Thursday, May 9, 2019

Dear School Board

I live in Fishers, IN. My kids attend Hamilton Southeastern Schools. We've made national news in the past few weeks as a fight that has been ongoing for years boiled over.

Our school district didn't have a non-discrimination policy. There was a loose statement implemented 19 years ago but not actual policy. In the past year, a school board member has been bringing up the need for this policy as part of the work being done in our district towards equity and inclusion. In November, election season, things heated up when a school board member made derogatory comments on social media about transgender people and then also had inappropriate and harmful conversation with parents of trans kids. Finally, in April, a reading of a proposed policy occurred. The outcome wasn't good.

We became famous for having a school board member say things like - being trans is a mental illness and being gay is a trend and it's almost unpopular to be straight now.

If you want all the details, you can Google it.

Last night, the final school board meeting took place for the school year. When things had been left back in April, the wording was as soft and unhelpful as Indiana's new hate crimes bill. On Monday, 2 days prior to the meeting, new verbiage was posted that would be reviewed at the meeting. It listed protected classes but still had some language issues (like saying "gender nonconforming" instead of "gender identity"). Finally, hours before the meeting, language was posted that was most acceptable and least problematic for those fighting for an inclusive, specific policy.

The school board meeting started at 7:00 and this was the 2nd agenda item. It was close to 2 hours of statements and conversation. I didn't keep track of how many people spoke - but students, parents, community leaders, president of the teachers' union, faith leaders, doctors and social workers stood and shared why they supported a strong non-discrimination policy. A few spoke up to dissent. And there was an attempt at adding a conscience clause (meaning you can use personal values or religion as a reason to discriminate). In the end, the non-discrimination policy passed in a 5-2 vote.

That's the top view of what happened. But let's talk about the really important moments. The people moments. The hearts that opened. The eyes that shed tears. The nervous hands that shook at the podium.

Students who stood and spoke of school being their safe place because home isn't once they came out. A business leader who spoke on the importance of teaching kids how to thrive in a diverse workplace. A faith leader who said we are all created in God's image and should be loved and protected as we are. A 5th grader who spoke of her 2 dads. A dad who spoke of his trans nephew. A poli sci teacher who spoke of government and law and his own trans child. A straight ally student. A previous student of color who called out the racism she experienced, starting as young as 3rd grade.

That was just last night.

In the last 2 weeks, groups have formed on Facebook and met in coffee shops and living rooms. One on one conversations have started. Questions are being asked. People are standing up and saying - we see this problem and it isn't ok.

Conversation this morning is celebratory but also aware that we aren't done. That we have to stick together and continue to be involved.

I also have thought - if I had signed up to speak at the meeting, what would I have said?

I am a straight, cisgender, white female. I live the typical suburban life. I've been married to my straight, cisgender, white male husband for almost 16 years. We have 2 kids - both seem to be straight, cisgender and are clearly white. We own a home here in Fishers. We both work full time. We attend a Christian church every Sunday and are heavily involved there. We love superhero movies and Disney. We are incredibly typical and pretty basic.

My family doesn't need a non-discrimination policy. I could stay home and not even know that this issue was happening and it would have no impact on me or my kids. That's privilege. I could easily follow the line of some board members by saying we should just all be kind and respectful to everyone and leave it at that.

But the way I see it, a non-discrimination policy is a way of acknowledging that some groups of people are automatically put below the minimum standard of treatment. It's a way of saying - we see you and want to make things equitable. We want to create a school system that sees the inequities and wants to help lift you to the same playing field as everyone else.

This doesn't take away from those of us who fit the majority. This doesn't reduce protection of the majority. See, my white skin protects me. My being a female who looks female and feels female protects me. My attraction to the opposite sex protects me. While I am female and can face discrimination based solely on my sex, for the most part, I am part of the majority and don't need to be protected.

Finally, I'd just like to say that when we learn to embrace diversity, when we learn to listen and believe those who have different experiences from our own, when we want to embrace the ideals of diversity, safety, justice, excellence - it ends up benefiting everyone. I wasn't taught to be the person I am today in the church of my childhood or by my parents. I found my way here through my faith and my relationships and my life experience, I have come to see and be fully part of a world full of beautiful and diverse people.

I'd like to close with the words of Maya Angelou - Do the  best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

If we have listened and believed to all that has been shared, it's time to do better.

Until next time,

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