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Division over LGBTQ+ policies overtakes Southern Lehigh School Board meeting

Southern Lehigh residents turn out for school board meeting
Sarah Mueller
Southern Lehigh residents turn out for school board meeting to discuss LGBTQ policies

U. SAUCON TWP., Pa. — Students at Monday's Southern Lehigh School board meeting implored candidates running for office, outside groups and parents in and out of the district to hear them on LGBTQ+ and transgender issues.

"Today you've heard from parents and community members, all of which are entitled to their own opinions and wishes," said senior Kylie Baker. "I'm asking today is that you listen to who this impacts and to who this will be affecting by these new policies, to those who attend the schools you're discussing and I'm asking that you listen to students."

  • Parents, students and school board candidates attended the school board meeting to discuss LGBTQ+ issues
  • The dialog was sparked by a political litmus test for GOP candidates
  • LGBTQ+ issues were not in the school board agenda

Local Republican activists and candidates came out to the board meeting with their own agenda — to discuss students using facilities that correspond with their gender identity. The meeting was advertised on social media by a local conservative activist promoting that the Citizen Advisory of PA, a parental choice group, would be there to speak.
Dozens of students, parents and local residents also came to the meeting in response to social media posts and word of a pledge for candidates created by Doug Durham, area chair of the Southern Lehigh Republican Committee.

Chairman of the Lehigh County Republican Committee Joe Vichot said the group has endorsed five candidates in the race, and all have signed the pledge. Five of nine seats on the board are currently up for election. There are 11 candidates.

The pledge requires candidates to promise to enact policies to prevent students from "hiding" their gender identities from their parents. It also calls for attempts to ban students from using facilities that align with their gender identity.

The Biden administration is set to release its new Title IX rule in May, which will propose new protections for transgender students.

Freshman Finn Bull is transgender. Bull came to the meeting to speak out to and support other students - saying that school staff are supportive but other kids can be mean.

"But the fear of a bunch of guys hurting me or attacking me because I have a bigger chest or I act more feminine is terrifying because I don't want to come home hurt or bleeding. That would be terrifying."
Finn Bull, a transgender student at Southern Lehigh High School

Bull said he is too afraid to use the bathroom which corresponds with his gender identity.

"For me personally, I use the one I'm assigned at birth because I am afraid I will be assaulted or I will be sexually assaulted for going to somewhere I'd prefer or would like to go," Bull said. "But the fear of a bunch of guys hurting me or attacking me because I have a bigger chest or I act more feminine is terrifying because I don't want to come home hurt or bleeding. That would be terrifying."

Durham argued at the meeting that female students are in danger from transgender students who were assigned male at birth. He disagrees that transgender students are protected by Title IX.

"We need to be aware that there are female students that will not use the bathrooms going from the intermediate, the middle school and the high school, will not use their assigned bathrooms for fear of running into a biological boy," he said. "Their concerns should be affirmed and they're not being affirmed."

Other parts of the pledge created by the Southern Lehigh Republican Committee require school staff to notify parents of student requests to use their preferred gender pronouns. It would not require school staff to use students' preferred pronouns.

It would also ban "woke" politics and reject curriculum based on critical race theory.

Vichot said his committee has also endorsed a slate of candidates for the East Penn School Board and the Parkland School Board. He said he expects they will soon come up with a written platform for the public. He said Southern Leigh is the only race to his knowledge that had candidates sign a pledge.

Candidates for Southern Lehigh School Board
Eric Boyer — Cross-filed
Paul Deebel — Cross-filed
Emily Gehman (i) — Cross-filed
Timothy Kearney — Cross-filed
Candi Kruse — Cross-filed
James Pica — Cross-filed
Danelle Roy — Republican
Maria L. Schantz — Republican
Lance M. Tittle — Republican
Melissa Torba — Cross-filed

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story stated that Douglas Durham was a candidate in the 2023 Primary Election for Southern Lehigh School Board. Durham is no longer a candidate in that race.