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The line to get into the Miami-Dade County School Board meeting on Wednesday afternoon stretched down the block, as dozens of people clamored to get into what is arguably the board’s most important meeting of each year — when it votes on the budget.

But the vast majority of the crowd that gathered outside the school board was not there to speak about the district’s $7.4 billion budget. They were there to weigh in on a symbolic resolution recognizing October as LGBTQ History Month.

“I deserve to be able to see myself represented in my school, just like anyone else,” said Finn Stewart, an 11th grader at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School. “LGBTQ history is history, whether you want to accept it or not.”

After a marathon meeting that began Wednesday and stretched into the early hours of Thursday morning, the board of Florida’s largest school district once again rejected the LGBTQ History measure. It’s another sign of the state’s shift to the right, as Gov. Ron DeSantis and conservative “parental rights” activists work to halt discussions about gender, identity and history in the classroom.

Ultimately, the measure failed in a 5 to 3 vote. The proclamation’s sponsor, Lucia Baez-Geller voted for the measure, as did Luisa Santos and Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall. Notably, Board Member Steve Gallon, one of the body’s other progressive leaning members, left the meeting before the vote occurred. The rest of the board voted against — including Key Biscayne’s representative Mari Tere Rojas.

LGBTQ History measure draws dozens

It was a standing room only crowd at the Miami-Dade school board auditorium on Wednesday afternoon — a rarity.

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Outside, dozens of parents, grandparents, teachers and students waited to make their way into the building. To get in, they had to walk past the group of Proud Boys who had gathered on the sidewalk, waving a flag and dressed in their characteristic black and gold colors. The day before, the group’s former leader, Enrique Tarrio, was sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Meanwhile, a van outfitted with an electronic billboard cruised past the building, flashing the slogan “Jesus is King,” and messages targeting the sponsor of the LGBTQ resolution, Lucia Baez-Geller.

The audience packed into the boardroom was split among opponents and supporters, who urged the board to send the district’s LGBTQ students and staff the message that they’re seen, respected and celebrated — and that they’re not alone.

“Respectfully, I shouldn’t be here. I should be at band rehearsal,” high school junior Finn Stewart told the board. “Unfortunately, this is what it has come to — me and my friends leaving school straight away, driving 45 minutes to stand before you and beg for our history to be told.”

What the resolution says

Baez-Geller says the proclamation is ceremonial and simply meant to recognize the ways LGBTQ people have shaped and strengthened the United States.

“A number of LGBTQ historical events and people of all races have contributed to the history of equality for all people, and LGBTQ individuals have made and continue to make lasting contributions to strengthen the fabric of American society,” the resolution reads in part.

Baez-Geller says the proposal was written expressly to comply with state laws and rules, which ban classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in all grades. Any associated activities would be voluntary.

“There is no impact on curriculum nor instruction. It is symbolic. It is non-binding,” Baez-Geller said. “All it is asking is to show support for students. And I do not think that that is too much to ask in this day and age.”

The school board’s attorney has said the measure is legal. Other districts in the state have adopted similar resolutions, including Broward.

Still, other members of the board argued the proclamation violates “parental rights.”

“I really don’t know how a teacher is expected to recognize, observe and celebrate this month without being perceived by students’ parents as instruction … or without crossing the line and becoming instruction,” said Board Vice Chair Danny Espino.

Tensions flare during hours-long meeting

During the marathon debate, opponents railed against the measure, many of them citing their Christian faith. At one point, the audience burst into cheers and applause as one speaker held out a rosary towards board members and cried, “¡Viva Cristo Rey!”.

Opponents of the proposal equated discussions about LGBTQ historical figures to child abuse. This rhetoric plays into what experts say are longstanding false claims that queer people are more likely to molest children. Research has shown that’s false.

One opponent said that the board should “remove all history months” — the symbolic celebrations that recognize the vibrant ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity of the country’s third largest school district.

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“The School Board has pushed Hispanic Heritage Month, Black History Month, Asian History Month and I’m sure other agendas. While at the surface these events sound good, they really are divisive,” said Fernando Valdez. “They help cement a wedge between our kids by highlighting their differences.”

Meanwhile, supporters pleaded with the board to stand against what they called a campaign of anti-LGBTQ hate and disinformation.

Multiple speakers brought up the fact that queer children are much more likely than their straight peers to attempt suicide — and pointed out the banner hanging from the board dais emblazoned with the message that September is “National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month”.

“This is vital when LGBTQ youth face a suicide rate four times their straight counterparts,” said Olivia Solomon, a former MDCPS student. “By passing this, you’re telling people that they’re loved and reminding them that they are perfect the way they are.”

This week’s vote on the LGBTQ History proclamation was a repeat from one year ago, when the board voted 8-1 to reject the measure.

The vote in 2022 was a complete reversal from the year before, when only one board member voted against a similar measure.

Ultimately, queer youth will celebrate LGBTQ History Month regardless of the board’s decision, says Maxx Fenning, the founder of the queer advocacy group PRISM.

“The fact still remains — Oct. 1 will mark the start of LGBTQ+ History Month just as it has for the past 29 years. Queer youth will celebrate the grief, the pain but — most importantly — the joy of our queer elders,” Fenning said. “There is nothing that anyone can do to take that away from us.”

“The only thing that your vote today will do is show those students that they are celebrating our community with the support of this body or in the defiant spirit that marks a throughline of our history,” he added.f

Kate Payne

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Her work appears under a partnership between WLRN and the Key Biscayne Independent.

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Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Her work appears under a partnership between WLRN and the Key Biscayne Independent.