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County commission approves resolution to oppose Parental Rights in Education bill

Regina Livingston speaks to the county commission on March 22

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

At their March 22 meeting, the Alachua County Commission voted to adopt a resolution “to protest SB 1834/HB 1557, which is detrimental to the health and welfare of LGBTQ+ youth and their teachers.”

Commissioner Mary Alford read the resolution urging the governor to veto the bill, which is titled “Parental Rights in Education” but is called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by opponents. The resolution does not specifically address the provisions of the bill but says Alachua County 

  • is committed to supporting and nurturing the mental health of residents, with particular emphasis on youth and the LGBTQ+ community
  • will not ignore anti-LGBTQ+ harassment or treat it less seriously than other forms of harassment
  • supports teachers and their right to discuss relevant subjects and support their students’ health and welfare
  • believes the county’s diversity is valuable and must be embraced and protected. Children need to be taught understanding and acceptance of others. “We strive for a community where all are welcome, irrespective of age, color, disability, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, national origin, race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.”

The full resolution can be read here.

Commissioner Anna Prizzia made a motion that they adopt the resolution. Commissioner Ken Cornell seconded the motion and added a request that they send a copy of resolution plus a Chair letter to the governor. Cornell added, “What this comes down to is, I trust our teachers, and I don’t even understand why this is a legislative item. So I am absolutely opposed to the bill.”

“When my wife went into the library, she saw a slew of propaganda LGBT books marketed to the youngest elementary grades. This is child grooming.” – Derek Paul

During public comment, Derek Paul with Protect Kindergarten said, “I identified as trans and gay growing up in the school system, and if I had been medically castrated, I would not have my three children, who are Native American… I’m a local expert. I’m an occupational therapist and a former professor of neurological systems and disorders at the university. I’m qualified to state that gender training in the lower grades is harmful to children… The ’Parental Rights in Education Act’ is the real name, and it’s an anti-grooming bill for those students through third grade.

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“Trans people do not need to be sterilized to be happy. I didn’t believe this was happening in our county until it happened to my 5-year-old son, 2 months into public school. He described a book read to him that horribly confused him… When my wife and I attempted to investigate what happened, we were put on a wild goose chase as professionals all covered their tracks. When my wife went into the library, she saw a slew of propaganda LGBT books marketed to the youngest elementary grades. This is child grooming… Gender grooming is happening here…. The suicide rate… for children has tripled, but only as gender grooming has increased… There is an effort to convince straight kids that they are possibly gay or trans if they are insecure in their masculinity or femininity.” 

“It seems leaders are quick to identify abuse as abuse unless it ruffles the feathers of the LGBTQ+ community… [This bill] protects children who are not mentally and emotionally equipped to handle sexual and sensitive information.” – Matthew Aaron

Matthew Aaron of Big Fish Ministry, also representing Protect Kindergarten, said he was “introduced to pornography and sexually abused at the age of 6 by my brother… I’m an author, missionary, advocate, Christian, and former gay man. Big Fish Ministry helps people find freedom from homosexuality and hope in Jesus Christ. For 22 years, I have ministered to the LGBT community… I love them. I protect them… I believe that you guys have been empowered to make a tough decision protecting our children… You can’t call this form of child abuse protection and enlightenment. It seems leaders are quick to identify abuse as abuse unless it ruffles the feathers of the LGBTQ+ community… [This bill] protects children who are not mentally and emotionally equipped to handle sexual and sensitive information… [This resolution] is an attack on the protection of our children and child abuse.”

“You do realize, don’t you, how foolish you look, adopting a rabid national meme perpetrated by the media… This is a petulant little snipe you are trying to make against the conservative leadership in this state.” – Christine Koopman

Christine Koopman said, “I’m not here to talk about the bill, one way or the other; I’m here to talk about the county commission inserting themselves in a place they don’t belong. Curiously, I could not find a bill called the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill; I did look up one called the ‘Parental Rights in Education’ bill. You do realize, don’t you, how foolish you look, adopting a rabid national meme perpetrated by the media… This is a petulant little snipe you are trying to make against the conservative leadership in this state… You are not the state government or the Department of Education… you are county government. Have you ever heard the expression, ‘Stay in your own lane’?… You are not our school board; we already have one… You are purely and simply trying to posture for a subset of your political base… Be honest and admit you are grandstanding for a subset of your constituency… you are pandering to those that you believe yell the loudest.”

“Be careful who you hate; it may be someone you love” – Cheryl Kaplan

Cheryl Kaplan, past president of PFLAG, said her daughter is a lesbian who was recently married. She said, “Be careful who you hate; it may be someone you love… I know a few people who were totally against anything homosexual… [they said,] ‘This isn’t right, it’s not in the Torah,’ and then their child came out. And this person in particular called our rabbi and said, ‘Can you fix this?’ And our rabbi said, ‘I can’t fix this. This is who your child is.’”

“This bill is aimed at protecting children. What does it say about the Alachua County Commission that they are outraged at being unable to sexualize and de-gender little kids?” – Stephen Williams

Stephen Williams from Protect Kindergarten said the bill “aims to reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing… of their children. It doesn’t say anything about hating gay people… Florida lawmakers contend that parents should be broaching these subjects with their young children, rather than educators. The measure would not bar spontaneous discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity in schools but instead is intended to prevent districts from integrating the subjects into their official curriculum… This bill is aimed at protecting children. What does it say about the Alachua County Commission that they are outraged at being unable to sexualize and de-gender little kids?… Those of you who receive your news from the mainstream media may not have any idea that the bill does not mention the word ‘gay’ or ‘homosexuality’ anywhere in it.”

“This bill… will reverberate through this entire community, and you will have to deal with it in terms of mental health, economic development, and the list could go on and on.” – Jane Spear

Jane Spear, the current president of PFLAG, said, “I am one of the loud wailers who has surreptitiously convinced you to not support the Parental Rights in Education legislation. I believe in parental rights in education… While I believe that children should be protected, I believe that all children should be protected, I believe that all children should have rights, not just the rights of one certain community… You know that what you’re doing is the right thing to do for everyone in this community. I have a son who came out to me when he was a 14 years old. He’s 37 now, and I am so grateful that he was able to identify that in himself and come out as early as he did. 14 at that time was early…

“I urge you to continue to support this resolution. I urge you to understand how critical it is to the lives of many children in this community… This bill… will reverberate through this entire community, and you will have to deal with it in terms of mental health, economic development, and the list could go on and on.”

“I believe with all my heart that if I had intervention by having an initial gay discussion with my dad and mom, things would have turned out very much different than they are today.” – Mark Nelson

Mark Nelson from Project Kindergarten said other kids called him “gay” when he was 7 because he was effeminate, but he didn’t know what it meant. “From that point on, I was struggling with gender confusion and then moved into homosexuality. And then after nearly 20 years engaged in gay relationships, I found myself in the ICU on life support following an AIDS diagnosis. For 24 days I fought a real battle between life and death… It was on March 22, 14 years ago today, that I flat-lined for 22 minutes… I believe with all my heart that if I had intervention by having an initial gay discussion with my dad and mom, things would have turned out very much different than they are today.”

“As a teenager, the only representations of bisexuality I saw were inappropriate… overly sexualized and pornographic. I had no idea that what was within me was a capacity to love people regardless of their gender” – Tamára Perry-Lunardo

Tamára Perry-Lunardo said she is a bisexual woman. “I’ve been this way my whole life, but I didn’t understand it. I didn’t have representation… As a teenager, the only representations of bisexuality I saw were inappropriate… overly sexualized and pornographic. I had no idea that what was within me was a capacity to love people regardless of their gender… If I had seen a storybook about two male penguins… who adopted this baby penguin and made a family… I unequivocally denounce this bill. It’s not about protecting families.” 

“I needed my teachers, I needed my guidance counselors, and I didn’t need them calling my house because that would have led to even more severe punishment.” – Regina Livingston

Regina Livingston, the Executive Director of Unspoken Treasures Society, said she is a “proud black trans woman. I would never encourage a child to do anything other than live in their truth. I would never encourage a child sexually; I would never distribute sexually explicit information to a child… I lived in a home that was not affirming. The punishment for my femininity used to be severe, so I stand here thanking you for this resolution and applauding because every child has a different story… Vetoing this bill is going to save lives… I needed my teachers, I needed my guidance counselors, and I didn’t need them calling my house because that would have led to even more severe punishment.”

“It’s not about teaching kids anything about sex. What it’s about is teaching kids there’s all different types of households… Kids don’t have to be ashamed of the house that they came out of when they go to school every morning… I believe I do represent what most of the people in Alachua County want to hear because that’s why I was elected.” – Commissioner Mary Alford

When the discussion came back to the commission, Alford said she “ran for this seat as an out lesbian person, and I got two-thirds of the Alachua County vote. I think truly most people did not care about my sexual orientation… I’m also the mother of four boys and six grandchildren… When I was growing up, nobody ever mentioned the word ‘gay’ in school… I had no role models to speak of… I did go through religious indoctrination, and I was asked by my preacher to be married at the age of 18, and I had four kids when I was 25 years old and went back to school, became an engineer, got a divorce, and came out as a lesbian.

“Life could have been very different for me and I don’t regret having kids, but I’m glad my kids went to school at a time when these things could be discussed more openly. It’s not about teaching kids anything about sex. What it’s about is teaching kids there’s all different types of households… Kids don’t have to be ashamed of the house that they came out of when they go to school every morning… I believe I do represent what most of the people in Alachua County want to hear because that’s why I was elected.”

Cornell said,  “I really don’t understand the legislature’s desire to legislate the classroom, I don’t get it. I trust the parents, I trust the teachers.”

“I would say this is well within our wheelhouse and something that is very important for us to come out on in order to make sure we’re protecting the most vulnerable and providing them with safe spaces to be able to learn and explore who they are and why their families are just as legitimate as anybody else’s families.” – Commissioner Anna Prizzia

Prizzia said, “To those that feel this isn’t our place of jurisdiction: We fund victim services, we fund a crisis center and a hotline in order to support people who are struggling with mental health disorders and challenging situations in their life. We fund… mental health support and community support services that are doing a lot of work in these areas, and we have the taxing authority of the Children’s Trust, so I would say this is well within our wheelhouse and something that is very important for us to come out on in order to make sure we’re protecting the most vulnerable and providing them with safe spaces to be able to learn and explore who they are and why their families are just as legitimate as anybody else’s families.”

Commissioner Chuck Chestnut said, “I think that this is really a bill that really wasn’t needed… it pretty much says that if a kid’s mother or father are the same sex, they can’t talk about their family… [interruption from the audience] Yes, it does. Well, I’m reading the wrong bill, apparently… I’m just stating how I feel, my opinion about the bill… It’s like this CRT stuff they talk about, which they don’t teach in school; they teach it in universities. Now, if a kid talks about his mother or father being the same sex, there’s an issue, and they don’t want that to be spoke about in the school… that’s how I interpret it… I’m not the school board, but I can do a symbolic… vote here for something I think is really wrong… I know [the governor won’t veto the bill], so it’s not a big deal.”

“There are loads of teachers out there right now who will defy this order coming from the state to answer the question of a child standing in front of them, puzzled why their classmates are not understanding who they are and where they’re coming from” – Chair Marihelen Wheeler

Chair Marihelen Wheeler said she was a teacher for 36 years. “I taught behavior disorders for a long time… Kids are talking about sex, and they’re talking about it at an earlier and earlier age… By third grade, they’re supposed to be able to know how to read… that’s where everything happens, guys… By the time they get to kindergarten, they’re loaded with information and questions that need to be answered… There are loads of teachers out there right now who will defy this order coming from the state to answer the question of a child standing in front of them, puzzled why their classmates are not understanding who they are and where they’re coming from…

“[If your children are] not comfortable asking you those questions, then the only other place they can get them is from their classmates or from their teachers… Now, I haven’t seen these kindergarten books that you’re talking about. I’m going to be looking for them because I haven’t seen anything that talks about genitalia in kindergarten. That may be an exaggeration from some of you all trying to make a point… You as a parent do have a right to… go to your PTA, go and tell your librarian as a parent group that I’m not comfortable with this being here for our children… You also have that right to take your child to a charter school or to a religious school… so you do have parental choice… These kids know more than you think they do.”

The motion to approve the resolution passed unanimously.

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