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Tennessee's first out LGBTQ+ school board member: 'pay attention' to your local government

Zach Young Tennessee first out LGBTQ school board member
Friends of Zach Young

Zach Young tells The Advocate about the "horror stories" overtaking U.S. school boards and how he'll use his position to fight back against anti-LGBTQ+ hate.

Zach Young didn’t think it was in his cards to run for his local school board.

The politician lost his seat on the Nashville-Davidson CountyMetro Council in Tennessee to a conservative opponent last year after a brutal redistricting process boxed him into the one red district in his area. While the defeat was disappointing, Young, who was a city commissioner in Goodlettsville, a Nashville suburb, for seven years before serving on the Metro Council for four years, was content to take a step back from government following a “very expensive, very tiring campaign.”

Fate would prove to have other plans, as Young was soon after approached by Emily Masters, an outgoing member of the Metro Nashville Public Schools board, who asked the civil servant to be her replacement. Young did not initially agree, instead answering: “Absolutely not. I need a break.”

Young and Masters kept in touch for several months as Young contemplated his future. It wasn’t until he attended a conference hosted by the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, which is dedicated to electing out LGBTQ+ public officials, that Young realized just what was at stake at school boards throughout the United States.

“I heard some of the other folks up there just talking about these absolute horror stories of what's going on at school boards across the entire country,” Young tells The Advocate. “And also, knowing that those Moms for Liberty groups were trying to take hold in some of the suburban counties in Tennessee, I realized our school boards really are starting to become the front lines, so to speak, in the struggle for acceptance and for LGBTQ issues, especially for trans kids. And it was just starting to weigh heavily on me.”

Young “started feeling like the universe was nudging me” as Masters continually reached out to him, and finally “it just kind of started feeling right.” Young filed his application before the deadline in December, and as fate would have it, he was the only Democratic candidate to file for the seat. No Republican is running, so Young is now unopposed for the position in the Metro Nashville schools' third district in the August 1 general election, assuring him of a spot in history as the first out LGBTQ+ school board member in the state.

“This was the logical next step that I needed to do in order to step up and serve my community. Community being my local community, but then also my LGBTQ community here in Nashville,” Young says. “This is what I needed to step up and do because no one else was going to.”

Young, a 32-year-old gay man, is now preparing for the task of “having to comply with some of this terrible stuff that the state does'' while also protecting the LGBTQ+ children he set out to serve, he says. Tennessee currently has lawsbanning transgender athletes from competing on school sports teams designated for their gender identity, requiring public school employees to out queer students to their parents or guardians, and prohibiting trans students from using the bathrooms or changing facilities that reflect their gender identity.

While there are some policies the board can avoid enforcing, Young said that a real concern is that the state will “come in and threaten funding.”

“There's terrible things that the state legislature is doing, especially when it comes to picking and attacking on trans kids that, at the end of the day, is going to cost lives,” he says, adding, “It's a very thin line to walk.”

Despite the daunting tasks ahead, Young is proud “to be able to continue bringing that representation over to the school board, the body making the decisions about curriculum and policies for our public schools,” as he believes it will ultimately have a positive impact.

“Hopefully, we'll inspire other people and just bring that perspective to the school board,” he says. “Obviously, it's exciting to know that I will be the first, but at the same time, I was shocked. I thought maybe we would have checked this box by now. But, hell, I'm excited to be the one to check the box.”

As anti-LGBTQ+ legislation continues to sweep Young’s community and communities across the U.S., the politician says his “biggest advice, especially for people under 40 in our community, is to pay attention” to what’s happening in their local governments.

“I wish everyone in Tennessee would pay more attention to what our local officials and our state legislators are doing, because I truly believe there's so many people voting against their own values and maybe not even realizing it,” he says. “It's a struggle trying to remind people that really the level of government that touches them the most every day is their local government and state government. That's picking up the trash and paving the roads, educating the kids, running the health department.”

He continues, “If there's not a queer person in your community that's stepping up to run, maybe it's time to look in the mirror, because running for office is not for the faint of heart, it's not easy, but it's also such a rewarding experience, and it's such a great way to help so many other people whether you even realize it or not.”

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Ryan Adamczeski

Ryan is a reporter at The Advocate, and a graduate of New York University Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing, with a focus in television writing and comedy. She first became a published author at the age of 15 with her YA novel "Someone Else's Stars," and is now a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. In her free time, Ryan likes watching New York Rangers hockey, listening to the Beach Boys, and practicing witchcraft.
Ryan is a reporter at The Advocate, and a graduate of New York University Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing, with a focus in television writing and comedy. She first became a published author at the age of 15 with her YA novel "Someone Else's Stars," and is now a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. In her free time, Ryan likes watching New York Rangers hockey, listening to the Beach Boys, and practicing witchcraft.