Thursday, June 21, 2018
Education

Carlton: Hillsborough County School Board ducks on progress for LGBT kids

The Hillsborough County School Board just backed off on a vote for inclusion, sending conservative activist Terry Kemple and his pack of pastors on a victory lap.

And why is this a surprise?

Maybe because it sounded like a promising idea to better protect gay, lesbian and transgender students in public schools at a time we could use it.

Board member Cindy Stuart wanted to strengthen existing policy that already forbids discrimination based on someone's race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. So why might we need this, too?

Because of stats that say 75 percent of transgender kids report feeling unsafe at school. Nine out of 10 say they have been verbally harassed and more than half say that they have been physically assaulted.

Forty-two percent report attempting suicide.

Stuart wanted to add "gender expression" to the list of factors on that do-not-discriminate list.

It's a distinction: Gender identity, which is already protected, has to do with the sex with which a person identifies no matter how he or she was born. Gender expression is the external stuff: how someone dresses, their mannerisms and how they socially interact. The bottom line is that adding gender expression would have built one more layer of protection into the policy.

Notably, this vote was coming after President Barack Obama's directive that public schools allow transgender students to use their restroom of choice. It was going to happen in the wake of the massacre of 49 people gunned down at a gay nightclub in Orlando last month.

And seriously — who's against protecting any kid from bullying at school?

Enter Kemple, who has run unsuccessfully for the School Board himself. He and his pastor pack — who despite their numbers do not reflect the views of all Christians — flooded a board meeting by the dozens and vowed political retribution should this pass.

And now the idea has been indefinitely shelved.

Stuart insists she did not take it off the table for fear of promised political payback. (She's one of two incumbents up for re-election, though her challenger does not appear to be hugely formidable.)

She says she did it in part to spare the LGBT community a contentious vote in the wake of what happened in Orlando. She also says she knew one board member would be absent, a tie vote would have failed, and it would have appeared that Kemple won.

But win is what he did.

"A huge victory," he told me this week.

Kemple also recently spoke out against flying the gay pride rainbow flag for two weeks outside the downtown high-rise where county business is done in a show of solidarity for Orlando. The Hillsborough County Commission, however, voted to raise that flag. And no one was smote because of that display of empathy.

Over at the School Board, the better news is that officials are looking at educating staff on what for some is surely uncharted territory in dealing with their gay, lesbian and transgender students and what they face.

Expect Kemple and the pack to be ready for that, too.

Sue Carlton can be reached at [email protected]

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