The St. Augustine Record | by News-Journal editorial board | March 11, 2021
As resolutions go, this one was bland enough: It stated that 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.” Committed how, precisely? The resolution didn’t get into detail. It carries no requirement for additional services, outreach or education — not a single poster on a single high-school wall. And the “awareness week” it designated? Same week as Spring Break.
As the parents themselves said, this resolution was so little publicized that most Volusia County residents would never have known it existed. We’re pretty sure our education reporter Cassidy Alexander would not have included in her story about that day’s meeting.
Well, people are surely paying attention now.
Because these parents brought it up. School officials were meddling in an area reserved for parents, one said — envisioning an elaborate curriculum that, at this point, does not exist. Another suggested that School Board members imagine a week celebrating “masturbation/self-stimulation.”
But it was the second of the three speakers who really drove the point home.
“Let me give you another piece of this puzzle that is not as openly talked about yet. Bear with me. Pedophilia,” she said.
“It will only be a matter of time before pedophilia will no longer be considered a psychiatric disorder but rather an accepted practice or identity. It’s a slow fade and we are slowly being desensitized … we have to start speaking out against perversion and dynamics that are not good.”
Yep. She went there.
The Flagler LGBT Pride walk, Friday, June 12, 2020 from Wadsworth Park to Veterans Park in Flagler Beach. News-Journal/David Tucker
Too many students suffer
In taking the time from their undoubtedly busy days to attend the School Board meeting and air their opinions, these three parents performed an invaluable public service:
They showed School Board members exactly why such a resolution — a resolution, and so much more — is needed.
It’s undeniably true that Americans’ attitudes have shifted regarding sexual identity. In the 2020 version of an attitude survey commissioned by the advocacy group GLAAD, nine out of 10 Americans believed it should be illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ people in housing or service-related businesses such as restaurants. Eighty-six percent said it should be illegal to deny same-sex partners benefits such as health insurance or survivor access to pensions. Seventy-three percent said it should be illegal to disqualify physically qualified transgender Americans from military service.
A different study, by the Center for American Progress, found that 36 percent of self-identified LGBTQ people encountered some form of discrimination in the 12 months preceding the survey. The number rises to 62 percent among transgender people.
And the burdens are particularly stark for adolescents and young adults. In its 2019 assessment of youth risk factors, the Centers for Disease Control found that “sexual minority youth” were about twice as likely to be the targets of violence when compared to heterosexuals, and subjected to electronic or physical bullying at a much higher rate as well. Lesbian, gay or bisexual students were nearly four times as likely to be sexually assaulted, and nearly half reported seriously considering suicide in the past year, compared to 14.5% for heterosexual youth.
School should be a safe space for all students. For LGBTQ students, it frequently is not. That must change — in Volusia County, in Florida, across the United States.
We’d be happy to report that School Board members stood up and said so. That they responded to the ignorant mumblings of bigotry with resolve and valor. That they stood up for students who are too often terrified to stand up for themselves.
Don’t be silly. Of course they didn’t. Three of the five — Ruben Colon, Jamie Haynes and Anita Burnette — scrambled away from the resolution so fast they nearly left skidmarks. Carl Persis was the lone voice to approve the ceremonial declaration. Board chair Linda Cuthbert wanted it brought back for more discussion.
This issue will return
We can pretty much guarantee that the next time around, the board won’t be ambushed by just three parents sharing one cruel agenda: To deny even a simple statement of solidarity to Volusia County students struggling with their sexual identity. Whether or not Cuthbert’s wishes are followed, this issue will be coming back. With social distancing, the board room is likely to fill up fast, but take heart: There is an overflow area. We suspect that will be full as well.
So we thank you, Shaunn Smith, Tera McNaughton, Cristyl McClure. You helped bring this issue to the attention of the hundreds of Volusia County parents who love their children and are tired of watching them struggle against discrimination. You will give them a chance to tell their children’s stories of pain and triumph. To demand not just a resolution, but counseling and support. Protection. And yes, education — for all students, so they never stand at a dais and demand that children be denied acknowledgement and safety just because of who they are.
Featured image: Dagne Robertson founded DeLand Pride in June 2016 following the deadly shooting at Pulse, a night club in Orlando. NEWS-JOURNAL ARCHIVE