Thursday, April 9, 2020
In Monday’s post I took a look at the timeline of local LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations. Today I’ll focus on CARY and their BOE Candidate Survey. Since CARY was founded specifically to address the needs of LGBTQ+ students, it makes sense that they would place a high value on finding out the knowledge and commitment of potential board members on issues that directly impact those students.
I invite you to read all of the responses, or, at the very least, the ones that apply to the candidates you will be choosing from.
I’ll be blunt here. Issues that impact LGBTQ+ students are life and death issues. Bullying, the experience of minority stress in school situations, and elevated risk for homelessness due to parental rejection all contribute to an increased risk for suicide. Incidents of suicide and attempted suicide for Transgender students are linked with whether or not young people are supported by the use of their correct name and pronouns. Numerous scientific studies bear all of this out.
The twenty-nine members of CARY who read and assessed each candidate’s answers decided on a letter grade for each. An explanation accompanies their evaluation. I noticed that one of the words used multiple times in CARY’s description of how they assessed candidates’ answers is “non-affirming”. That led me to ponder just what the term “affirming” means in this context.
I found a thorough and explicit description in a public document from the New York City Foster Care System about Identifying LGBTQ Affirming Homes. As I read though the many ways in which foster parents can affirm their LGBTQ+ foster children, it became clear to me that affirming means “life-affirming”. In a sense, the NYC Foster Care System is saying: these are the expectations we set forth for ourselves because we value the lives of these children and are committed to taking the actions necessary for them to stay alive.
Shouldn’t that be the expectation we have for every member of the Board of Education? If one is not life-affirming, what then? Life-negating? Life-neutral?
If your child’s life hung in the balance, would life-neutral be enough? If any child’s life hangs in the balance, is anything less than life-affirming acceptable?
For those whose lives are not connected to LGBTQ + family members and/or friends, views on this particular set of issues may seem like ’just a matter of opinion.’ They may assess those opinions on some kind of an internal sliding scale, perhaps comparing them to their own or those held by members of the dominant culture. To those people, CARY’s assessments may seem harsh, because to them it’s just a personal viewpoint and not a matter of life and death.
Take the time to read the candidates’ responses and take note of those who chose not to participate at all. Your own internal grading system may not be the same as that of the members of CARY. Keep in mind, however, that the core mission of this group is to support LGBTQ+ young people in schools. The questions they ask are aligned with best practices in keeping these students alive, helping them grow, and eventually, take flight into the world beyond our school system.
As a youth advocacy organization new to the Howard County scene, CARY has chosen shine a light on issues in our schools that have often been ignored or avoided. For candidates to hedge, equivocate, or demur shows an inability to face head-on the responsibility to lift up all students. And if they can’t - or won’t - lift up all students, they shouldn’t expect our vote.