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Miami-Dade School Board Rejects October Declaration of LGBTQ History Month

Leaders of Florida’s largest school system have rejected a resolution to declare October LGBTQ History Month, another sign the state continues to swing right as Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis pushes to suppress discussions of sexual orientation in the classroom.

After a noisy six-hour meeting on Wednesday, the Miami-Dade school board voted 8 to 1 to block a measure that affirmed the county’s commitment to keeping all students safe — including those who identify as gay , lesbian, transgender or non-binary – and recognized LGBTQ History Month as “an effective way to educate and call to action our community to work together to fight prejudice and discrimination”.

The resolution would also ask the Superintendent of Schools to explore the possibility of providing Grade 12 teachers with resources to educate students about the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage as well as the precedent legal basis of anti-discrimination laws. Lower grade teachers would be free to reiterate “respect and support for LGBTQ students.”

The school board’s vote against the measure, which comes just a year after the body approved a similar resolution by a 7-1 vote, highlights the rapidly changing political landscape in Florida as conservative groups in parental rights advocates have mobilized to erase any discussion of topics such as gender and racial inequality in school.

This year, DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature enacted a new law that prohibits schools from teaching students in kindergarten through third grade about topics involving sexual orientation or gender identity. Lessons for older grades must now be “age-appropriate,” a vague term that is causing widespread confusion across the state about what teachers can say in class or whether they can even post identifying signs their classrooms as “safe spaces” for students who may feel intimidated.

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A school system lawyer told council members he did not believe the proposed resolution conflicted with the Parental Rights in Education Act. But several school board members still cited the new ordinance, which critics dubbed the “don’t say gay” law, as justification for their decision to rescind their previous support for LGBTQ History Month.

Ahead of the vote, dozens of parents and community members crammed into the meeting room, including some men aligned with the far-right extremist group the Proud Boys.

“We’re sitting around talking about recognizing LGBTQ History Month. What exactly does this mean? What will be celebrated? … What will be represented in our corridors? asked Christi Fraga, a board member who opposed the resolution. “If we are going to allow teachers to decide what can be taught in the classroom during this time, that concerns me.”

The board’s decision outraged Democratic lawmakers and gay rights activists, who accused leaders of the nation’s fourth-largest school system of cutting South Florida’s own ties to the national gay rights movement.

In the 1970s, gay rights activists in Miami feuded with Anita Bryant, a religious conservative who used South Florida to launch her nationwide campaign against anti-discrimination ordinances. Then, in the 1980s, during the AIDS epidemic, gay people flocked to Miami Beach and helped make it a global destination for tourism and entertainment.

“I’m horrified, but I’m not surprised given the turn Florida has taken under Governor DeSantis,” said Michael Rajner, 51, a South Florida gay rights activist. “He seemed to turn the Sunshine State into a fascist state and take us back to the dark ages.”

DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the vote.

Equality Florida, a gay rights group, also decried the school board’s decision.

“Tonight’s vote is further evidence of the chilling effect of Florida’s discriminatory Don’t Say LGBTQ law and the toxic anti-LGBTQ environment fostered by Governor DeSantis,” said Joe Saunders, political director of Equality Florida, in a written statement. .

Rajner said he fears the school board’s decision could further stifle discussion in the classroom of LGBTQ people – wondering, for example, whether teachers who bring up Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will be allowed to note that he is the first openly gay law firm in the country. member.

“LGBT youth should have a role model, the same way Barack and Michelle Obama gave hope to so many young black people,” he said.

But Anthony Verdugo, executive director of the Miami-based Christian Family Coalition, a conservative political advocacy group, said Wednesday’s vote shows how conservative parents now oppose the teaching of issues in schools that don’t are not directly related to “reading”. , writing and arithmetic.

“Schools are there for education, not for indoctrination,” Verdugo said, repeating debunked theories that children choose their sexual orientation based on their exposure to LGBTQ issues. “We celebrate the content of people’s character, not their sexual preference or gender identity.”

Verdugo added that he still supports other school district designations, such as Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month.

“These are notable and morally neutral questions,” he said. “Issues of sex and sexual activity, these are not morally neutral.”

Verdugo noted that Wednesday’s victory follows the success of the conservatives last month in winning two seats on the Miami-Dade school board, which he said will secure a new conservative majority when the new board is elected in November. He believes the outcome of that election also caused the current board to reject the resolution.

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“I don’t think the margin would have been great, and last night parents, students and citizens showed up in force,” said Verdugo, who also downplayed the Proud Boys’ presence. “Individuals and groups have the right to speak out, whatever issue drives them.”

At one point during the meeting, some of the parents in the audience began yelling at Andrea S. Pita Mendez, a 17-year-old high school student who serves on the council as a nonvoting student councilor.

After saying she represents “the voice of 340,000 students,” Mendez began to push back against council members’ claim that their clients are district parents.

“They’re not. It’s the students,” Mendez said. “The parents aren’t because they don’t sit eight hours a day.”

As Mendez spoke, some audience members moaned and yelled at her, causing her to briefly interrupt her remarks.

When the outburst subsided, Mendez again pleaded for the board to support the resolution.

“You’re not in these hallways every day. We are,” said Mendez, who is also president of her student government association. “And our students told me that they support this article. Students are allowed to make up their own minds about the information they learn.

Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.