Members of the Volusia County School Board said they love their gay friends, but couldn’t support a resolution recognizing LGBTQ+ student health.
The five School Board members talked about the topic for a half-hour, obviously sensitive to their constituents’ varying views on the fact that there are, indeed, gay and transgender students in the Volusia County school system.
The official topic at hand was a resolution supporting “LGBTQ+ Health Awareness Week,” scheduled for March 22-26, the week of Spring Holiday, when students would, for the most part, not be on campus.
“Why are we giving a week to observe such a small percentage group when there are other groups that don’t get the same?” a Volusia County resident asked the School Board. “We live in a society that, rather than seek to bring a healthy and stable help to these kids, even with gender dysphoria, we in turn, embrace it as normal and give them hormone blockers and ultimately genitalia mutilation.”
“So School Board members, I ask you, what if this was put into play: What if you are asked to sign on a masturbation/self-stimulation-plus Health Awareness Week,” one mother with children in the school district said. “If you’re asking or thinking, feeling appalled or embarrassed: That’s exactly how me and several other parents felt, with the LGBTQ+ Awareness Week.”
School Board Member Carl Persis made a motion to bring the resolution to a vote, but no other board member seconded Persis’ motion.
“I just don’t get what the argument is against this,” he said. “Tell me the sentence you disagree with? Tell me the sentence in the resolution, which one is it that is causing you heartburn?”
Persis then began to read the resolution line-by-line, asking board members what they disagreed with.
“Whereas, the Volusia County School district is committed to bringing awareness to the effects of the devastating cycle of discrimination on LGBTQ+ health and the resulting disparities,” the first clause of the resolution reads.
Board members further discussed their feelings about the resolution.
“I personally consider myself a conservative in lots of ways, and that is why I didn’t support this resolution,” Board Member Ruben Colón said. “However, I do support the need to be there for our students and ensure that we support them, because they are at a greater risk. And I think the school district does that all day long.”
Colón stressed that while he did not second Persis’ motion, he supported recognizing the threat to LGBTQ+ students’ health, pointing out that students who identify as one of those groups are three to four times more like to commit suicide. However, he said, he was uncertain about how individual teachers would interpret an “Awareness Week” in the classroom.
“If you read that resolution, it says nothing about promoting anything,” Colón said.
Colón added, “Just because we pass or don’t pass this resolution doesn’t necessarily mean that we are homophobic, and I take offense to that, because I have lots of friends that I love dearly.”
Board Member Anita Burnette said she had received questions from parents, and that she “likes to see both sides of issues.”
“I’ve listened to the parents and I’ve read the emails, and I think we can come up with a better way to support our LGBTQ communty, other than a resolution,” Burnette said. “I’m just trying to see both sides of the coin, and I think we can come up with a better way to help these students, versus something that may also offend someone else, and that was my position.”
Board Member Jamie Haynes said her rationale for not supporting the motion was that, from her point of view, some topics are not within the purview of public-school employees, and in fact, are not inclusive of all students.
“I think what’s happened is, in trying to meet the needs of every child, we actually — what we’re doing is — we’re back to segregating people into groups. I have dear friends who, you know, that live and choose to live a different lifestyle,” Haynes said. “Saying, well, this week is for this and this week is for that — we started dividing kids instead of saying we’re here to meet the needs of all children.”
Chair Linda Cuthbert said she likely would have seconded Persis’ motion except that her position as chair prevented it.
“I probably would have seconded your motion had I not been board chair,” she told Persis. “There are a lot of families that reject their students no matter what their difference is. While our students are visiting us and residing on our campus, many times from six to seven hours per day, we have an obligation to protect them and to keep them from harm.”
Cuthbert continued, “I don’t want this issue to die … . The reason I would like to second this is to voice it, to recognize that these students also rate as being equal to everyone else. It’s sad that our community, our culture, is at the point where we should have to make a resolution like this.”
Persis asked Superintendent Scott Fritz whether resolutions like this one were common, to which Fritz replied, “Yes, it is common.”
Fritz continued, “I hear you, and I hear Mr. Colón’s explanation that this is simply an awareness. There were no curriculum materials that were going to be handed out, no announcements that were going to be made. It was simply saying that every child that walks across that stage and then in our school will be treated fairly, equally and with equity.”
“What’s the perception of the LGBTQ parents of students if the School Board doesn’t pass it?” Persis asked. “I don’t understand they could feel any other way than ‘they don’t support my child.’”
“I think we could do better,” Burnette said. “Us signing a resolution and putting it in a folder, is that really support?”
“To sum everything up, then,” Chair Cuthbert said, ending the discussion, “we will go back to the drawing board to see if we can come up with something better, so we can address all diversity.”
Last year, Fritz said, the same resolution passed with a 5-0 vote.
To read the full resolution, click below.