Not in the least bit surprised

Sing with me… It’s that time of year, when I sit at my desk and research the year, sifting through… o-old stories of important ga-ay news!

I was in the office late last night putting our Dec. 12 print issue of Q-Notes to bed. I wanted to get in the office and start work on our last issue of the year. Our Dec. 26 print issue will include a run-down of the LGBT Carolinas’ most important news and happenings over the past year, as well as a profile on Q-Notes‘ Person of the Year 2009.

This will be my third “retrospective,” year-end issue since joining the staff in the fall of 2007. As with the previous two years, I’m looking forward to and will enjoy sifting through each of the preceding 25 issues of this year’s papers.

Before I cracked open my archives, I sat for a minute and thought of some of the most important stories I’d be looking for as I skimmed through each issue. Immediately, the School Violence Prevention Act (SVPA) — North Carolina’s new, LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying law — came to mind, also reminding me that the bill goes into effect at the end of the year.

I decided to some digging around to see if the largest school systems in the state had yet to amend their policies to comply with the new law, which requires all public school districts to adopt stringent anti-bullying policies and procedures inclusive of sexual orientation and gender-identity, among a host of other characteristics.

I picked out Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Wake County Public Schools, Guilford County Schools, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and Durham Public Schools to be the “victims” of my research.

The good news is that all of them — with the possible exception of Durham schools (I’ve yet to hear back from their public affairs department) with the exception of Durham Public Schools, which is working on updating the policy this week and next — have already taken the steps necessary to pull themselves into compliance.

I was surprised to learn my hometown school system in Winston-Salem had taken up the matter just a month after the SVPA was signed by Gov. Bev Perdue, passing their final changes on Aug. 11.

After reading through old board meeting agendas and the system’s policy database, I looked up an old Winston-Salem Journal article (emphasis added):

The board gave final approval to a policy revision that added “sexual orientation” to the list of characteristics in its rules prohibiting bullying and harassing behavior. The change puts the local school system in compliance with state-mandated policy. Board members Buddy Collins, Jane Goins and Jeannie Metcalf voted against the motion. Board member Jill Tackaberry was not present.

Buddy Collins, Jane Goins, Jeannie Metcalf (l-r)

Buddy Collins, Jane Goins, Jeannie Metcalf (l-r)

As far back as the 1990s, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education has continually stood in the way of protections for LGBT students, despite being approached by coalitions of community organizations, parents, students and religious leaders year-after-year. I was a junior in high school the last time the board was asked to create more inclusive anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies.

The board always, and almost without any discussion at all, voted down any measures that even came close to recognizing LGBT students — even taking a vote to exclude questions on anti-gay bullying from school climate surveys.

Board members Jeannie Metcalf and Buddy Collins have always been the most outspoken on the issue.

In an email to a community member, obtained by Winston-Salem Journal writers, Metcalf was quoted saying: “I told him we shouldn’t be making concessions to homosexuals because it is clearly portrayed in the Bible as sin… And believe me, I know we all sin but what other sin can you think of that has been so white-washed? Let’s have murder-pride marches, rape-pride marches etc.” (Winston-Salem Journal B1 February 13, 2003)

In another article, Metcalf was again quoted: “I think homosexuality is a sin. If they want to make fun of them, I don’t have a problem with it.” (Winston-Salem Journal February 4, 2003)

Given my history dealing with these board members, I wasn’t in the least bit surprised to learn of Collins’, Goins’ and Metcalf’s votes against the anti-bullying changes. Disgusted, yes. Shocked or surpirsed? No.

After the bill was initially passed this summer, I had some worries that some school systems would try to fight the legislature-mandated policies. Luckily, the majority of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County board had enough sense to just shut up and follow the law.

I keep wondering to myself when the voters in Winston-Salem will wise up and realize Collins, Goins and Metcalf amount to no more than outright bigots out to keep LGBT students in harm’s way. These three board members don’t deserve to sit in positions of authority over children and youth — they’ve proven that by their votes, time-and-time again, against the best interest and safety of students. It is obvious their religious and prejudiced “moral” beliefs stand in the way of their service to educate, nurture and protect the children in their schools.

It is time for new leadership in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools — leaders who care about the safety and education of all students and who will remain committed to equal and welcoming school environments conducive to learning and growth.

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