MI Board of Ed navigates impassioned LGBTQ debate

May 11, 2016

The Michigan Board of Education heard various points of view on accomodations for LGBTQ students yesterday. Current State's Kevin Lavery was there.

Credit Julia Wolf / Flickr Creative Commons

What some people are calling the “Restroom Revolution” in North Carolina is re-fueling the ongoing national debate over LGBT rights, but unisex restrooms are only part of a larger civil rights movement underway in America.

It was standing room only yesterday as more than 100 people packed the Michigan Department of Education headquarters in Lansing. They had come to comment on the state board of education’s proposed policy for creating what it terms a “safe and supportive learning environment” for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students.

The board is grappling over a number of issues, ranging from including LGBTQ topics as part of school curriculum to restroom accommodations. Board members say whatever they come up will be offered as a set of guidelines and not a mandate.

Current State's Kevin Lavery witnessed some of the public comment period.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

On the difficult decisions that a transgender parent must make

“It was a tough process because our biggest concern was her well-being. Once it kind of became clear that this was the road we were going down, we wanted to make sure we weren’t pushing anything on her, or that we weren’t holding her back. It became a process of educating ourselves and seeking out anybody that could help us with this process. Even today it has been great to network with people who share experiences or who have resources that can help us.” — Andy Robinson, parent of a 4-year-old transgender child

What are your hopes for an outcome from this hearing?

“Long term, my hopes would be that we don’t have to have this conversation anymore; that it is just a part of how we handle students and it’s just one more thing that we routinely plan for. For Gracie in particular, I feel thankful and fortunate that it is taking place at a time when this conversation is being had, and we’re not having to be secretive about it - and we’re not trying to overcome overt and blatant discrimination.” — Jennifer Robinson, parent of a 4-year-old transgender child

How do you think that society’s tone towards LGBTQ has changed? Is it more sympathetic?

“I think that to some extent it is [more sympathetic.] I think it really depends on where you are geographically. I go to school in Massachusetts, and I’ve found that out there, it’s much less of a big deal when people find out that I’m gay. It’s kind of a ‘Oh, that’s nice,” and it’s not a problem for anyone.

So that makes it difficult when I come home [to Michigan] because while there are a lot of people in my life who are very affirming and supportive, I also do run into people who stare at me in the grocery store or whisper things. That can be very difficult. But I think overall, hopefully the trajectory that our society is moving in is a much more accepting one.” — Kate Fessler, advocate for LGBTQ rights

How do you respond to the concerns about public safety for LGBTQ students in schools?

“Obviously, we don’t advocate violence towards somebody who’s different at all. But they’re the ones bringing out the statistics saying that LGBT students have greater mental illness, troubles at home, troubles at school, troubles with violence. It’s like advocating a refugee crisis. The idea of gender identity is not a medical issue, it’s a psychological issue. They admit that. They’re wanting an adaption of society; an adaption that we disagree with and that we don’t want. Understandably, there are issues to deal with. We don’t think that advocating policy through the board of education is the right thing to do.” — Douglas Levesque, founder and director of The Bible Nation Society