After the Volusia County School Board failed in early March to pass a resolution in support of LGBTQ+ Health Awareness Week for students, Superintendent Dr. Scott Fritz brought the matter back at the March 30 meeting.
But Fritz presented the item as a recognition rather than a resolution, meaning the board members didn’t have to vote on whether to support it.
“We are recognizing April 5th through the 9th as LGBTQ Health Awareness Week,” Fritz said. “Volusia County Schools is committed to building an inclusive environment for all of our students.”
The School Board’s support — or not — of LGBTQ+ Health Awareness Week, which is symbolic in nature, sparked controversy. Three parents spoke against it at the March 9 meeting, using verbiage that compared recognizing LGBTQ+ students as only steps away from endorsing pedophiles, genital mutilation and masturbation.
School Board members dithered about whether to vote on the resolution, citing that it was “vague” in purpose and could possibly even be divisive.
On March 30, however, some of the board members seemed to recognize they had sent the wrong message.
“Last week, I met with a group of folks, and they shared the things that I said that were hurtful. That served as a dagger, potentially to our students. I didn't know. I didn't recognize that,” Board Member Ruben Colón said, emotionally, March 30.
Colón cited the alarming statistics about the health of LGBTQ+ youth in Volusia County Schools: 39 percent of them, he said, have considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months. Seventy-one percent reported feeling sad or hopeless, and the same percentage reported experiencing discrimination.
“I think we missed an opportunity to bring awareness to the special needs that our LGBTQ students face,” Colón said. “It was an opportunity to talk about the vision, which you all heard today, which is a vision of a safer and more productive learning environment for all students, while recognizing the unique needs of our LGBTQ community.”
“And so, that’s shame on us,” he added.
“I heard ‘We don’t want to make it political,’ but by not supporting it, it became political. Who LGBTQ students are is not political. It is who they are,” said Karen Weinrich, a teacher at Spruce Creek Elementary in Port Orange. “The message that was sent, whether purposeful or not — I know it was not purposeful — was that LGBTQ students, parents and employees don’t matter.”
Student Alexander Vargas spoke.
“I’m a child, yet I get compared to a pedophile because of my transness, my gayness — parts of me that hurt no one. I’m a child,” Vargas said. “I didn’t choose to be transgender and gay. I didn't choose to go to school every day and hear people scream faggot in the halls. I don’t choose to sit in class and have people debate if I should have rights.”
Vargas, 17, said raising people’s awareness is just one part — education matters, too.
“Having a true LGBTQ Awareness Week would be a good start,” Vargas said. “It is simple, just a week that teaches a bit of history and kindness. It does not hurt anyone. It is simply teaching people to be respectful.”
“If we teach students now to tolerate and to accept, then maybe there will be fewer murders, fewer shootings, and fewer hate crimes and fewer children committing suicide,” Vargas added.