Activists, parents, teachers, and students crowded into the San Antonio ISD board room ahead of Monday night’s board meeting. While the crush of people made a physical aisle impossible, the ideological aisle were clear.
On one side, wearing “school bus yellow,” members of Texas Values and San Antonio in Black White and Brown held signs stating, “Only 2 Genders, Male and Female.” The other side sported rainbow colors and handwritten signs in support of the LGBTQIA community, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, and students without legal immigration status.
Forty-nine people signed up to speak during citizens to be heard, some opposing the district’s addition of LGBTQIA protections to its non-discrimination policy, some supporting that language, and others asking for expanded protections for students without legal residency status. Because the district only allows one hour for that portion of the agenda, each person was given one minute to speak.
“We understand that there’s the issue of the policy that we passed last month,” SAISD Board President Patti Radle said.
The non-discrimination policy has long been in place, she explained, and the new LGBTQIA-inclusive language is an expansion thereof. The measure brought SAISD into congruence with other major districts throughout the state. “What we passed last month was not a ‘bathroom bill,’ it was a non-discrimination policy,” Radle said. “We want respect and dignity for all our students.”
Radle’s comments were met with both cheers and boos. The raucous atmosphere continued throughout the citizens to be heard portion, despite calls from Radle to respect the various speakers and remember that students were present. Those opposing the non-discrimination policy repeatedly jeered Radle throughout the night, shouting that she was untrustworthy and disrespectful.
Those speakers made two primary arguments. For one, the district had been covert and undemocratic in its adoption of the LGBTQIA language in the non-discrimination policy.
“A 300-person petition from a non-taxpaying student” should not have been enough to change the policy, said Janice Flowers. The district should have done more to notify the “nearly 30,000 uninformed parents,” she said.
The district, in compliance with Texas Open Meetings Act, posted the Aug. 21 board agenda online ahead of the meeting.
SAISD parents present said they should have been notified via email that such a controversial topic was on the meeting agenda.
The opposition’s second key argument was that LGBTQIA-inclusive language allowed males to enter women’s restrooms, which would “retraumatize” victims of sexual assault, according to Faith Outreach Center International Senior Pastor Charles Flowers.
“We encourage you to re-look at your policy to maintain safety of all students,” Flowers said.
Earlier in the week, Flowers had posted videos on the San Antonio in Black White and Brown Facebook page, continually calling on his community to attend the board meeting on behalf of sexual assault survivors.
“As a survivor of sexual assault, you using the community to attack the LGBT community [is offensive],” community member Danielle Harrigan said at the board meeting. Opposing group members were using sexual assault survivors to further their political agenda, she said.
Other speakers brought up statistics asserting that transgender students are more likely to be victims of sexual assault than perpetrators.
While it was not one of its key arguments, the opposing group’s ultimate goal was to see the district rescind the policy and replace it with one affirming two “immutable” sexes as assigned at birth.
Interspersed throughout the opposing voices were supportive ones. Teachers, students, and staff publicly thanked the board for expanding the language to include LGBTQIA identities.
“I was one of those who could have been legally discriminated against,” San Antonio Alliance of Teacher and Support Personnel representative Gracie Oviedo said.
Many who spoke in favor of the expanded non-discrimination policy also voiced support for other vulnerable student populations, including undocumented immigrants.
The Alliance and SA Rise, a grassroots group of teachers and community members in the district, had planned a press conference ahead of the meeting “for weeks,” said Alliance member and SAISD teacher Alejandra Lopez.
The original intent of the press conference was to call on the SAISD board to be more proactive in creating a secure environment for students and families without legal immigration status. SA Rise and the Alliance called for a more extensive “know your rights campaign,” as well as campus policing policies that would ensure students are not handed over to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
However, upon hearing the plans of Texas Values of San Antonio in Black White and Brown, SA Rise coordinated with Equality Texas, Fiesta Youth, and other LGBTQIA activists to host a joint press conference on behalf of both groups.
SAISD has, after months of conversation with SA Rise, begun distributing information and sharing resources for families with members who lack documentation. At the meeting on Monday, the board voted unanimously to adopt a resolution on DACA. In addition to family members of students, several SAISD employees are DACA recipients.
The Alliance applauded the district’s statement on DACA, Lopez said, as well recent distribution of “know your rights” materials. At the press conference and later in the board meeting DACA recipient Maria Rocha spoke, urging SAISD to back up their statements with strong action for the greater immigrant community.
“We deserve actionable commitments,” Rocha said. Among other things, “know your rights” campaigns should be mandatory, not voluntary. A March 2016 immigration workshop only had three attendees, Rocha said.
Other teachers spoke on behalf of students who they said are “living in fear.”
While no one spoke against immigrant families at the board meeting, they have been subjected to “misguided rhetoric that immigrants pose a danger” to the nation, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) attorney Fátima Menéndez said during the press conference.
Both communities need to be in conversation with those who disagree with them, Mario Bravo said during citizens to be heard. “I think some of the people here would be willing to [have a conversation]. We can’t stop listening to one another.”
Most of the crowd left after citizens to be heard, before the board meeting continued. A conversation then ensued on the steps of the SAISD administration building.
“We don’t hate LGBT people,” Flowers said to the group gathered. A biblical stance on gender is often misconstrued as being discriminatory and hateful, he said.
Throughout the meeting and the conversation that followed, Ruby Polanco, the Young Women’s Leadership Academy senior who led the effort to add LGBTQIA language to the policy, listened.
SAISD had used Polanco to further a political agenda, Flowers had said in his Facebook videos, implying that Polanco did not understand the consequences of her actions.
“I’m not confused,” Polanco told the Rivard Report. “I’ve seen this affect my family, my classmates, and my teachers.”
This article was originally published on Sept. 11, 2017.