For a change, the topic during the public input portion of a Williamson County Board of Education meeting didn’t center on mask mandates or anything else to do with COVID-19 mitigation strategies.

To be sure, the recommendation from Williamson County Schools Superintendent Jason Golden that the district’s mask requirement be extended was batted around a good bit, and the board voted 8-4 to approve  that to happen through Jan. 19.  

But most of the speakers at Monday night’s board meeting wanted to talk about a parade.

Specifically, 20 of the 29 citizens who took to the podium either voiced their support or their concern over last Friday’s Independence High School’s homecoming parade that included a float from the school’s Indy Pride club, a new school group focused on inclusivity and LGBTQ awareness.

The Williamson County chapter of Moms for Liberty blanketed social media over the weekend, with members claiming that on the float were inappropriate displays of French kissing, groping and even an exposed breast. Some in the group also pointed out that students on the float were handing out literature to elementary and middle school students promoting bi-sexuality.  

“I’m here to talk about what happened last Friday night,” said Brian Russell, a concerned parent. “This was inappropriate behavior. It’s called grooming, [which is] a predatory process in which a perpetrator gradually gains a person’s or organization’s trust with the intent to be sexually abusive. … Making out and French kissing on a float in front of little children, that’s uncalled for. Passing out propaganda about bi-sexuality, uncalled for. … We need to educate our kids and stop indoctrinating them.”

Several speakers refuted the claims from Russell and others, saying the “kiss” was simply a quick “peck” and that literature about Indy Pride was only handed out to Independence High classmates.

The viral nature of the call-out from Moms of Liberty led to a significant turnout of parents and students in support of the homecoming float specifically and, more broadly, the rights of WCS students to organize Gay-Straight Alliance clubs. In fact, there were 14 speakers in favor of the float and GSA clubs and six against. 

Spencer Lyst, a sophomore at Independence High who is president and founder of Indy Pride, said he was at first hesitant about attending the school board meeting for fear of his safety, but later recognized his role as the club’s leader.

“I realize it’s important for me to be here to back up all the people who are too afraid to speak for themselves,” she said. “Indy Pride is needed at IHS.”

Other speakers represented GSA clubs from additional WCS high schools, including Franklin, Centennial and Ravenhood. Golden chimed in on the controversy, and he in essence voiced support for the clubs.

“Our principals and our professionals are dedicated to making sure all or our students feel safe,” he said. “In the particular example that arose over the weekend, we give all students the same access to our educational system. … We don’t make content decisions on student-led clubs, but we allow students to develop what they need and what they value through those student-led clubs.”

Visit the Facebook page for WCS to view all of Monday night’s board meeting.