Broward School Board approves LGBTQ resolutions after heated debate
An effort by the Broward School Board to honor its diverse communities over the next year turned into more of a feud than a celebration Tuesday.
In past years, resolutions recognizing certain events or groups have passed with little notice. But this year, resolutions to support the LGBTQ community and the instruction of African American history fueled the same angry culture war debates that have become increasingly common statewide.
By the time the 3½-hour discussion was over, the left-leaning majority on the School Board prevailed in passing 98 resolutions, including three in support of the LGBTQ community.
They also postponed one in support of the state-mandated African American history curriculum, which has generated national controversy due to a line about slaves learning job skills that may benefit them.
A crowd of dozens included members of the LGBTQ community who clashed with conservative opponents, with each side accusing the other of heckling.
Board Chairwoman Lori Alhadeff interrupted the meeting several times to give speakers and audience members warnings for violating decorum. Alhadeff even instructed security to escort out one woman opposed to the resolutions after she made an outburst.
“I can’t begin to say how today feels like the ugliest anti-LGBT environment in a very long time,” activist Michael Rajner told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “It’s been difficult to sit in the room.”
Brenda Fam, the most vocally conservative member on the School Board, said during the meeting she believes it was conservatives who were being mistreated and falsely accused of being hateful.
“What we need to shut down is this labeling that you cannot have more than one opinion,” Fam said. “Not agreeing with something is not hateful. It’s having an alternative view.”
The resolutions are generally symbolic in nature and not part of the school curriculum. They are listed on the district’s website and School Board members often make videos explaining their significance. Most are non-controversial commemorations, such as Teacher Appreciation Week, National Lunch Week, Women’s History Month and Disability Awareness Weeks.
But three LGBTQ-related resolutions, all of which officials say have been recognized by the district for at least nine years, generated the most controversy.
One recognizes June as Pride Month, a second celebrates October as LGBTQ History Month and a third commemorates April 12 as National Day of Silence, designed to fight against bullying in the LGBTQ community.
Many audience members, as well as Board member Fam, argued these violate recent laws in Tallahassee, dubbed by critics as “don’t say gay,” which largely ban instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Fam said she believes the messages will seep into the curriculum and asked the School Board to reject the pro-LGBTQ resolutions or postpone them, but the board voted down her proposals.
General Counsel Marylin Batista said none of the resolutions violate state law.
“They are pronouncements from this board,” she said. “They do not mandate any type of curriculum to be taught at the schools.”
Some of the dozens of public speakers in attendance disagreed.
“You do not have a right to infringe this on parents,” said Deidre Ruth, a parent and conservative activist told the board. “There are faiths that do not believe in this. You can’t force people to accept religion, but you also can’t force people to accept other people’s sexuality or identity.”
Later in the meeting, Ruth was escorted out after interrupting Board member Debra Hixon from the audience to ask what the board’s priorities were.
Pompano Beach resident William Carlson said during public comments the School Board needs to focus on education and not LGBTQ issues. He also said the gay community has won the rights it fought for.
“They have a victory, so go home, enjoy it and leave the rest of us alone,” he said.
But many from the LGBTQ community and their supporters also attended and urged the School Board to pass the resolutions.
“It is so easy to say people don’t need a month for their history when your history has a permanent place on the pages of textbooks for all 12 of those months,” said Maxx Fenning, executive director of Prism, an LGBTQ youth support group.
“It is so easy to say that we don’t need a month for Pride when your sexual orientation or gender identity has never and will never be the reason you were denied housing, denied a job, denied health care, denied the right to love and live as you are,” Fenning said.
Board member Sarah Leonardi, one of the most vocal LGBTQ allies, said she was alarmed by the anti-gay comments at the meeting.
“I heard someone say this morning you can’t force people to accept each other. I never thought I’d hear in a public meeting in the United States of America a call for intolerance,” she said. “No one on this board is forcing anyone to do or believe anything.”
Another resolution created controversy from the more liberal members, a resolution in support of teaching African American history.
The list of 99 included multiple resolutions honoring the Black community, including ones for Black History Month in February and National Black Business Month.
But the Black history resolution drew concerns due to recent controversies regarding the curriculum. The resolution, drafted earlier this year by Board member Torey Alston, says three times that the school district is in compliance with state law on the teaching of African-American history.
The State Board of Education adopted a new curriculum last month that sparked outrage due to a line that says, “Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” Critics say this whitewashes history and suggests that slavery was in some ways beneficial.
“I think it would be prudent for us as a board to have the input of the Black community and have this item tabled, so this can be further discussed and we can get input from the community,” Board member Jeff Holness said.
Fam took offense at efforts to remove or postpone the resolution.
“I have read the actual statute. There’s nothing there that says slavery was beneficial and as a wife of an African man, and the mother of a biracial daughter, I take offense to that misrepresentation,” she said.
Alston offered to postpone all 99 resolutions to get community input. The board said yes to tabling the history proclamation but no to delaying all the others. The full list passed 7 to 2, with Fam absent for the vote and Alston and Daniel Foganholi voting no.