A community petition calling on Santa Clara County’s largest school district to support LGBTQ students has garnered hundreds of signatures.
Eli Dinh, a part-time art teacher and parent at the district who is transgender, started the petition to protect LGBTQ students at San Jose Unifed School District. More than 250 signatures have been collected demanding that the district release a statement in support of LGBTQ students and staff. The petition also calls for the district to create a committee to address current LGBTQ policies and issues. The petition is addressed to SJUSD Superintendent Nancy Albarrán, and advocates said it’s the least school districts can do.
“Administrators and teachers react to transphobia and homophobia as if the issues that occur are somehow anomalies, rather than obvious patterns,” the petition reads. “San Jose Unified has not yet taken a loud, public stand for the rights of its LGBTQ students; no one in the administration has openly condemned the homophobia and transphobia that exists in our community.”
Dinh said experiencing bigotry is a daily part of life for many educators. Dinh said during an art class where students were drawing clothing, they said, “Boys can wear dresses.” Administrators later told Dinh, who teaches transitional kindergarten through second grade, some parents were uncomfortable with the idea and pulled their children out of the class.
“In my own classroom, I have not felt that I can really speak freely with kids about basic truths,” Dinh, 33, told San José Spotlight.
Dinh said they raised concerns with the district last November, and since then has had months of conversations with district administrators and staff. Dinh said they’ve suggested more training on gender identity and the gender spectrum for parents and teachers, with little success. Instead, the district is standing by its decision to allow students to leave their class.
San Jose Unified School District did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Adrienne Keel, director of LGBTQ programs for mental health nonprofit Caminar, said schools can be the only safe space for students who can’t turn to their families. Yet, districts are reluctant to make public statements or support LGBTQ students for fear of backlash from community members who don’t share the same views, Keel added.
“What is being proposed (in the petition) is, for me, pretty low-hanging fruit in terms of what schools should be doing,” Keel told San José Spotlight. “Schools have a lot of power… They’re not exclusively academic spaces.”
Gabrielle Antolovich, board president of the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ+ Community Center, said taking a stand is crucial given nationwide movements to pass anti-LGBTQ and anti-trans legislation. They said while the Bay Area has many visible LGBTQ leaders, homophobia is still present in everyday life.
“We’re living in the illusion in Silicon Valley that everything is okay when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues and that we don’t have to do anything about it,” Antolovich told San José Spotlight.
Antolovich said having a district advisory committee would allow residents to understand how homophobia and transphobia exists in schools. It’s about doing the work to create inclusive environments, starting with a single classroom and replicating that on a bigger level, they added.
“The school district has to say, ‘Yes, we support our LGBTQ+ students and teachers and we will not tolerate any bigotry,’” Antolovich said. “Don’t just love your kids. Tell them that you love them.”
Keel said supporting LGBTQ youth is crucial to prepare students for graduation and beyond. The LGBTQ community is disproportionately impacted by the region’s biggest problems, including homelessness and high cost of living.
“If you are a young person who cannot exist safely in your authentic self at home, what resources exist for you to be able to move out and sustain yourself and take care of yourself that you can afford?” Keel told San José Spotlight. “Our young people feel like they’re stuck.”
Dinh said they hope the petition encourages other students and teachers to speak out about their experiences and ways to improve the district.
“The fact that there were 250 people so far who have signed on this petition saying, ‘Yes, we believe San Jose Unified can meet this extraordinarily low bar.’ That’s 250 more people (that) believe these kids deserve better,” they said.
Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.
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