Fairfax Co. school removes Instagram account that targeted LGBTQIA+ students

A group of Fairfax County Public Schools students are urging the county to take action after a social media account shared images that they say “outed, attacked and used slurs against LGBTQIA+ students.”

An Instagram account, which surfaced Monday, was flagged by members of the Pride Liberation Project. The group identifies itself as a student-run organization of queer and allied students in the county school system who advocate for the rights of LGBTQIA+ students.

Aaryan Rawal, the group’s lead organizer, said group members at several county high schools came across the account through resharing options and recommendations from Instagram’s algorithm. The profile specifically referenced students at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke.

In a letter to the school community, Principal Daniel Smith said the school worked with its cybersecurity team to have the account shut down. Smith also said the student who created the account has been identified.

It’s unclear how long the account was online before it was taken down, Rawal said.

“Our initial reactions were fear, because there were a lot of concerns that [the account] can just be replicated at other schools,” Rawal said. “We also know that among the Lake Braddock students who actually experienced this, there was a lot of anxiety. There was a huge disruption to the normal school day.”

In the midst of the incident, the group is urging the school system to respond in social, emotional and learning classes countywide, to launch an investigation, and to ensure that LGBTQIA+ students have access to mental health resources.

Ally Harbourt, a queer student at Lake Braddock, said in a news release that the account “discourages LGBTQIA+ young people from freely expressing themselves amongst their peers.”

During a planned work session on Tuesday, school board member Karl Frisch said the county is “working on a response that makes sure that our LGBTQIA students understand that they’re supported, and that there are consequences for this type of behavior.”

Superintendent Scott Brabrand said he is planning to follow up on the incident with the school.

“We are going to continue to look as a leadership team at what other things we can do to get the message out to kids — clearly that we will not accept students to engage in cyberbullying or social media harassment or bullying of any kind,” Brabrand said Tuesday.

In the letter, Smith, the school principal, said he’s planning to meet with members of the school’s LGBTQIA+ student groups this week, and he urged parents to speak to their children about how to responsibly use social media.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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