Miami Herald | By Sommer Brugal | September 6, 2022
The Miami-Dade School Board last year agreed the district would recognize October as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) History Month. When it passed in a 7-1 vote, the measure made no changes to the curriculum, but instead served as a symbolic gesture, board members said at the time.
Now, the board will again have to determine whether to acknowledge the month. This time, however, the proposal, if approved, would also include tasking district staff to explore whether two Supreme Court landmark decisions — Obergefell v. Hodges (recognizing same-sex marriage) and Bostock v. Clayton County (finding an employer can’t fire someone for being gay or transgender) — could be added to 12th-grade social studies materials.
Recognitions such as this require board approval annually.
The approval in 2021 was “important to our community and people were very excited as a whole,” board member Lucia Baez-Geller, who also proffered the item last year, told board members at the board’s Aug. 31 committee meeting. The effort “is mostly to recognize the dignity and the respect for each other.”
The proposal “is not asking for a curriculum change,” she emphasized. “Our 12th grade students currently learn about Supreme Court cases … that are the existing law of the land in our country.” The two cases included in the proposal, she said, “are currently the law.” Moreover, she said, the recommendation is to “explore the feasibility” of including the cases.
Miami-Dade School Board member Lucia Baez-Geller, District 3. She has put forth a measure, which the Board will take up at its Wednesday meeting, to recognize October as LGBTQ History Month in Miami-Dade Schools and to incorporate two landmark Supreme Court decisions into 12th-grade teaching materials.
SOME BOARD MEMBERS OPPOSE THE LGBTQ MEASURE
Still, the concept garnered pushback from some board members at the meeting, including Christi Fraga, who voted no last year. (Lubby Navarro was absent during last year’s vote.)
Fraga said she stood by her comments last year — at the time, she said the idea “really creates an imposition on certain values that some may not be comfortable with” — but added the new “Parental Rights in Education” law raises more concerns about the issue.
The new Florida law, which went into effect this school year and which critics have called the ‘Don’t say gay” bill, prohibits instruction related to gender identity or sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade. Those opposed to the law say it could potentially restrict such instruction for older kids.
Yet despite adding the Supreme Court cases only for 12th-grade students, Fraga argued there should be an “opt-out.”
Board member Marta Pérez also opposed the idea at the committee meeting, despite supporting the recognition last year. Pérez said she “didn’t fully support the item” at the time, but voted in favor of it because she “likes to move things along.” Pérez, who lost reelection to the Gov. DeSantis-backed Monica Colucci in the Aug. 23 primary, added she believes her loss was because she voted in favor of the item last year.
“It’s so divisive and puts us in such a position of discussion that takes away from the fundamental reading, writing and arithmetic,” Pérez said. “I don’t think [the recognition] is necessary. As a board we should try not to bring controversy when it isn’t necessary.”
For her part, Baez-Geller disagreed with claims that insinuated the concept does more harm than good.
CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS IN EDUCATION
Despite the overall support for the measure in 2021, Wednesday’s vote comes after a slew of new Florida laws that limit what can or can’t be discussed in the classroom went into effect. Aside from the “Parental Rights in Education” law, there’s the “Individual Freedoms” law, also known as the “Stop Woke Act,” which limits how race and race-related discussions are included in the workplace and college and university classrooms.
The measure also follows a recent School Board election that resulted in two Gov. Ron DeSantis-backed candidates winning their bids. Roberto Alonso will succeed Chairwoman Perla Hantman-Tabares, while Colucci will represent the seat Perez held for 24 years. Both newcomers have supported the governor’s education agenda and agree that discussions surrounding LBGTQ+ issues should be removed from classrooms.
Nevertheless, Baez-Geller, speaking with the Herald after the meeting, said she would work with staff to ensure the call to action included in her request “is understood for what it is” when it is presented again Wednesday. She said she understands that some people “have already made up their mind.”
Everyone has a right to represent their constituents, but, she argued, amid the culture war debates, it’s the LBGTQ+ community that has been singled out.
“At the end of the day, this is a recognition,” Baez-Geller told the Herald. “I hope it passes without negativity or further singling people out.”