The Sarasota County School Board building in the Landings reached capacity Tuesday night, March 1, at this month’s board meeting. Supporters of the initiative to create a county-wide transgender-inclusive bathroom policy arrived dressed in black, and those that opposed the proposed policy dressed in white.
Twelfth-grader Nathan Quinn and the local activist group Answer Suncoast organized an event on Facebook, where they asked supporters to attend the school board meeting dressed in black, in opposition to the individuals who planned to protest the event dressed in white. Previously, the school board held a workshop Feb. 16 where they discussed the bathroom policy. According to Quinn, a group of individuals arrived without notice dressed in white in opposition to the discussion of the policy. Quinn also said that he was the only student from Pine View to attend the workshop.
However, several Pine View students and teachers attended the meeting March 1, and many spoke in front of the board. In total, over 60 individuals from across the county expressed their opinions on the subject, and each person was allotted three minutes to speak. Members of the Pine View community who spoke in support included twelfth-graders Quinn, Alexis Hart, Lorenzo Bertoglio, Julie Shoults, Liza Williams and Grace Wickerson; eleventh-graders Jack Fitzgerald and Kara Delaney; tenth-grader Alex Anacki; math teacher Summer Grantham and Pine View parent Dr. Jennifer Mayer.
The meeting began at 6:30 p.m. and ended after 10:30 p.m., with over three hours of listening to speakers.
Twelfth-grader Madelyne Mayer, who attended the event in support of the initiative, said, “I’m a humongous supporter of the LGBTQ community. I’m close with Nate and I’ve helped him in the past.”[pullquote]I’d like to see the board start moving toward a decision…I want them to say the words ‘Nate’s List.’”[/pullquote]
Bryan Ellis, leader of Answer Suncoast, has been working with Quinn this year to organize events and protests in support of the movement to establish trans-inclusive policies throughout the school district. “I’d like to see the board start moving toward a decision,” Ellis said. “I want them to say the words ‘Nate’s List.’” Nate’s List, a list that Quinn and others developed that details trans-inclusive policies that they want the school board to adopt. The list includes the implementation of trans-inclusive dress code, harassment and bathroom/locker room policies. These policies require that trans students are allowed to wear clothes and use facilities that are consistent with their gender identities. “Trans liberation is everyone’s liberation,” Ellis said.
Many of those who spoke in support of the initiative cited the sexual and physical violence that is inflicted on transgender individuals, the board’s responsibility to protect the civil rights of students and the similar discussions that occurred in the 1950s over segregation. An employee of Sarasota County who has a transgender son spoke and said that her son does not use the bathroom at school and waits until he gets home to relieve himself. Another supporter said, “I do not have rights in this very room.” A Pine View alumnus spoke and said, “We are teaching trans people that they don’t have agency.”
In Grantham’s speech, she discussed having Quinn as a student and seeing him become more comfortable with himself after his transition. “He seems so much more confident,” she said, “I am proud of Nate for fighting for the rights he deserves.”
Those in opposition frequently cited the Bible and the effects of the policy on their children. A woman who spoke in opposition said, “We have a responsibility to make decisions for our children.” Many others who opposed the policy referred to trans individuals as “gender confused” and claimed that they needed rehabilitation.
Mariana Kalenichenko, a 2014 graduate of Sarasota High School, wore white in opposition. “I’m fighting for the real truth,” she said. “There’s a difference between the real truth and happiness.”
A Pine View parent named Sergei Luzginov spoke in opposition and said that he will be removing his children from the school due to Principal Dr. Stephen Covert’s decision to let Quinn use the boys’ bathroom.
According to Quinn, several people alerted police officer Chris McConnell at the meeting that individuals dressed in white were threatening to hurt Quinn. Quinn also said that McConnell guarded the bathrooms at the meeting. “He’s a family friend,” Quinn said. “I felt very safe.”
Quinn does not know when the board plans to vote on the policy. He said, “It seems they don’t want to move forward.” According to Quinn, school board elections are coming up and some current members will not be returning next year.
Students from Booker High School, North Port High School and New College of Florida also came to support the policy. One person even drove from Orlando to attend the meeting.
“I’m so happy with the support,” Quinn said. “It was nice getting support from people I never even met before.”