By Lily Barnette & Ülvi Gitaliyev
Since its founding in 1855, Berea College has been known as an institution on the forefront of the struggle for equality in Kentucky and the United States at large. Now, in 2023, as the Kentucky General Assembly planned on passing a slew of anti-gay and anti-trans bills, the Student Government Association (SGA) pushed for Berea College to take a stand against the threat of LGBTQIA+ students’ rights being taken away with a strongly worded statement from the institution itself.
Ket Perkins, Senate Speaker of the SGA, made an impassioned speech to the General Faculty Assembly (GFA) on February 16th, urging President Roelofs and the GFA to condemn the anti-gay and anti-trans bills being discussed in the Kentucky General Assembly. Part of the speech has been transcribed below:
“My name is Ket Perkins, I’m a fifth-year senior and an active member of the Student Government Association. Today, I rise before you to ask for your care, your consideration, and your help. Over the past few months nationwide, the amount of anti-LGBTQIA+ bills and laws that have been introduced has been asinine and frankly terrifying.
This past week, in Frankfort, state legislators introduced laws that force teachers to out queer children to their parents (regardless of safety concerns), ban any discussion of LGBTQ+ topics, and allow teachers to choose whether or not to use a student’s preferred pronouns. Each of these bills serves to erase and marginalize queer individuals.
As a queer person and a human being, I KNOW these laws will fundamentally harm queer and trans youth that already struggle with their identity. I know based on my own personal experiences that growing up in an environment that does not acknowledge the validity of your existences, puts you in a box, and declares that you MUST BE THIS according to the gender binary is harming and is so damaging. Once I made it into high school, I finally felt safe enough to be myself, primarily due to the recognition of other out and proud queer people. I KNOW I would not be standing here before you today had it not been for the openly queer and allied teachers, as well as candid discussions about Queer issues, stories, and curriculum. Queer teachers and openly LGBTQIA+ spaces gave me and many of my peers the space to feel accepted, to explore our identities, and embrace who we are or were growing to be. “Ket Perkins
The bills Ket Perkins and the SGA wanted to condemn were:
- House Bill 30, which would force public school students to use facilities designated for their birth gender only, under penalty of consequences.
- House Bill 58, which allows Kentucky doctors to deny administering any medical procedures to a patient based on moral or religious reasons.
- House Bill 120, which bans all gender transitioning procedures in Kentucky for people under the age of 18.
- House Bill 173, which would limit public teachers from giving out any sexual or drag-related material in school classrooms.
- House Bill 177, which requires public school staff to receive parental approval before giving mental health services to children and not encourage children to hide any information from their parents.
- Senate Bill 102, which limits discussions in public schools about any sexual or gender expression topics.
- Senate Bill 150, which forces public teachers and school staff to disregard a students preferred pronouns and only use their biological ones.
Perkins’ speech received great enthusiasm from the GFA, with many professors speaking in favor of their speech. In an oral vote taken shortly after, only one faculty member voted against a motion for President Roelofs to release a statement condemning anti-LGBTQIA+ bills.
On February 22nd, President Roelofs released a public statement condemning the bills mentioned above and reaffirming the college’s support for its gay and trans students. The President also pointed out that such bills would negatively affect the economy of Kentucky and its pluralistic society. You can find his email attached below.
The SGA and many students were pleased with the statement and hope that Kentucky legislatures will think twice before enacting legislation that would actively harm thousands of children going through the public education system. If you too want to help fight back against this type of legislation, or have other issues you are passionate about, contact the SGA at this email to learn how to get involved with student activism on campus!