The room was nearly empty by the time that the public hearings began at the School Board Meeting on March 7. After Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) students showed off their robots and the School Board recognized their all-state music students, the Chair of the Sarasota County School Board Caroline Zucker offered an escape to students and parents. Next on the agenda? Transgender bathroom rights.
Zucker offered the opportunity for departure for the parents who just wanted to honor their child’s accomplishments, which left the room almost empty except for advocates and supporters of Nate’s List, a campaign working for transgender rights in Sarasota, who planned to use this time to address the issue of bathroom rights in schools in Sarasota County. Among them were many New College students.
It quickly became apparent as speakers began, that members of the school board had heard many similar speeches in the year since Nate Quinn first spoke on the issue. Yet, the fight for transgender rights is important now more than ever.
The new administration has, in a twist of events, created a change to the federal Title IX policy which rescinded two important letters put in place during the Obama administration. These letters provided guidance for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Education (DOE) on issues such as gender identity and civil rights protections. For a more detailed explanation of the changes, check out the previous issue of the Catalyst in print or online.
In a speech, a New College student – second year Hayley Trejo – pointed out that fighting back at a local level was a stepping stone to getting rid of discriminatory federal policies.
“When they go high, we go local,” Trejo said.
However, the School Board’s displeasure with the subject became evident when Nate Quinn stepped up to the mic.
Quinn went over his three minutes to speak and was interrupted by buzzers. Immediately, when he showed no signs of submitting to the buzzer noises and leaving the podium, Zucker shouted “remove him” and demanded that he be forcibly removed from the podium and from the meeting by security. This is despite the fact that other speakers had also gone over their times and were not met with such hostility.
The mother of a transgender student, Allaya Nolan, was in the middle of her speech when the buzzer signaled her time was up. She continued her speech quickly, without being stopped by the board, whereas Quinn continued his speech as he was escorted out by security.
The School Board did not laugh, as members of the audience did, when Program Coordinator for Advocacy Leadership Support and Outreach (ALSO) Molly Swift gave out her phone number during her speech, holding up a piece of paper with her phone number on it for the audience to see.
Next, Greg Cruz of the Sarasota Manatee Black Lives Matter chapter and Answer Suncoast pointed out the hypocrisy of the School Board in the fact that the School Board hired Todd Bowden – who had sexual assault allegations made against him during the process of selection for the job. Despite this, the School Board continues to deny transgender children the right to use the bathroom of their gender identity, under the nonexisting and discriminatory threat of sexual predators using the rules to their advantage.
Cruz began his speech by announcing that the Black Lives Matter movement stands with transgender students on this issue. Then, he asked that the rest of his time be used as a moment of silence for the seven transgender women of color who have already been murdered in 2017: Jaquarrius Holland, Chyna Gibson, Ciara McElveen Mesha Caldwell, Jamie Lee, Keke Collier and Jojo Striker.
As he stepped off of the podium Cruz “dropped the mic.”
“Just so you guys know, I know Nate, and he hasn’t been accused of sexual assault unlike some of the members of this board,” Cruz said.
This comment comes after multiple attempts to get the board to pay attention and make a move on this issue to no avail.
After the speaking of the citizens part of the meeting ended, Bowden discussed the policy of the Broward County School board which was brought up in a speech by QUEERY an LGBT+ advocacy group from New College. Making what was apparently an important distinction between policy and guidelines, he pointed out that other counties had written legislation on this issue into their guidelines and not their policy.
Then, board member Eric Robinson discussed the ongoing court cases that have come to light surrounding this issue.
“We were hoping to hear from the Supreme Court by the end of the year on this issue,” Robinson said. “But obviously we’re not going to get a ruling by then.”
There was a sliver of hope at the end of the meeting. School Board member Jane Goodwin thanked two young transgender girls for speaking and “putting a face” to this issue. She announced that they could not make a move to change anything then, but she would like the issue to be discussed in a future workshop.
However, the School Board doesn’t have a great track record on this issue, as they have been deferring action on the issue for over a year. Thus, the meeting’s resolution was anti-climatic for many of the audience members. But, it was hopeful and a sign of possible good news to come according to the Nate’s List official Facebook Page.