Roaring Fork District school board approves resolution supporting LGBTQ+ students
Extending support to and acceptance of one group of students shouldn’t be seen as favoritism or erode support for students as a whole, supporters of a Roaring Fork District school board resolution supporting LGBTQ+ students said before the board Wednesday.
It was one of the key messages, as members of the public filed into a second straight district Board of Education meeting at the District Office in Carbondale to share their thoughts on a new district Toolkit for Supporting Transgender and Gender Expansive/Nonconforming Students.
Before the meeting, members of the local LGBTQ+ community and supporters rallied outside on the lawn in favor of the school board’s recent positions.
“When I was a kid, I couldn’t even imagine how brave a child would have to be to come to one of these meetings and make themselves heard,” said Glenwood Springs resident Erik Hesselman. “Now I feel it’s my duty to be there for the kids and to show that they’re not alone, and that they are loved and accepted and respected and supported.”
Chey French said she grew up in the valley and attended the Roaring Fork schools, and didn’t see the same kind of acceptance of LGBTQ+ students when she was in school.
“I started volunteering for LGBTQ+ alliances in the valley, and have noticed a huge difference now in how safe these students feel to be able to come out and be themselves,” she said. “And to see that maybe starting to regress a little bit really breaks my heart.”
In the school board meeting itself, more than a dozen supporters and a few critics of the district’s position spoke before the board. Another 36 written comments were submitted to the board since its last meeting on Sept. 28 when the toolkit was presented.
“I come in love, I don’t come in hate, and I represent a people group of a different cloth,” said longtime valley resident Lynne Kerst. “We love people and we want everyone treated the same.”
But she implored the school board to postpone a decision on the resolution and implementation of the toolkit in order to dig deeper into the issue.
“What strikes me about the new policy is that it only speaks to one group of people about bullying and mental health issues. What about the rest of your students?” Kerst asked. “All students deserve to be treated with kindness.”
The followup resolution was approved unanimously by the board, stating in part, “The (board) agrees that should any student, staff or community members feel less than full membership in our community, it would be a failure to live up to our district’s mission and values.”
Some supporters said that’s the main point. While negative experiences for LGBTQ+ students warrant protections against bullying and ostracization and extra support within the schools, that doesn’t mean other students shouldn’t have the same support, many said.
“Just because we are focusing our attention on LGBTQ+ and transgender students does not mean we’re ignoring, forgetting about or alienating all other groups,” Carbondale resident Jesse Rochel said.
“This is not a fight between us on one side and them on the other side. It’s about listening, learning and understanding,” she said.
Carbondale resident Isa Oliver said the toolkit provides resources for fellow students and school staff to help LGBTQ+ students feel safe. It’s something he said he and other LGBTQ+ students didn’t have when they were in high school and on into college, when getting verbally harassed and being told to get out of a particular bathroom were common.
“This is about a basic human right,” Oliver said at the pre-meeting rally. “It’s not about fear, it’s about letting kids be themselves.”
The school board was fully supportive of the resolution, some board members saying they also didn’t view it as favoring certain students over others.
“I respect and honor those that have come tonight on both sides with differing views and who feel they have the freedom to share their opinions,” said board Director Natalie Torres, who read the resolution into the record. “The most important thing I think we’re trying to get across is that every single (student) is respected.”
Board Director Maureen Stepp concurred.
“It breaks my heart when people say they think we’re for a particular agenda when we’re really just supporting all students,” she said. “This particular subgroup has been marginalized and bullied, so don’t think that calling that out is wrong.
“We reaffirm support for all students by doing this,” she said of the resolution.