Mansfield ISD, here we are again
At the MISD school board meeting on August 28, 2018, the Mansfield Equality Coalition once again sent speakers to advocate for the protection of LGBTQ+ persons in school policies governing anti-discrimination, anti-harassment, and anti-bullying for staff and students.
from Whitney Mundt:
My husband and I want our two daughters to grow into people who value diversity. We want them to see that variety is normal and good. So it worries me to think that anyone from MISD might try to restrict what kind of adults my daughters are exposed to in this particular way.
From a broader perspective, many of us are really excited about the growth Mansfield is experiencing right now. We’re seeing new people, more resources, and a lot of awesome opportunities. The area is not necessarily as conservative as it has historically been. And I think that if we as a district want to continue attracting new people, we can’t hold so tight to those traditional values that many of us might consider just a tad outdated. And to be clear, I am not asking that anyone stifle those traditional values. There is a lot in them that is good. All I’m asking is that different voices and different lifestyles not be censored, either.
We’re never going to all want the same thing and that’s OK. But I think most of us do agree that we want progress and fairness. Most of us don’t need to be reminded of the not-so-proud parts of Mansfield’s history – the desegregation incident comes to mind – but I would remind everyone that we don’t want to see past mistakes repeated. We need to be careful to avoid that.
from Nathan Berry:
I am a longtime resident of the DFW area, and a proud graduate of Texas Christian University (go Frogs!), and I’m here to speak about the Anti-Bullying Committee. More specifically, I’m here to advocate for the LGBTQ+ students and staff of MISD by sharing my experiences at the intersection of educational institutions, bullying, and LGBTQ+ identity. It is my hope that my story will be helpful as you consider your goals in forming this anti-bullying committee.
My pronouns are she, her, and hers, and I identify as genderqueer. If that term is unfamiliar to you, think of it as meaning “somewhere in between transgender and not transgender.” I have experienced both a school that did not protect their LGBTQ+ students and staff from bullying AND a school that offers robust support to their LGBTQ+ students and staff.
I grew up going to a Southern Baptist fine arts academy for homeschoolers. The academy was a place where people loudly and frequently used hateful rhetoric regarding LGBTQ+ people. School administration took no action to discourage this, thus tacitly endorsing such bullying. This lack of institutional support was a huge reason why I, for the first twenty years of my life, repressed my gender identity so much that I did not even dare to admit to myself my authentic identity. Unsurprisingly, I developed a deep-seated and all-consuming shame regarding a core part of who I am. The fruits of this were excessive self-criticism and severe depression. On multiple occasions I seriously considered suicide.
My experiences at Texas Christian University were the complete opposite of that. In my freshman year I started receiving mental health counseling through the university’s mental health center, which vastly improved my ability to manage what was diagnosed as clinical depression. I had professors and staff members who openly and proudly supported their LGBTQ+ students and colleagues.
So at the beginning of my junior year I was finally at a place where I could actually articulate my gender identity. And thanks to an LGBTQ+ peer support group that was co-administered by TCU’s mental health center and the university’s Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, I had access to the safe spaces I needed to explore and embrace my gender identity.
I came out the summer prior my senior year, and university officials were proactive in making sure my on-campus housing situation was one where I felt safe. I was inducted into the Pi Kappa Lambda music honor society, and graduated summa cum laude,with honors, with a degree in music composition.
That makes me think of the statistic that Dr. Cantu cited earlier tonight that indicates bullying prevention improves academic performance. I can tell you, in my experience, this is absolutely is true. Furthermore, the institutional support I received not only produced fruits in terms of academic excellence, but also produced fruits of confidence, courage, energy, and a fully integrated sense of self.
So in closing, I earnestly ask that the safety and support of your LGBTQ+ students and staff be a serious consideration of the anti-bullying committee, and that you add language in your school policies that explicitly protect LGBTQ+ persons. I am confident that this would yield bountiful fruit for MISD and help you reach the academic goals that you have been discussing throughout tonight’s meeting.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak, and I will be praying for the good work that I am sure the anti-bullying committee will do.
from Katie Hays:
I’m Rev. Dr. Katie Hays from Galileo Church. I live in MISD and have two kids, one who graduated from MHS and one who is a senior there.
My friends and I continue to come to school board meetings to request additional language in the DIA local, FFH local, and FFI local policies for the explicit protection of LGBTQ+ students and staff. We understand that justice is a long game, and that institutional ships are slow to steer; we understand that you are working on more than one thing right now, including a lawsuit that excludes swift agreement with our priorities; and we understand that the voices you hear from your constituents are not all saying the same thing.
In light of all that, we appreciate tonight’s consideration of the formation of an anti-bullying, student emotional health and learning team. We’ve heard so many stories about the reality of bullying in MISD schools these last months. Thank you for being proactive to address that reality.
I request that you invite membership onto that team from among the dedicated persons who have come to every board meeting for several months, taxpayers and stakeholders in Mansfield ISD who have protections for all students as a clear priority in our lives. This would be one way for us to fulfill the promise we made to you early in this process: that we are here to help the school board do the right, and possibly politically unpopular, thing. I would be happy to recommend persons to you and share contact information.
It’s important to me that you understand the source of the deep well of resolve we have. We are not interested in winning a political battle, or a culture war. We are not interested in press coverage or popularity. We simply believe that to leave LGBTQ+ persons without explicit protections, without clear language that promises that we have their backs when they are made vulnerable, is to let continue the bias that leads to violence, both psychological and physical, that LGBTQ+ persons face every day, just by showing up at school. It’s dangerous to say nothing.
I’ve brought for your consideration printed articles from The Washington Post. One is about a 9-year-old boy in Colorado who, after only four days in school this fall, having shared with his classmates his summertime realization about himself, was bullied all the way to suicide. 9 years old. What if he had known that his school administration had already acted to protect him? What if he’d had a teacher, or several, who felt safe enough to offer themselves and their families as healthy role models? That 9-year-old might be another week into fourth grade today.
The second is about the school district in Oklahoma that closed an entire school for several days because of virulent online bullying of a trans student. That district’s leadership took a strong and unpopular stand to ensure the safety of that child. Sadly, she and her family have found it necessary to move elsewhere to seek the safety her life deserves and requires.
Let those of us who have been thinking about this and praying about it and living through it for a long, long time be part of the team that has a chance to write a different story for Mansfield ISD. Let us help, as we’ve promised to do.