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Carlton: After Orlando and despite pastors, Hillsborough School Board can show solidarity

A stack of these pages was left on a seat in the rear of the Hillsborough School Board auditorium on Tuesday, June 14, 2016, after a meeting that included more than 30 minutes of testimony from religious leaders concerned about transgender students choosing their own bathrooms. "Don't be concerned that everyone is saying the same thing," the notice advises. Then, in bold type: "The object is to let them know that the Church is activated on this and if they don't listen to us there will be electoral consequences." [Marlene Sokol | Times]

A stack of these pages was left on a seat in the rear of the Hillsborough School Board auditorium on Tuesday, June 14, 2016, after a meeting that included more than 30 minutes of testimony from religious leaders concerned about transgender students choosing their own bathrooms. "Don't be concerned that everyone is saying the same thing," the notice advises. Then, in bold type: "The object is to let them know that the Church is activated on this and if they don't listen to us there will be electoral consequences." [Marlene Sokol | Times]

Even after a tragedy beyond imagining, all that was missing at this week's Hillsborough School Board meeting were the pitchforks.

Just days after the horror in Orlando, a pack of pastors trooped one by one to a lectern to verbally shake their fists and vow election consequences if School Board members dared cast a small vote for inclusion.

It could not be possible that these men and women of God were unaware that a city just down Interstate 4 had suffered, and is still suffering, a terrible mass shooting, with 49 people dead in a gay nightclub.

How could their fears possibly be bigger than that?

The pastors came not to talk about unity or working through a changing landscape. They did not, like another man of God this week — Bishop Robert Lynch of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg — speak about how religion can target and breed contempt for LGBT people, and how such attacks can sow seeds that can lead to violence — a remarkable admission that bears repeating.

This week religious leaders were concerned about school restrooms.

The School Board is currently considering voting "gender expression" onto the list of attributes of students and staffers specifically protected against harassment — a list that already includes race, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity and lots of others.

For the record, shouldn't schools be pretty much against harassment of everybody? Apparently, the current world requires enumeration.

This, of course, points to the current national tempest over whether a person should use the restroom matching the gender to which they were born or the one with which they identify. A recent federal directive says the answer is the gender with which a person identifies — the place a person feels he or she belongs.

At the meeting, one religious leader predicted adding those two words will have "every heterosexual male" claiming transgenderness, presumably in order to wile his way into the girls' restroom. This is reflective of a darker concern voiced in the national debate — one without evidence — that the change would fling the doors open wide to predators and pedophiles.

Seriously? We don't think our schools can manage reasonable safeguards and options in an effort to accommodate all students?

Here, allow me a side note about those more-than-a-dozen religious leaders who spoke, most of them pointing out the number of constituents they represented, and many saying they would remember this vote come election time.

As the Times' Marlene Sokol reported, scripts the pastors left behind after the meeting instructed them that they were not there to educate or persuade board members. The object was "to let them know that the Church is activated on this and if they don't listen to us there will be electoral consequences."

By the way, is there any concern this might jeopardize churches' tax-exempt status, given that the IRS warns against participating or intervening in political campaigns for or against candidates? Just wondering.

The effort was led by ever-present conservative Christian activist Terry Kemple, who later hot-footed it over to the Hillsborough County Commission to try to talk them out of flying a rainbow flag at the county center in a show of respect and solidarity with Orlando. It passed anyway, though a county employee later complained the flag created a hostile work environment.

Sigh.

But speaking of solidarity.

It's a small thing, a school board refusing to cave to bullying, adding two words in the name of inclusion and figuring out sensible ways to make it work. But maybe it would say something bigger about who we are. Or who we can be, anyway.

Contact Sue Carlton at carlton@tampabay.com.

Carlton: After Orlando and despite pastors, Hillsborough School Board can show solidarity 06/17/16 [Last modified: Friday, June 17, 2016 8:08pm]
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