The debate over observing LGBTQ History Month at public schools stunningly revealed Miami-Dade County’s deeply held prejudices and homophobia. In at least eight hours of public testimony, misinformation left a mark and a message of intolerance to young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.
Item H-11 on the School Board’s agenda Wednesday meant to use October to observe the “important roles that LGBTQ people have taken in shaping the social, historical, legal and political worlds we live in today.” The proclamation wouldn’t affect “curriculum, classroom instruction or instructional materials” to avoid violating the parental-rights law known as “Don’t say gay.”
It was a small measure to tell students, already embattled by Florida’s assault on who they are: “We see you and value you.”
The proposal failed by a 5-3 vote. That’s not surprising, given allies of Gov. Ron DeSantis have taken over the board. More disturbing were some residents’ public comments, steeped in conspiracy theories, with some of them also proclaiming to love Jesus and wanting to protect children.
There was the occasional version of “I’m not homophobic” followed by a lecture on the perceived ills of being a homosexual. There were so-called defenders of parental rights who used the following terms to describe LGBTQ History Month:
A “form of harassment.”
“Grooming,” a term that refers to how pedophiles build relationships with children to later sexually exploit them.
There were misinformed statements like, “Homosexuality is a decision.” (It’s not.)
That observing LGBTQ History is “imposing sex into our kids” and “Boys have the potential of being misguided” into homosexuality by it.
And there were the far-right Proud Boys standing outside the School Board building in downtown, wearing T-shirts that read “Shoot Your Local Pedophile.” Extremism in Miami-Dade is alive and bold.
Not all opponents of the measure used such ugly language. Some had understandable concerns about having control over the type of information their children are exposed to. But too many of the public comments at Wednesday’s meeting parroted the rhetoric on LGBTQ+ issues that has festered on social media and in political speeches.
DeSantis’ spokeswoman Christina Pushaw, with a tweet, helped introduced the false old homophobic trope “groomer” into the debate over the “Don’t say gay” law, wrongly equating homosexuality with pedophilia. “Indoctrination” has become a buzzword that DeSantis says in virtually every speech about “wokeness.”
It’s clear that inciting fear and paranoia into the minds of parents works as a political strategy.
But observing the contributions of people like Martin Gouterman, a gay scientist and activist who discovered why blood is red, has nothing to do with sex. It is meant to inspire gay kids to overcome adversity and teach others about those who positively contributed to our lives
A bad analogy
It’s disingenuous to equate a month of observance that doesn’t affect curriculum with sex education or, worse, the sexual exploitation of children. It’s cynical to ask why people of other sexual orientations don’t get a month dedicated to them, as board member Roberto Alonso did, the Herald reported. Such shallow arguments have already been used against Black History Month and International Women’s Day.
LGBTQ History Month was purely symbolic, but symbols matter. So does the massive backlash the proposal received. Miami-Dade County’s queer students now have it on the record that some of their neighbors and elected representatives see their identity as something to be banned from public discussion.
Some School Board members hid behind the excuse that the measure could violate Florida’s ban on classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity — the “Don’t say gay” law — even though the board’s lawyer said it wouldn’t.
Member Steve Gallon III was absent for the vote despite attending the early part of Wednesday’s meeting. He told the Herald Editorial Board on Thursday he had a “prior commitment” of a “personal matter” scheduled. Although he made a motion to advance the item during a previous committee hearing, Gallon wouldn’t say how he would have voted on it. It’s a shame. His constituents deserve to know where he stands.
LGBTQ students will continue to exist in schools that find it taboo to recognize them and in families that don’t accept them. Unfortunately, our elected leaders and too many community members would rather fight innocuous measures to celebrate a community’s history than make those children feel welcome in our melting pot.
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