‘Don’t say gay’ comes to Connecticut

May 20, 22
‘Don’t say gay’ comes to Connecticut

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The participation of transgender athletes in high school sports has been a polarizing issue in Connecticut. JOHN WOIKE / HARTFORD COURANT

A lot of folks have been (justifiably) incensed at the legislative attacks on the LGBTQ+ communities in places like Florida and Texas. But did you know that there are leaders right here in Connecticut who seek to erase and deny the humanity of people who are not straight?

Last month, the Greenwich Board of Education adopted a new Title IX policy,which they insist complies with the federal requirement that bars discrimination on the basis of sex —a definition that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled includes the spectrum of gender identity and sexual orientation. In fact, the original draft of the Greenwich policy specifically prohibited “discrimination or harassment on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.”

Yet the version of the policy passed last month conspicuously removes any language referring to gender identity and sexual orientation. The board was quick to note that “this policy covers all students, whether or not certain language is included.”

So, if the policy does indeed cover all students, and if the language referencing sexual orientation and gender identity was in the original draft, then why go through the trouble of removing it from the final version?

It almost seems as though the Greenwich Board of Education wants to pretend that the LGBTQ+ community doesn’t exist. If the substance of the policy remains the same, as they say, then the only effect of removing the language about gender identity and sexual orientation is the linguistic pseudo-erasure of the LGBTQ+ community in Greenwich Public Schools. The action of removing any reference to gender identify and sexual orientation mimics Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law; it is a way to pretend our community doesn’t exist.

But language matters. Policies like this one matter.

Other school districts in Fairfield County have led the way in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Norwalk Board of Education recently approved an equity statement pledging not to discriminate on the basis of “race, socio-economic status, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, citizenship status, or disability.” Stamford’s policy includes an entire section on “Accommodating Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students,” and also explicitly notes that Title IX has been interpreted at the federal level to protect “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students from gender discrimination.”

The fact is, whether the Greenwich Board of Education chooses to acknowledge it or not, there are members of the LGBTQ+ community in their schools. Students, teachers, administrators, support staff. Human beings, who were just told that their existence should be swept under a rug.

Did you know that LGBTQ+ teenagers are four times as likely to attempt suicide as their cishet counterparts? Extensive research shows that when LGBTQ+ children have a supportive, affirming, community, they thrive. While the Greenwich Board insists that their new policy maintains federally mandated Title IX protections, removing explicit language about gender identity and sexual orientation sends a clear message: You are not welcome. You are not worthy.

It’s easy to point fingers at Florida and Texas, but we also need to be vigilant right here in Connecticut. Already special interests are getting ready to make LGBTQ+ rights a wedge issue in this year’s state elections. We must remain ready to fight for our rights.

First Selectman Fred Camillo asserted last June that Greenwich “has always been a leader in … standing for equity for everybody.” We appeal to the Greenwich Board of Education to restore references to gender identity and sexual orientation in their Title IX policy to reflect that commitment to equity. This simple language update would help codify Greenwich as a town where the LGBTQ+ community can feel safe and welcome, especially at a time when we are under attack in so many other parts of the country.

Let’s make it okay to say Gay in Connecticut.

Edson Rivas is the Executive Director and Colin Hosten the President of the Triangle Community Center Board of Directors.

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