San Jose schools accused of ignoring LGBTQ+ students
Petition writer and rally organizer Eli Dinh is fighting for LGBTQ+ student rights in San Jose. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    Months after a petition was created to protect LGBTQ+ students in the San Jose Unified School District, the community is still frustrated with the district’s lack of response, claiming it has ignored their requests for a more inclusive environment.

    Holding signs saying “Protect LGBTQIA+ students” and “You Are Seen,” families and supporters gathered in front of the SJUSD office on Thursday. Eli Dinh, a parent and teacher at Grant Elementary School, penned the petition in March, demanding the district create a public statement outlining the legal rights of LGBTQ youth. That includes an LGBTQ-inclusive education and having students referred to by their preferred names and pronouns.

    Petitioners also want the district to form an LGBTQ+ advisory committee by August, so queer students and families, and teachers who want to help them, have resources and support. The petition has garnered almost 800 signatures. 

    “The LGBTQ community in our district deserves to have a voice and be given a way to share our perspective,” Dinh told San José Spotlight.

    Teacher Julie Abbott said it’s important LGBTQ+ students feel seen. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    Last fall during an art class where students were drawing clothing, Dinh said, “Boys can wear dresses.” Administrators later told Dinh some parents uncomfortable with the idea pulled their children out of the class. Dinh then filed a uniform complaint with SJUSD. After a hearing, the school district was found not guilty of employment discrimination and the students didn’t return to class.

    In March, Dinh created a petition suggesting the school district provide more training on gender identity for parents and teachers, but didn’t receive support from the district. Dinh said students should have access to equal curriculum. They said there are going to be boys who wear dresses and if students aren’t taught this is acceptable, they might be met with unkindness.

    “If California claims to be a safe haven for trans kids seeking refuge from genocidal legislators in other states, then why does my child’s school district still cower in fear of bigots?” Dinh said. “It’s because the district is full of people who simply accept that the burden of existing in a hateful world is the personal cost of being queer. The administrators in this district have far more power to stand up against hate-motivated behavior than any LGBTQ child here does.”

    Residents turned out to support LGBTQ+ students. They are asking the district to recognize their rights. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    Dinh organized yesterday’s protest to show the school district it’s not doing enough. They had spoken with numerous individuals in the district who’ve experienced homophobia, transphobia and discrimination.

    Jennifer Maddox, spokesperson for SJUSD, said the district has policies on gender equity and transgender discrimination. Maddox said teachers and staff receive gender identity training at the beginning of the school year and the district will continue to provide training. 

    “These policies protect all students from discrimination, harassment, intimidation or bullying,” she told San José Spotlight. “We treat every report of discrimination extremely seriously and fully investigate every complaint filed.”

    Parent Maria, who didn’t want to give her last name to protect her family’s privacy, said to help LGBTQ+ students thrive, it’s essential for schools to create safe and inclusive spaces for them, have gender neutral restrooms and respect for their pronouns and names. Her child, Will, 13, appreciated the acceptance he felt at the rally, knowing they could speak their mind without fear. They said it’s important to advocate for those without power.

    “Schools and (the) school district are not respecting students’ rights,” they told San José Spotlight. “Schools are supposed to be the safe place they can turn to for help.”

    Gabrielle Antolovich, board president of the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ+ Community Center, said they heard rumors that SJUSD doesn’t want to take a public stand to support LGBTQ+ students because they’ll face backlash from anti-LGBTQ+ groups.

    “If this is the case, let me say loud and clear: LGBTQ+ students need you more than ever as an ally right now in the midst of a backlash,” Antolovich told San José Spotlight.

    Dinh is not giving up the fight to have the school district improve support for the LGBTQ community. They are urging SJUSD to connect with experts at the Santa Clara County Office of LGBTQ Affairs for training for teachers and staff. They also want gender diverse kids to know they’re not alone.

    “I want LGBTQ students in San Jose Unified to know that there are people here rooting for them,” Dinh said, “fighting for their protection and who know that they deserve better than what they have right now.”

    Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

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