Tammye Nash | Managing Editor
So. I am sitting here at home, in front of my laptop, thinking about how I need to get busy writing an article about the two press conferences and the Fort Worth Independent School District board meeting tonight.
I need to be doing that.
But I am having a hard time right now, feeling more than a little weighed down. There was so much misinformation crammed into that board room tonight, so much anger, so many lies.
So much hate.
I know that most of those who showed up to speak against the guidelines — signed into effect by Superintendent Kent Scribner on April 26, intended to clarify the school district’s 2011 anti-bullying policy as it applies to transgender students — would deny that they hate trans people or anybody else in the LGBT spectrum. And they are thoroughly convinced that their version of “truth” is the true one.
But the fact is, so much of what they said was just flat wrong. Most of them apparently don’t know the difference between a district policy, which requires time for public input and a vote by the board, and guidelines, written by district personnel to clarify implementation of a policy and which can be approved by the superintendent with public input or a vote by the board.
Many of them don’t realize that a federal court — the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals — has already ruled on this issue. Gender identity is a protected class under Title IX, and if a school district refuses to provide protections for its transgender students, that district will lose federal funds.
They aren’t worried about that, though, because, as the woman standing next to me declared joyously, “Oh, that won’t last! The people will vote it down, just like they did in Houston” (referring to the referendum in which voters there defeated the city’s equal rights ordinance because they didn’t want men going in women’s restrooms).
She didn’t seem to understand that you don’t get to vote down federal court rulings.
And speaking of the woman standing next to me, it bothered me greatly that someone dressed in the uniform of a FWISD “campus monitor” so gleefully applauded the lies and hate spouted by some speakers. I asked her what campus she works on; I was very glad to learn it wasn’t the campus where my son goes to school.
It bothered me that so many of the speakers — including our illustrious lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick — so glibly pointed out that transgender students make up only about 1 percent of FWISD’s student population, so it is okay not to have protections in place for them, as long as we are not inconveniencing the other 99 percent — you know, the “normal” kids who shouldn’t have to worry about a transgender person sharing their space.
There was the Texas Values “policy analyst” who warned that the district would face innumerable lawsuits from parents of those inconvenienced “normal” kids, or parents of the children the district helped transition without the parents’ consent.
Perhaps most disturbing was the guy outside Dan Patrick’s press conference who began to harass a woman in the crowd. The man — who told me his name was Shemuel (not sure of the spelling; I asked and he said that was close enough) — berated the woman — a mother named Claire who children attend FWISD school’s — relentlessly. He called her stupid several times, asking again and again if it was ok with her that men could go into the restroom with her daughter, even telling her she obviously didn’t love her children.
Claire, almost in tears, told me she wasn’t there to either support or protest the recently-approved guidelines. She was just there because she was angry that Dan Patrick, who has repeatedly claimed his believes in less government intrusion and more local control, was interjecting himself into this local situation purely for political gain. She also told me that Shemuel had approached her and began berating her without provocation.
Shemuel told me he was a preacher. When I asked where he preaches, he said everywhere. When I asked what church he was affiliated with, he didn’t answer. When I asked again, changing the question to “Are you actually affiliated with any church?” he finally admitted he is not. But the only authority he needed, he told me, was the bible he carried in his hands.
I wanted to punch Shemuel in his obnoxious face. I wasn’t the only one.
Then there was Dan Patrick himself, blustering on and on about his credentials as a supporter of public education, and about how the FWISD policy (the one that isn’t a policy but a set of guidelines) violates all these different parts of the Texas Board of Education’s rules, Texas law AND UIL policy. He, too, threatened the district with lawsuits and suggested the state would just withhold state funding.
He also insisted that Superintendent Scribner should resign because he has overstepped his bounds. I think perhaps I wasn’t the only one who wanted to suggest that perhaps Patrick has overstepped his bound by intruding on a local matter, and should resign his office.
There were bright spots, too, of course — many of them. Not the least of them, former Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns. I wanted to cheer out loud when, after being interrupted again by opponents during his three minutes to speak, Joel turned, pointed his finger at one rather loud-mouthed man and, with a frown, declared, “I was polite and stayed quiet when it was your turn to speak. Now you need to be quiet while it’s my turn.”
I also wanted to cheer when Joel said that opponents really needed to learn the difference between a policy and a set of guidelines interpreting policy: “This policy has been in place five years, since 2011. I was here when that vote was taken.”
Equality Texas board chair Steve Rudner was another bright spot, explaining that the guidelines were, in fact, exactly in line with federal law and recent court rulings, and that those who would reject them risk costing the school district and even the city millions, if not billions in federal funds and economic development.
So many brave transgender men and women stood up to defend Scribner and the policy and the guidelines, even though each of them knew, as one young trans man noted, that they were risking violence by being open. I was proud to see my friend Tori Kujala speak out, telling her story, along with Sharon Herrera, found of LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S. As Sharon spoke, it lifted my heart to see a whole row of young people, her LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S. members, who stood in respect as she spoke.
And yes, it seemed as if the vast majority of those attending supported Scribner and the trustees and the guidelines, just based on the number of people who applauded when someone spoke in support.
But the minority — they were so vocal. So loud. So rude. So convinced that they, in their righteous anger, were in the right.
I walked out of that meeting into a downpour — cold, hard rain that left me drenched and shivering by the time I reached my car. It fit my mood, I guess. Dark and cold and dreary, the soot of so much hate and anger and lies coating my skin. And my heart.
I headed home, white-knuckling my way down University Drive, fighting to keep my small, light car in the right lane of the flooded street, even when it seemed like it was flooding. But as I reached the interstate and turned onto it, the sun broke brilliantly through the clouds, creating a bright double rainbow arching across the highway. I was still drenched to the skin, shivering with cold, tired, achy and hungry. But I still smiled.
The rainbow is a promise, right? I hope it was promising that knowledge will win over ignorance, that right will win over wrong, that love will win over hate. I guess we’ll soon see.