As part of a workshop I was facilitating for a school district last year, I was asked to focus on equity. For full disclosure, as much as I thought I knew about equity, now that I moderate A Seat at the Table for Education Week, a venue where we focus on the topic often, I realize I have a lot to learn.
As the conversation around equity—specifically relating to the district’s LGBTQ population and race—progressed, I could tell one person was becoming agitated. After we finished the conversation and took a morning break, the person came to me and started the conversation with, “I’m a conservative,” which is not the way someone usually begins a conversation with me.
I assumed they started that way because it was going to excuse the next set of words that would come out of their mouth. After I smiled or said, “How nice for you (I really can’t remember what I said),” they told me they thought schools were too inclusive.
I was taken aback by that statement because I have never had someone say that to me before. I was not offended nor angry, but I was a bit surprised and then realized they were not just a conservative but a right-wing conservative—at least when it came to equity. The person went on to tell me they thought their school district, as well as most school districts, were too inclusive and instead of schools catering to every child, the child should do a better job of fitting into the school.
What the person didn’t understand, or maybe they did, is that the majority of adults who run the school systems across the U.S. are straight, heterosexual, and white, including 80 percent of teachers, which is most likely at the crux of their statement. However, most of the students within the U.S. school system are students of color.
Connecting the Dots
As I walked away from the conversation, I actually felt sad for the person, because instead of learning from the diversity around them, they were trying to hold on to their exclusionary beliefs, which they would do anything to defend and take any measure to make sure they would keep intact.
During our current election season (but let’s face it, election season is never done), we have seen an increase in candidates who are using very specific exclusionary language to unify their constituency. As we know, there is a movement on the side of at least one group in the United States to prevent any conversation about the LGBTQ community. They don’t come out and say that in any honest fashion. What they do is try to make it seem like they want to ban any conversations that may not be age appropriate.
We need not look any further than Florida’s so-called Parental Rights in Education law. You can read more about it here and here. Most people call it what it really is, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, or more disgustingly called the “Anti-Grooming” bill by Gov. DeSantis’ press secretary. In reality, that is just a Trojan horse. What they really want is to use such bills as a way to discriminate against the whole LGBTQ community.
What begins as a way to prevent saying the word “gay” in the K-3 setting becomes a way to prevent gay teachers and school leaders from displaying pictures of themselves with their partners in the same way heterosexual teachers and leaders can have pictures of their families around their classrooms or offices. For instance, this lesbian teacher in Florida left her position due to pressure she was feeling from some colleagues and many parents.
Schools Need to Be Inclusive Because It’s the Right Thing to Do
The very nature of public schools is to accept any student who comes in their doors and to try to find different methods to include those students in conversations and engage them in learning. The very epitome of the equity and diversity movement is to learn from one another, which ultimately makes us stronger as a nation because everyone can see that they have something important to contribute.
As uncomfortable as it makes politicians who want to ban conversations and make some populations appear less worthy than other populations, the reality is that public schools are about including all students.
What populations like the LGBTQ community need to understand is that they should not worry about what people like DeSantis thinks of them. They should always speak up and speak out about discrimination but need not try to change his mind or that of people like him. The law that DeSantis pushed is discriminatory, and he must know it’s discriminatory. People who corner others and tell them that they believe schools are too inclusive are discriminatory but may not always see it as so, which is even sadder, because they don’t always recognize the hate they perpetuate. DeSantis, legislators, and gubernatorial candidates do understand the hate they spin, because they also understand it will win them votes by tapping into the mentality of other haters in the country.
What’s important for the LGBTQ community is not to look for acceptance from the narrow-minded people who support measures like the “Don’t Say Gay” law. What is truly important is to find self-acceptance and to surround themselves with people who actually see their strengths.
Self-acceptance is key. Living our lives and speaking out against discrimination is what we need to do.
In the End
Our nation has a lot of hate and discrimination within it. I would guess that most nations do. We need not look any further than the nightly news or political ads to see it. Part of the reason for the hate is due to people who say things like, “Schools are too inclusive,” or politicians and candidates who try to pass discriminatory laws or get up on stage and say that “we need to take our country back.” What that really means is that the world is changing, and they fear the growing diversity that surrounds them.
It must be terrible to wake up every morning so angry that you have to find different ways to silence the voices of those who scare you. Those angry people only want power and will do whatever they can to hold onto it. What most other populations, like the LGBTQ community or communities of color, are looking for when it comes to equity is an equal opportunity and acceptance. They want a voice equal to the others who surround them. Unlike people who say schools are too inclusive or that we need to take our country back, people who look for equality don’t want to quash the voice of others so they can have the loudest voice.
In the movie “Love, Simon,” Jennifer Gardner plays Simon’s mother, and in one scene after Simon is forced out of the closet, Gardner looks at him as they sit on the couch. Through tears, she tells him that for many years it seemed as though Simon was always holding his breath, that he couldn’t exhale. That was a perfect depiction of what it’s like for many people in the LGBTQ community—and the reason why schools need to be more inclusive. Pride Month, which is what we are in right now, is about honoring those who chose to exhale no matter how hard it is or has been and for students in the LGBTQ community to not feel they need to hold their breath.
The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.