Three school district officials signed off on grant for ‘gender-affirming closet’ in Kansas City-area district months before belated rejection

(The Lion) — Despite Kansas City-area Liberty Public Schools’ previous statement denying it applied for a grant for a “gender-affirming closet,” documents obtained by The Lion reveal three high-level district officials signed off on the application.

In addition, the application itself states that district staff even helped shape the project.

“Our district did not apply for the grant,” a spokesman for the district told The Lion Aug. 7, in response to an inquiry. “Liberty Public Schools did not accept the grant,” he also said.

But a records request submitted by The Lion turned up documents showing that a letter from Superintendent Jeremy Tucker rejecting the grant only came on Aug. 7, the same day as The Lion’s inquiry, and more than two months after the district was notified of its grant award.

Further, another document revealed a high school principal, an assistant superintendent and the district’s chief financial officer all signed off on a “Memo of Intent to Apply for a Grant,” which was submitted by the Gender and Sexualities Alliance (GSA) student group at one of the district’s two high schools.

The Lion asked Liberty on Tuesday whether those signatures constitute district approval of a grant application. The signatures appear to be those of Principal Rosemary Camp, Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Design Jeanette Westfall and CFO Cindy Sullivant. A district spokesperson acknowledged receipt of multiple questions from The Lion but did not reply in time for publication on Friday.

Intent to Apply memo, with officials’ signatures.

So, while the district itself did not initiate the grant application, district officials supported it.

The $10,000 grant was one of over 50 such awards given to schools in the U.S. by the LGBT “It Gets Better Project” this year to encourage and promote LGBT initiatives and ideology.

The grant application for Liberty sought funding to establish a “gender-affirming closet” and commission an LGBT-themed mural from a “local queer artist” to be placed in or near the closet.

“This place [the closet] will serve as a safe place for students who may be questioning how they express themselves with items such as clothing, makeup, jewelry, binders, and pronoun or pride flag pins, as well as comfortable furniture,” reads part of the grant application, obtained by The Lion through the same records request. “We also plan to hire a local queer artist to create a mural nearby or in the closet’s safe area to bring in community involvement outside the school.”

Such “closets” are highly controversial because they are designed for students who wish to hide their transgender identity and expression from their parents. A sponsor for one such closet in an Oakland, California school last year said it is “for teens who identify as transgender but don’t want their parents to know.”

While gender-affirming closets might include all sorts of “transgender shapeware,” such as “gaffs” to tuck genitals, padded bras or genital prosthetics, Liberty’s GSA only asked for “binders,” in addition to clothing and accessories. Chest binders flatten a woman’s or a girl’s developing chest by tightly wrapping the breasts.

Wearing them reportedly comes with some health risks.

“Chest binders can cause restricted breathing, break the skin around the edges of the binder, cause overheating and even bruise or fracture the ribs,” Yael Levin, chief communications director for No Left Turn in Education, told the Daily Caller News Foundation last year.

Itemized list of expenses from the GSA’s application.

The Liberty GSA also requested $3,500 for clothing and $500 for shoes, as well as $1,000 for items related to promotion of the closet and other GSA initiatives. Another $500 was requested for “new LGBTQ+ books” for the “closet library.”

In Tucker’s letter rejecting the grant, he declines the funds for a single stated reason, namely that district policy requires “any grant that involves District property must be treated as District funds,” and district funds cannot be used for student-initiated groups.

The Lion asked for a copy of that policy, and was still awaiting the district’s response at publication time.

Rejection letter from Superintendent Jeremy Tucker.

The letter emphasizes the grant was sought by a “student-initiated organization,” using the phrase five times in three paragraphs.

Notably, the superintendent’s rejection of the grant came on Aug. 7 – nearly two-and-a-half months after a May 24 letter from It Gets Better, also obtained through the records request, announcing the grant application had been successful. The Lion has asked the district why it waited so long to reject the grant, if it was against district policy, and whether any funds were actually received.

In the GSA’s application, the club writes about the “greatest challenges and needs of LGBTQ+ students” at the school. It speaks of “anti-trans bills” in Missouri, of “posters being torn down” at school, deadnaming from teachers (the use of a transgender person’s birth name rather than the new chosen name), “general ignorance from the student body” and “mockery.”

“Schools in Missouri are cracking down on all things related to sexuality and gender, making resources and talk of LGBTQ topics (sic), and shoving students and their identities into hiding,” the group writes elsewhere in the application.

This year Gov. Mike Parson signed two bills restricting transgender participation in sports and banning gender-altering treatments for minors.

However, the student club also writes positively of the district’s support, noting its “anti-harassment policies” and a staff bathroom “available for nonbinary/genderqueer students to use if using a male or female bathroom makes them uncomfortable.”

On a scale of 1 to 5, the group ranks “the level of support” from administration for the grant proposal a “5 – Supportive.”

“The administrator we discussed with expressed their support of the idea of the project and, in a meeting with our faculty advisor, disclosed some specific information that helped us construct our vision and create more detailed plans for said idea,” the GSA writes in its application. “We also managed to obtain approval from the principal of Liberty North on March 9, should the grant be accepted.”

At bottom, it appears the technical policy violation regarding district property was all that prevented the gender closet from becoming a reality. It’s unclear whether any other policies in the district would prohibit such a closet.

The Lion has asked the district whether it has any parental notification policy for students who disclose symptoms of gender dysphoria, as well as whether parents would be notified about symptoms of other potential medical or mental health conditions.

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