We Beat the Bigots in Orlando

I’m sure many of you would like to know what happened at last night’s school board meeting. Well, it was an eight hour ordeal and I spent a lot of time alternately rolling my eyes or clenching my jaw, but the short answer is that we won, the non-discrimination policy was changed for both teachers and students to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. The vote was 6 to 2 on both measures (one for students, one for staff), and one of the votes against was because the board member in question was sworn into the position last week and didn’t feel comfortable voting for something she hadn’t studied, so I’ll give her a pass.

Long answer:

I got there feeling remarkably out of place, mostly because I rolled up behind a bunch of people with blue shirts, Bibles, and a whole lot of muttering about “special rights” and “god’s word.” Wasn’t until I got inside the meeting room that I saw others wearing red like I was and felt a little more comfortable. Introduced myself, signed up to speak, and had a seat.

The meeting started with a moment of silence (not a prayer!) and the Pledge of Allegiance, which I can live with. We sat down, the board, being smart, got all of its non-controversial stuff out of the way despite being lower on the itinerary, and then started to hear the 70 people who wanted to speak on this.

This is about the time when Kristycat came and I finally got to meet her amazing 5 month old, Suzannah. For five months, little girl has already been to a number of events and protests, and mommy and daughter were wearing matching rainbow bracelets made by the GSA at Kristycat’s old high school.

One of the things that the opposition (they were opposed to changing the policy, not just me) had were “Protect Children” stickers. Being smartasses, we redshirts asked for a few and re-appropriated them. Many of us added things to the bottom (e.g. “from bigotry,” “against hate,” etc.). You can’t really see in this picture, but I added “From Superstition” to mine.

It's a sticker that says, "Protect Children" with "From Superstition" below itThe public comments were about what you would expect. Here are my thoughts in bullet form.

– Every single person objecting made some reference to why not discriminating against LGBT people was against their faith. Lots of “nobody likes discrimination,” but plenty of trying to protect it.

– Fundies are obsessed with other people’s bodily functions. Seriously, I heard “what about bathrooms” more last night than I ever have in my life. Whether it’s ejaculation or urination, there’s some Christianist who needs to know exactly how you’re going about it and approve or they scream that they’re being discriminated against.

– Had a wide cross section of nutjobs. One guy spent his three minutes regurgitating David Barton and pretending that fake quotes from the Founding Fathers were real. One person talked about how unfair it is to be called a bigot for being bigoted. Several discussed god removing his hand of protection from our nation. At least one person talked about how the majority of people in the room would have wanted a prayer instead of a moment of silence. My favorite was the crazy lady who said that the presence of people in suits proved that this was an attempt by the UN to usher in the One World Government (somebody took video of that and I will post it when I get a copy).

– Of the 70 speakers, 28 of them were pastors or ministers, and only two of those were on the right side of the issue. The two not bigoted ones were a Unitarian and a UCC minister and both made entirely secular arguments. Otherwise, I came to expect that if “Reverend” was in front of a name, or their comments start with “I’m a pastor at…” they were going to be the most egregious liars in the room and probably say something horrendous.

– Heard one of the most original arguments for the adoption of the policy yet. Essentially, federal non-discrimination laws as well as city and county ones already require this for other employers, so OCPS is at a hiring disadvantage and may be missing out on great talent because those people don’t want to worry that they’ll be fired for being gay.

– There must be a right wing legal industry, since lots of people claimed to have gotten legal advice that said that no court has ever supported gender identity as a protected trait, including the Constitutional lawyer from Jacksonville that spoke and apparently has somehow never heard of Glenn v Brumby. They have law books published by Wallbuilders and A Beka that remove references to any cases that don’t support their faith.

– There was so much whining and complaining from the blueshirts about how “this is being secreted through” and “nobody informed us of this change.” There was a public notice in the paper for three months. There were two other meetings about this, including the workshop that were noticed. It was posted on the school board website. It’s physically posted on a piece of paper at the front of the building. Every time I heard somebody say they weren’t told about the meeting, all I heard was, “I don’t care about anything besides making gay people suffer, and you should know I want an engraved invitation to do so!” If you gave a damn about school board proceedings, you would pay attention to where they’re posted. They shouldn’t have to go out of their way because you don’t normally give a damn.

I tried to get video of my comments, but technical difficulties prevented it. Here’s a transcript, though, for those who care. Otherwise, just skip the quoted section and move on to my thoughts on all the board members and their votes.

We’ve heard a lot of rhetoric tonight about protecting children, but the opponents of this measure fail to define what they’re protecting children from. To protect something, you must have something you fear will hurt them, so what do they fear?

I suggest that opponents of this measure are afraid of the inspirational teacher that also happens to tell stories about his husband the way my female teachers did when I was growing up. They are afraid of the kind guidance counselor who might be seen at the mall with her girlfriend. They’re afraid of the transgender student who just wants to use the bathroom between classes without getting beaten up. They are afraid that evidence that LGBT people are not miserable and abnormal will reach their children, and undermine their assurances that that is the case.

I have heard tonight opponents say both that they recognize the humanity of LGBT people…and that they’re like drug addicts. They they respect the dignity of LGBT people and that they’re abnormal. One person stood up here saying that she doesn’t like being called a fearmonger. Shortly thereafter, somebody compared homosexuality to rape.

These are not compatible opinions.

What opponents of this idea are protecting is not children, but an idea. It’s a bad idea. It’s an idea that dehumanizes and demonizes. It’s an idea that convinces otherwise good people that secular institutions like a school board should be used to enforce their faith.

And their fear is that this idea will not continue for another generation. That fear is justified.

But that fear is not sufficient reason not to pass this measure. On the contrary, it’s the reason why this change is vital.

Kristycat and Suse also spoke, I have video of that one, but won’t post it without her express permission.

Now, on to the actual votes.

Bill Sublette (Chairman ) – Voted for an amendment that didn’t pass that would have struck gender identity and gender expression from the proposed changes, and also voted for both measures to adopt the full language. He was one of the people who originally pushed for this language to be adopted. His vote to try to remove gender identity and expression, he explained, was because those were already protected by federal law and it might make opponents of this change feel better and not cause so much of a ruckus. I think Sublette, for all his good intentions, is horrendously naive and doesn’t know the religious right very well. They would have continued to agitate for the removal of sexual orientation and to try and remove him from the board come election time. There is no placating these people, so you really ought to fight them.

District 1 Joie Cadle – Ended up voting against the amendment to remove gender ID and expression and for both measures. She was quiet through most of the meeting, had no questions or comments until the end. This is apparently rare for her. But when she did speak, she spoke passionately about her job and her family and her responsibilities. Very impressive.

District 2 Daryl Flynn – Miss Flynn was the board member who had the most impact in making this a reality. When we redshirts had a group picture when all was said and done, we invited her to join us. She had a lot of pointed questions meant to address the bogus legal “concerns” of the opposition and spoke well in favor of these measures.

District 3 Rick Roach – Voted against the amendment and for both measures. I had a hard time pinning this guy down at first. He seconded the amendment as proposed by Christine Moore, but was clear that he was doing it because nobody else was willing and he wanted to hear what she had to say. He then spoke very eloquently about how often he had been told that people had to wait to be treated well, and how it never sat right with him. His opinion was that this is how things should be, it’s how things will be, and we should just do it now rather than put it off. I was very impressed with him.

District 4 Pam Gould – Mrs. Gould is the newest member of the board and was just sworn in, so her votes were uniformly against change. This was not an ideological stance on her part, but rather because she missed all of the prep work that went into this and didn’t feel informed enough to approve. I can respect that: she had a week to catch up on three months of debate and information. I’ll give her a pass.

District 5 Kathleen Gordon – Mrs. Gordon was a formidable woman. Confident, unafraid to speak out. I was worried when she said she wore red because it was Christmas and “for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” and discussed how her daughter was “born a girl, it’s on her birth certificate” and how she has gay people in her family. It was all very confusing. But in the end, she spoke very powerfully about justice and equality and supported both measures.

District 6 Nancy Robbinson – Mrs. Robbinson is difficult to pinpoint. She was vocal in her stand with equality, very open about her opinions, but the description of her thinking process leads me to believe that this is not a progressivism born of habit, but of careful deliberation. I’d like to see more of her work.

District 7 Christine Moore – Mrs. Moore was the only person who walked into the meeting having made a public statement that she was against this measure. In an incredibly unprofessional move, she wore an Apopka high baseball jersey rather than a suit or business attire so she would be wearing blue in opposition to the policy change. She was the one that proposed that gender identity and expression be struck from the change. When it was clear that the proposal was going to pass, she tried to stall for time by asking that the board look for statistics on bullying of LGBT students and all sorts of other information. Kat Gordon asked why, in the last three months of discussion of this change and during the workshop to figure out the wording, didn’t she already ask for or get this information. The Dread Lord of Bakery pointed out this morning that that also means that she admits that she’s opposing this measure with essentially no data to back up her opposition. She snuck out of the chambers as soon as the meeting was adjourned while everybody else stayed to talk to constituents.

And that’s where that little day ends. It was exhausting. I’m trying to get copies of pictures since my phone died on me UPDATE: Here’s one of them, and that’s me kneeling in front in the red button down and black t-shirt).  But it was worth it, if for no other reason than to hear John Stemburger, the local head of Liberty Council and a world-class liar, impotently holding court with the few true believers still left and ranting about how, “That bathroom thing, they just created a new right in there!” I live on the tears of the Liberty Council.

Now, back to work. Lots more to write about, lots more to do, lots of fights to be fought. Thank you, everybody, for your support, especially if you called, wrote letters, or showed up. Issues like this do divide us, but they divide us into the just and the unjust, and that is a division we need to embrace.

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6 thoughts on “We Beat the Bigots in Orlando

    • Thanks, John. I’m keeping en eye out for videos. We had some amazing speakers on our side, especially the guy from Equality Florida, the teacher who first brought this up, and the last two speakers who were absolutely astonishing. Stupid phone running out of battery!

  1. I’m incredibly proud to know you both, and I’d admire what you’re doing to make a better nation for everyone who lives in it.

  2. As an Orlando ex-pat living in Atlanta (go Oak Ridge Pioneers!), I’m very glad OCPS adopted this policy. It’s the 21st Century. The time for inclusion is now! 🙂

    ☽◯☾

  3. Pingback: Politics, the extended version « Congratulations, it's a grain of rice!

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