Yes on 3 gains Salem Schools’ support
By: Audrey Cole/TRT Reporter—
SALEM, Mass.—Last night, the Salem School Committee voiced its support for Transgender rights in the commonwealth, according to officials.
With a 4-1 vote, the Committee declared its support for Question 3 on the November ballot, which upholds the 2016 Massachusetts law protecting transgender people in public spaces. The committee also reaffirmed the district’s policies and practices to ensure that discrimination has no place in Salem schools.
“I was heartened to see the Salem School Committee vote to reaffirm our district’s commitment to being inclusive and welcoming to all students, no matter how they identify,” said Mayor Kim Driscoll, who chairs the Salem School Committee, to The Rainbow Times. “Salem as a city is open to all, and our schools are a reflection of that value. No child in Salem should ever feel unwelcome or excluded from being part of our community. I’m proud of the School Committee’s stance in support of these values and hope other Salem parents are, as well.”
Three Salem advocates took to the podium during the public comment portion of the meeting to express the importance of outright support by the committee of Yes on 3. Scot Sternberg, Salem resident and co-founder of Progressive Salem spearheaded the effort.
“Students who are transgender, deserve protection from discrimination and a fair chance to succeed in school—these protections help them learn in school and feel more secure in who they are,” said Sternberg, who is also a social justice activist, advocate, and therapist. “Every parent should not fear for their child when they go to school. Each and every staff [member] and teacher should be free from discrimination and unimpeded in the important work on supporting our students and learning.”
Countless businesses, non-profit organizations—including domestic violence and sexual assault agencies—survivors, women, sports teams, prominent political figures such as Governor Charlie Baker, Mayor Kim Driscoll, State Representative Paul Tucker, Congresswoman-elect Ayanna Pressley, and dozens more across all levels of government have already come out in support of Yes on 3.
“The League of Women Voters of Massachusetts and LWV–Salem strongly support a yes vote because we support equal rights for all,” said Christine Ross during public comment, who is a member of the Steering Committee of the League of Women Voters in Salem. “Our organizational mission is to secure equal rights and equal opportunity for everyone and to promote social and economic justice. A resolution in support of Yes on Ballot Question 3 would send an important message to students, teachers, administrators, staff, and others from the transgender community that they are welcome, represented, and respected in our schools.”
Nicole Lashomb, Editor-in-Chief of The Rainbow Times and Co-Executive Director of Project Out, a 501(c)3 pending organization dedicated to eradicating bias and making authentic living safer and accessible for the transgender community, took a more personal approach.
“I am not here because I’ve only read or researched about this human and basic rights issue,” Lashomb said. “I am here because I know—first-hand—the fear that transgender people experience when they need to do something simple, like use a public restroom. … Because of the vast experiences I’ve had, I can attest to the fact that transgender people are much more afraid of you and I than we could ever be of them. Imagine, in today’s climate, students read and are told outright lies and myths perpetuating the bias against the trans community. Now imagine if those very students receiving those messages are transgender.”
Ana Nuncio, School Committee member and President of the Latino Leadership Coalition, put the vote to a motion. Nuncio, along with committee members Manny Cruz, Kristine Wilson, and Vice Chair Mary Manning voted in the affirmative to reaffirm the school system’s nondiscrimination values and to echo support for Yes on 3. Member James Fleming was the only dissenter, citing procedural failures.
“I made the motion and voted yes on 3 because I believed such an affirmation was necessary in light of the steady erosion of civil and human rights that we are experiencing in our society as a whole,” said Nuncio. “The legislative ‘pulling back’ of hard-won civil rights through a ballot question is alarming and dangerous, and I felt it was important for our School Committee to stand up and affirm our values.”
Though Nuncio had expected a vote last night on the topic, she was surprised by the dissent, she said.
“I was expecting that there would be a vote on this matter, but I was surprised by the objections raised by my fellow school committee member, Jim Fleming, who argued that a School Committee as a body could not endorse a Yes vote on a ballot question, although we as individual members could do so.
“Our district’s policy is guided by a theory of action, and one of the conditions for success is a healthy district and school climate/culture, as well as equitable policies at the district and school level. I’m certain that our resolution aligns with actions taken in the past by the School Committee in the form of a resolution that was proposed and passed by a simple majority of the members.”
According to Ross, the affirmative vote reinforces the dedication of the schools to advocate on behalf of their students.
“I was very happy to see the Salem School Committee vote to affirm their support of a yes vote on ballot question 3,” she said. “It is important for the leaders of our education community to take a stand for equal rights and respect for everyone. Importantly, this vote reinforces directions the schools are already taking by implementing bullying prevention and social-emotional development programs in all schools and professional development that includes gender bias training.”
“It is a critically important message to our students and their parents; staff, teachers, and administrators—and our community—that Salem Schools stand with the transgender community and will defend their rights.”
In a recent report published by The Rainbow Times, myths of sexual assault and violent acts committed by the transgender community in public spaces like the restroom—a statement purported by opponents of equality—were debunked by state law enforcement officials and by a new Williams Institute study that examined Massachusetts specifically.
Since the 2016 Mass. law was signed by Gov. Baker, which protects the trans community in public spaces, there have been fewer incidents of privacy and safety violations in places with gender-identity inclusive public accommodations protections, the report read.
Lashomb said that in a state that prides itself on being a beacon of hope for the marginalized, the affirmative vote by the school committee would help children to thrive.
“No child within the Salem School System should ever be concerned about which bathroom they belong in, whether it is to simply use it as intended or to take cover from a potentially violent situation,” she said. “It is proven that children thrive when they are offered love and support. That love and support doesn’t only come from the family and home but from the school system as well.”