NEWS

Brevard superintendent promises to address LGBT issues

FLORIDA TODAY
March 1, 2016

Superintendent Desmond Blackburn called some of the language used by the public during last week’s school board meeting about expanding the district’s anti-harassment policy “offensive,” and pledged that discussions about protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people were not over.

He said the school board’s decision last Tuesday to table the proposed amendment that would have prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity should not be seen as the final decision. Some 90 people spoke out against the LGBT anti-harassment policy, with some saying that they would remove their children from Brevard Public Schools if it was enacted.

Many of the policy opponents expressed concern about the impact it would have on school restrooms, expressing fears that boys might pretend to be transgender to get into girl’s restrooms. Several said they wanted more Christianity incorporated into the Brevard Public Schools curriculum, and that they wanted to “bring Jesus Christ back” into local classrooms. Some of the comments turned harsh.

“While many of the comments offered sincere opposition to the change, other speakers chose to use language that many felt was offensive, including the Board, staff, our students and myself. I want to reassure you that these sentiments do not represent the thoughts, feelings, or interests of our district,” Blackburn wrote in a statement released Tuesday. “In fact, it is the position of this district that we are great champions of all human beings regardless of their sex, religion, national origin, race, disability, gender identity, and so forth.”

Blackburn said that due to the “volume of misinformation surround the policy,” it was necessary for the school board to take a pause. Blackburn said some speakers were under the mistaken impression that the proposed policy change would increase some students’ rights and decrease others.

The district, he wrote, does plan to make revisions to its discipline policy.

“The conversation relating to this topic that began with the February 23rd school board meeting did not signify an ending to this conversation but simply the beginning,” Blackburn said. ” In the weeks and months to come, we will have additional conversations around inclusion issues and our non-discrimination policies.”

School board chair Andy Ziegler said he wanted to reassure the public that the school board would take action to foster an inclusive atmosphere in Brevard Public Schools.

“Moving forward from our February 23rd board meeting’s controversial topic of modifications to our non-harassment or non-discrimination policy, I am very comfortable saying that it our intention to find a solution that clearly ensures all students that they are supported and respected regardless of their beliefs,” Ziegler said. “We always have and always will continue to ensure all student’s rights are protected and respected. At the end of the meeting I mentioned that only one speaker asked the right question, ‘What problem are we trying to solve?; To that I answered, and maintain, that I want to ensure that all students feel supported and loved! Due to statements made by some of the speakers that night, I am now more determined to find a solution to this problem that has been made clearly evident. ”

Avis Ann Furman of Cocoa, an opponent of the policy change who attended last week’s school board meeting, said it was unfair to characterize some of the comments made there as offensive.

“I don’t think we’re the ones who are being misguided,” Furman said. “Maybe some of them were not so good with their language and didn’t emphasize that we’re supposed to love everybody but we don’t have to like what they do.”

Furman said that the key to understanding the position of her and other LGBT policy opponents was the phrase, “love the sinner but not the sin,” and that this was the animating concept behind their movement.

“I don’t want that stuff even shown to my kids and grandkids,” she said. “We’re trying to raise them how the Bible tells us to, and they’re making it hard.”

Scott Wall-DeSousa, whose husband Daniel is a teacher at Heritage High, said that they have been advocating for the LGBT non-discrimination proposal since the fall of 2014, and that it was unacceptable for the gay community to keep waiting for a new non-discrimination proposal to be written.

Wall-DeSousa said that the original LGBT proposal was a good one. It would have banned firing or bullying LGBT staff and students based on their LGBT status. He said that he and his husband felt betrayed when the proposal was tabled.

“Our statement is that this discussion did not start on Feb. 23,” said Wall-DeSousa. “This discussion began in October 2014, and the board I feel was bullied and now they should see why there’s such a need for this addition to the non-discrimination notice.”

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