After Raucous Meeting, Florida School Board Votes Down LGBT Antibias Policy

Brevard School Board

A Florida school board has voted down an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policy after a lengthy meeting this week in which 90 people testified against it.

The Brevard Public Schools board, covering Brevard County on Florida’s Atlantic coast, Tuesday voted unanimously against adding sexual orientation and gender identity to nondiscrimination policies covering students and staff, local newspaper Florida Today reports.

About 100 people registered to speak at Tuesday’s meeting, and the vast majority of them objected to adding the LGBT protections, the paper reports.

“Policy opponents said they feared the LGBT policy would mean that those who voice religious objections to gay marriage in local schools would be branded as bigots and disciplined for discrimination,” Florida Today notes. “Some opponents said they wanted to preach scripture in schools, and many said they were concerned about transgender individuals using public school bathrooms. They argued that the LGBT policy threatened morality.”

There were often cheers for those opposing the policy change, and boos for those who supported it, the paper reports. Many opponents invoked religion, like Bradford Cole, who said, “We want God’s word in our public schools. ... We want godly principles in our public schools. We want Jesus Christ back in our schools.”

Friar Demetri Tsigas, a Greek Orthodox priest, argued against the protections by saying, “This is not San Francisco, folks. This is Brevard County.” And another opponent, Robert Taylor, brought up the bathroom issue, saying, “Do we want delusional people of the opposite sex in our restrooms? No!”

The antigay legal group Liberty Counsel also sent the school district a letter urging it not to adopt the LGBT protections, making the discredited argument about enabling restroom predators, claiming the new policy would endanger free speech rights, and threatening to sue if the board approved it.

“By adding ‘gender identity’ as a protected class, Draft Policy 3362 will serve as the basis for allowing boys and men claiming a female ‘gender identity’ to enter and use the restrooms, locker rooms, and other areas previously affording privacy to girls and women,” the letter claimed. “The inclusion of ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ in other school districts has led to a chilling effect upon students expressing a religious or moral viewpoint on the subject of sexuality. Instances of students and teachers being subjected to punishment or retaliation for voicing their beliefs to others, in person, or online, in social media, are readily available. Some school districts have even required other students (or teachers) to address gender-confused students or employees by incorrect names, and inaccurate pronouns, regardless of the First Amendment implications for appropriate use of language.”

The few speakers in favor of adding LGBT protections included married couple Daniel and Scott Wall-DeSousa, Florida Today reports. Daniel, a teacher at a high school in the district, countered claims that this would create “special rights,” saying, “On its face, the term 'special rights' does not make sense. If something is a right, by definition it is not 'special.'  It belongs to everybody.”

Scott attended Brevard County schools as a child, and he testified that he endured harassment that led him to attempt suicide. LGBT young people need support, he said: “More than anything, their lives matter, and my life mattered, and the children that come after me matter.”

In the end, though, these arguments didn’t move the school board. While rejecting the new policy, board members did agree to hold a public workshop on LGBT issues at an unspecified date.

Watch Florida Today’s video report from the meeting below.

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