A hand print represents the pride flag and those in the LGBTQ+ community. (Melanie Pena)
A hand print represents the pride flag and those in the LGBTQ+ community.

Melanie Pena

Controversy over LGBTQ+ Poster

A year old poster causes a stir in Lee County

April 26, 2021

On April 13, 2021, Lee County School Board members unassumingly took their seats prepared for what was thought to be a regular board meeting. As angry parents filled the rows and rows of seats in the room, they realized there was more to this meeting.
“To be honest, when I first walked out and sat down in my seat and I looked out, there was a bit of fear. I was a bit fearful. I mean concerned as to how far is this going to go. Then when they had to keep telling people to follow the rules and stay in line and not to speak out, that was to me a bad example for their kids,” Lee County board member, Gwynetta Gittens stated.
After a show on the radio announced that there were LGBTQ+ policies in the student handbook, many parents panicked. They thought these policies allowed Lee County schools to have co-ed bathrooms and feared for the safety of their children. However, while these beliefs were filled with misinformation, it did not stop the information from spreading rapidly.
“I understand as a parent, if someone calls you up and says ‘oh we’ve got to go and protest this, they’re putting boys and girls in the same restroom.’ If that’s all you hear, no doubt, I would be furious. All I’m saying is students are required when they learn to hear the whole story,” Gittens said.
“The policy is not about discriminating against anyone. It’s about finding a way to make everyone feel comfortable and safe, including all students, parents and taxpayers.”
The policies at the center of their anger were actually not policies at all but a poster. The poster had been approved last year in June as part of the Student Code of Conduct. Although, it wasn’t presented to the board until October of this year. The posters along with all the material were created by Equality Florida.
“The first time I actually saw a physical poster was in October. There was a big discussion about the Wellness Wednesday LGBTQ resolution. It was brought before the board, but most of us didn’t know anything about it and most times the resolutions are something that are written at the district but this one was not. It was written by Equality Florida,” Gittens said.
The poster had also been approved by parents as they had to sign a paper stating they had read and understand the Student Code of Conduct at the beginning of the school year. The poster was titled “Best Practices and Action Steps.” It outlined dress code, restroom use, and sports participation among other topics regarding LGBTQ+ youth.
“All students are allowed to access the restrooms that are consistent with their gender identity, or to be provided appropriate accommodations as requested,” read the LGBTQ Poster done by Equality Florida.
While some parents took issue with the verbiage and language used in the poster, most believed any and all LGBTQ topics should not be discussed in school. “Our youth don’t need this kind of confusing genderism in the formative years of life. Such teaching is more confusing medicine specialist Edward F. Drass said during the public comment section of the board meeting.
The overall consensus by parents at the meeting was that school was not the appropriate place for a gender identity discussion and that they did not consent to it. “When a parent entrusts the district with the education of their child, they’re not giving consent for you to raise that child,” Robert Roper said during the meeting.
The meeting became hostile as more speakers went up to state their views, the board had to pause the meeting multiple times and even ordered a recess. Overall the meeting ended up running over four hours. There was only one student in attendance, North Fort Myers High School senior Devon Cranford. When he went up to speak, parents booed him off.
“When I spoke, I started out with a sense of pride and passion, but it slowly devolved into, unfortunately, anger, as parents became loud and rambunctious, not allowing me to speak,” Cranford said.
“I got heated and I felt bad for doing that, but I was happy I got to say what was on my mind and stand up for a community that didn’t deserve the things people were saying.”
Cranford had gone up to defend the poster. After sitting through over an hour of parents’ incendiary comments, he finally had the chance to speak. “The speakers made me extremely frustrated to say the least, as I knew that they were the vocal minority, especially when it came to the students actually being impacted by this policy,” Cranford said.
“I’ve never heard a complaint from another student about the ways the district tries to make our LGBTQ+ students feel more accepted, and every person who spoke other than me wasn’t someone who would have any first hand knowledge of what it’s like to be in school.”
Moreover, while it seemed many parents had already formed their own opinions and versions of what was occurring in schools, the reality was quite different.
The majority of teachers at Cape Coral High School did not know about the poster or it’s content.
“I just found out about it last week when my students told me that a lot of parents in the community were very upset and went to the school board meeting to know about the poster and how it ended up in the Student Code of Conduct,” International Baccalaureate Chemistry and Theory of Knowledge teacher Dana Isaac said.
Isaac took some time out of her Theory of Knowledge class, which focuses on the reflection of knowledge, to investigate the poster and controversy.
“I turned it into a mini lesson on how to go about and handle this situation. How do you go about making the change that you want and making sure that your voices get heard,” Isaac said.
“I don’t have a poster in my room but I wouldn’t mind having a poster in my room. I didn’t even know they were out there. I still don’t know where it came from.”
Along with the poster, small squares with a rainbow and the words “Safe Space” appeared on the walls of the school overnight.
The poster that was the source of debate during the meeting was actually nowhere to be seen on the walls of the school except a few classrooms.
International Baccalaureate Psychology teacher and sponsor for the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Club Ashley Koehler is one of the only teachers with the poster up on her room.
“I got that poster at the beginning of the year, [equity coordinator] gave it to me because I’m the GSA sponsor and so I hung the poster up,” Koehler said.
Most students were not aware of the poster, but now that they are, many are just as angry as parents initially were but for different reasons.
“The thing about that though is that not teaching kids about their differences from others is what causes that hate, and leads to people like us in danger,” Mariner High School Sophomore Annie Willis said.
“I’m cis but I’ve felt scared to go to the girls restrooms as a lesbian, the other girls are judgey and I’m scared of conflict.”
The topic has garnered much attention, the live stream of the meeting is now at over 3,600 views on YouTube whereas most videos by the school district only receive around a 100 views.
The school board has decided to hold a briefing meeting on April 26th at 6:00PM.
During this meeting there will be a presentation and then public comment time, however there will be no vote.
The meeting’s purpose will be purely to hear community opinions and beliefs.
“I am hoping that at that meeting a group of students that I have been working with will be able to present their views,” Gittens said.

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