VUSD staff rejoiced in LGBTQ+ pride proclamation

Visalia Unified recognizes June as Pride Month in 6-0 vote at their meeting on June 14

VISALIA – LGBTQ+ students and staff can finally take solace after the Visalia Unified School District passed a resolution acknowledging  June as Pride month. The significance of the vote is even more symbolic following last year’s resignation of Chris Pope. 

The VUSD Board of Trustees adopted the resolution on Tuesday, June 14. The motion carried six votes, with Megan Soleno-Casebeer absent.

“I hope when students read this resolution, [and] the community sees this resolution, they know and can believe that they belong and that they are a part of VUSD,” said board member Randy Villegas.

The decision came two days after the six year anniversary of the tragic Orlando nightclub shooting, Visalia district teacher Ben Cummings reminded the board, where 49 people were murdered as they celebrated pride month. It additionally came a year after the resignation Trustee Pope who left the board over discriminatory comments directed at Cummings.

“Those who seek to stifle queerness have always existed in our country,” Cummings said. “From the KKK [Ku Klux Klan] to the people in Visalia, who after I spoke last year asking for a Pride Month Proclamation, emailed me and threatened me.”

Cummings added that the fight for Pride isn’t for corporate sponsorships or to have rainbows everywhere, but the fight for Pride is the LGBTQ+ community to embrace their identities and celebrate their existence.

“There is a need to acknowledge these kids. Pride Proclamations are a small step towards creating a safe environment for LGBT+ youth and make no mistake: policies and proclamations save lives,” said Erika Hawkyard, youth program manager for Source LGBT+ Center. 

One parent at the board meeting made her opposition to the proclamation known. In particular conflating the board’s proclamation to religious freedom in public schools.

“I see it as a violation of our religious beliefs. LGBTQ kids are not being forced to wear crosses, or show or respect our faith and beliefs. It’s very concerning and upsetting and there’s a whole bunch of us that are just ready to homeschool now,” the parent stated.

Board members clarified their position on the proclamation to recognize LGBTQ+ students as a part of the larger community.

“It’s not about any kind of promotion. It’s that there’s value and dignity in all human beings,” Gamoian said. “There are people who have LGBTQ values on gender and sexuality but there are also people who have religious values on gender and sexual values; and right now in this climate both sides are being bullied and it needs to stop.”

Despite reiterating that this resolution is “very controversial”, board member Joy Naylor added that, “Every student should be respected, every student should feel safe, when they go to school. It’s not just this group, it’s all students.”

The administration for the district is expected to work to fulfill the intent of this resolution while working to maintain a safe, positive and inclusive environment for all students.

According to the resolution the district’s staff and administrators should be advised to review and update history-social sciences and anti-bullying curriculum in accordance with existing state law. They should also follow board policy and approve supplemental instructional materials and/or activities regarding LGBTQ+ movements for equal rights as well as the history and meaning of June as “LGBTQ+ Pride Month”. They should address the health/safety of LGBTQ+ individuals by providing cultural competency training to staff and school board members. Above all else, they should protect all youth by complying with existing laws and allow safe access to clubs, programs and district facilities.

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