholders on initiatives for parents, curriculum and instruction, and community groups. Provides training opportunities, and reviews districtwide policies through a lens of equity and inclusivity. Serves as Title VI and Title IX Officer. Ensures CCS ESC Administration and School Board are aware of overarching trends and potential issues.
- Executive Equity & Inclusion Committee – Composed of various ESC and school building administrators, chaired by the Superintendent. The committee focuses on data-driven issues such as discipline disparity, high-ability participation of marginalized groups, increasing recruitment of diverse employees, graduation rates, ensuring districtwide policies are equitable, and determining the districtwide strategic plan goals.
- DEI District Committee – DEI Representatives from School Committees. The committee works as a support system for DEI School Committees, collecting shared challenges and triumphs to help make each building more inclusive and equitable. Informs DEI Officer of issues that show trends throughout various school buildings. Helps to promote district-wide events and activities. Helps to identify areas of training needed for staff members. (Note: DEI Officer also sits on the District Committee.)
- DEI School Committee – Building-level committee of school personnel. This stand-alone committee works independently and in conjunction with other district-level committees to ensure proactive DEI work.
The school district’s website has a page titled “Strategic Plan.” This plan includes a focus on “equity” and a focus on implementing an “equity audit.” The school district lists the following action items for the strategic plan:
- Conduct an equity audit in order to develop prioritized goals focused on student needs.
- Continue to build knowledge of how to create environments grounded in equity and inclusion through ongoing professional development.
- Work to review and revise policies to focus on equity and inclusion.
- Conduct community outreach programs focused on equity and inclusion.
On May 24, 2022, the school district’s website posted an article discussing training for teachers in the district that includes topics related to the “LGBTQ+ community” and to “students from different religions, cultures, and races.” The school district provides the following explanation of the teacher training:
With intersectionality at the heart of our work, we designed a series of voluntary professional development opportunities to meet and learn more about our diverse student population. The series started with a kick-off event in February where a small group of students from a variety of backgrounds and needs shared their experiences within Carmel Clay Schools. Every session we learn more about the LGBTQ+ community; those with cognitive, physical, or learning variabilities; our students from different religions, cultures, and races; our ENL community; students with mental health challenges; and those with varying socio-economic needs.