Union Condemns Anti-LGBTQ TikTok Videos Aimed at Upstate Teachers

Students allegedly harassed teachers with anti-LGBTQ TikTok videos at Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk School District in upstate New York.
REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

A local union for educators is slamming administrators for allegedly dragging their feet to address a series of anti-LGBTQ TikTok videos used to harass three school teachers in the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk School District, which is an upstate school district south of Albany.

The hateful videos, which were allegedly posted by students last fall and in the spring, said gay people should not be teaching, compared being LGBTQ with pedophilia, and “derogatory names” and “crude comments,” according to New York State United Teachers (NYSUT). The students who allegedly created the videos tagged the teachers’ family members in the posts to “bring their attention to the cruel videos,” NYSUT said. The Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Teachers Association (RCSTA), which is part of NYSUT, is calling for the district to hold the students accountable for their alleged behavior. Only one of the three teachers targeted in the incident is known to be an out gay person; the sexual orientation of the other victims is not publicly available.

Abby Retzlaff, an RCSTA member who said she was targeted by the videos, said the harassment began while she was teaching a virtual class in October. Retzlaff said a student secretly snapped a picture of her and then depicted her in drag.

“I was shocked. I was hurt. I was embarrassed,” Retzlaff said in a written statement, noting that the public viewed the videos posted in the spring 1,500 times. 

“Why is (the student) lashing out at me?” she asked. “This is a serious situation.”

In yet another alleged incident, Retzlaff said the GSA informed her that a student posted on Instagram saying that the school does not “deserve a month of recognition.”

The three students who allegedly made the videos are in Retzlaff’s eighth grade classes, according to NYSUT. 

School superintendent Brian Bailey explained in an email to Gay City News on June 15 that the school responded by embarking on a mission to provide wide-ranging training for students, staff, the community, and school leader. That conclusion, he said, was reached after working with NYSUT, the Anti-Defamation League, GLSEN, Capital Area School Development Association, and Lyndon Cudlitz, a professional speaker who works on LGBTQ causes.

“We have not and will not abide by hate speech at RCS,” Bailey said. “We have repeatedly broadcast this to the entire community as these events have unfolded. What I have learned over the past year of remote and in-person instruction is that the pandemic has created a disconnectedness between many of us. And in an already fragile ecosystem of a social media-frenzied youth, combined with a disconcerting disfigurement of our American culture over the past four years, it is unnervingly easy to see a public environment where hate speech, intimidation, and discrimination have proliferated. The LGBTQ+ members of our school community are a vulnerable population. We are educators and our work will be to help all students find confidence in who they are and to have the sensibility to prevent harm instead of causing it. We can and will do this.”

In response to the incidents, Retzlaff and other colleagues launched an anti-bullying committee to discuss the consequences of this behavior, including possible charges of aggravated harassment and the impact of these posts on an individual’s career and educational opportunities.

Teachers in the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Teacher’s Association condemn anti-LGBTQ attacks on educators. New York State United Teachers

Matt Miller, who leads the RCSTA and teaches AP and Regents biology, is proposing sensitivity training for administrators this summer to help them respond to future issues. Earlier this month, the RCSTA wore T-shirts with Pride colors to show solidarity with LGBTQ students and the teachers affected by anti-LGBTQ bullying. 

“If they’re doing it to teachers, what about students?” Miller asked. “The shirts are to support staff and show kids that they have allies here. It’s a safe place. The message we send matters.”

This incident comes months after Albany County Legislator George Langdon of Coeymans came under fire for several homophobic comments. In a YouTube video, Langdon, who resigned in April, said, “When you have homosexual relationships, it’s not perpetual. Give them an island, they’ll be gone after 40 years,” according to the public radio station WAMC.

“It’s a community issue,” Miller said in a written statement. “You don’t have to agree, but you need to be respectful and tolerant.”

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