Today’s guest columnist is Karen Musgrove.
On April 1, 2022, the children at our school, the Magic City Acceptance Academy (MCAA), were attacked.
MCAA, a free public charter school founded in 2021 by BAO (Birmingham AIDS Outreach), opened with 250 students grades 6th through 12th.
Students are empowered to embrace education in a LGBTQ-affirming learning environment and MCAA is open to students from richly diverse backgrounds. Though this attack was focused on our LGBTQ students, it impacted all of our students and community.
In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released results of the national Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System finding that LGBTQ young people reported significantly higher health and suicide risks than their peers, with LGBTQ students more likely to experience victimization, violence, and suicidality.
Prior to opening MCCA, BAO founded the Magic City Acceptance Center (MCAC) in 2014 as an after-school outreach program for LGBTQ students to congregate in a safe environment and simply be themselves.
MCAC staff observed that many LGBTQ students experienced trauma, bullying, lack of support from school faculty and administrators, and shared that they generally did not feel safe at their respective schools.
Some students were compelled to drop out to maintain mental health free from the continually crushing pressures of ostracizing and unsupportive scholastic environments.
MCAA’s inaugural year began in the midst of COVID, clearly a difficult time.
But then in 2022, the seniors and juniors won a local history bowl competition resulting in an invitation to Washington DC for the national history bowl.
To raise travel funds, the students presented an idea challenging the teachers to participate in a talent-show, where family and friends were invited to tip the “performers.”
MCAA’s teachers accepted the challenge, pouring extra time and effort to produce a talent-show replete with costumes, glitter, and sequins, showcasing their many hidden talents to the delight of a full theater. The students met their fundraising goal and successfully represented MCAA in the national competition in DC.
Our children attacked
Then on April 1st, 2022, chaos struck: a candidate for a statewide Alabama elected office released campaign ads using photos taken directly from the MCAA talent show, manipulated the content into deceitful and hateful propaganda displaying images of minor-aged students along with teachers and audience members.
The candidate’s image superimposed in front of MCAA exclaiming: “and now, right here in Alabama, millions of your tax dollars are paying for the first transgender public school in the South…enough of this foolishness.”
In a flash, the carefully and thoughtfully designed safe space MCAA had created was fractured by a political candidate’s self-serving disingenuous rhetoric. Predictably, the ads directly gave rise to threats from far and wide towards the school, its staff, and its re-traumatized students.
That day and weekend were populated by hate-filled emails, vitriolic voicemails, endless online smears, and even drivers-by hurling epithets like “gay” at the students.
Having overcome countless obstacles in their first year at a new school in a global pandemic, the students entered their first weekend faced with two burdening questions: why us and what now?
That Monday morning following the painfully uncertain weekend, local community rallied an intrepid display of embracing love and unequivocal acceptance.
Fellow students, parents/guardians, and staff arrived at the school with messages of support drawn on posters and repurposed political signs emblazoned with the phrases “You are Loved!” and “We LOVE MCAA!” and “You are Special!” Local churches showed up with decorative banners celebrating courageous stories of love and proudly bearing signatures from congregation members.
Over the ensuing days and weeks, MCAA received messages from around the world with steadfast expressions of untrammeled encouragement, affirming love, and indomitable support.
A Go Fund Me account was created that raised funds that enabled the hiring of a full-time on-campus mental health licensed social worker for the students. ABC News visited MCAA to film a documentary Acceptance High featuring several seniors and family members sharing their remarkable individual stories of survival in Alabama.
Through chaos and turmoil, the first students of MCAA learned an invaluable lesson that hate can inspire the good in a community and that there exists support across the world for them to succeed and shine.
All the banners and signs of hope and love have been donated to the Birmingham Public Library Archives and the nonprofit Invisible Histories. These materials will be archived for others to learn from this historic display of outpouring public love and acceptance in the crucible of mistruth, hate, and baseless judgement.
Bleakly, many young adults who identify as LGBTQ view the State of Alabama as an unsafe, unwelcoming, and inhospitable environment, doubtful of it offering any present-day possibility in which to live authentically and thrive.
Consequently, these students seek and pursue paths out of the state as quickly as they turn 18 or 19. Alabama risks losing an entire population of brilliant, creative, skilled, and empathic people who see no sustainable future in it as they prepare to flee the state.
MCAA just completed its second year graduating 24 seniors. Although some will be attending college or trade school, some will leave Alabama.
We at MCAA want our students to stay to make a difference and be the generation effecting positive changes for all. MCAA strives to make a difference in the lives of students who attend our affirming and brave school, and we thank our affirming and brave community of supporters.
Karen Musgrove, PhD, MEd, LPC, has served as the CEO for Birmingham AIDS Outreach (BAO) and the Magic City Acceptance Academy for 20 years. Karen is a lifelong resident of Birmingham and lives in the Crestwood North neighborhood.
David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
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