Activism is exhausting. Sometimes I feel like I keep making the same argument, with no one in leadership listening. In the latest debacle in my county, the school board, at the request of a handful of conservative religious grassroots organizations, has declared Safe Space stickers be removed from classrooms, deeming them political in nature and in danger of “indoctrinating” children. Yes, really.
So, I wrote an email, naturally. Since so few of mine seem to be read or seem important enough to warrant a response, I decided to take a different approach. Surely with a Bible verse as a lead, that would get their attention. I wasn’t wrong. Here’s my email:
Dear School Board:
“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Leviticus 19:18
Love your neighbor as yourself. This is a theme repeated throughout the Old Testament and the Gospels of the New Testament. And, yes, I have read the Bible in its entirety. It’s a lesson that conservative Christians should fully comprehend, yet this is not the example they are setting for our children, some of you among them.
On my drive home from work, I used to be greeted by a Tea Party sign which stated, “Conservatives, welcome home! Liberals, thanks for visiting?” The sign was up for months. As a liberal property owner in Hanover County, how do you think that sign made me feel? Very unwelcome. But unfortunately, this conservative group has the freedom to post whatever they like on the side of our roads, however offensive their messages may be. It’s their right to freedom of speech, a pillar of our democracy.
So, why is it that our teachers are now being asked to get rid of Safe Space stickers in our classrooms? Shouldn’t students whose biological traits make them outside the norm be able to identify adults in their schools who are allies? What is so threatening to conservative Christians about that?
If these stickers are to be removed, then we need to go a step further. There should be no outward declaration of faith or party affiliation at school, period. That means no crosses. No shirts with Bible verses. No political signs. No confederate flags. No “Let’s Go Brandon” or “Trump 2024” merchandise. (My child says all of these happen in her school.) That’s fair.
You can’t have one set of rules declaring outward statements in support of “liberal” values outlawed, while statements in support of “conservative” values are condoned. That’s not freedom of speech. That’s not fair.
You are bending to one set of voices. Voices who want our schools to be Christian. Voices who are responsible for those embarrassing signs littering our county roadways. May I once again remind you of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment which declares the separation of Church and State, and these are public schools. Not all of your constituents are Christian. Not all of your students are, either. And, believe it or not, you can have strong morals and be a good human and not identify as Christian.
As Thomas Jefferson stated, and as posted at the First Freedom Center in Downtown Richmond:
“The Constitutional freedom of religion is the most inalienable and sacred of all human rights.”
This includes one’s freedom from being forced to live by conservative Christian rules.
I am in strong opposition of the removal of safe space stickers and the recently passed transgender bathroom policy. This is hate, not love. You must serve our community better than this.
Note that I didn’t use the word “equitable,” as I was warned that this is a hot button word that would cause them to stop reading. Since when was “equitable” a dirty word? Sigh.
I did receive a response. My school board member reiterated that it is the belief of the board that they make the schools safe for all children, not just a few. He also cited a recent school board policy passed, which states:
“The Hanover County School Board encourages employees to exercise all their rights as citizens, including involvement in political activities. Employees may solicit support for political candidates or political issues outside regular work hours, but should make clear that their views and actions are made as individuals and that they do not represent the views of the Hanover County Public Schools. No employee shall use his position in the school division to promote a political cause. No employee shall attempt to indoctrinate students by virtue of his position while students are under the supervision of the School Board, as is further outlined in Policy 6-1.10.
Political posters, announcements and flyers shall not be displayed on school bulletin boards or distributed through mail or messenger facilities. These restrictions shall not apply to classroom bulletin boards and displays being used to supplement instructional units.”
Here is my response to his email:
While I can appreciate the effort on behalf of the board to limit political influence by teachers, LGBTQ issues are not political. Children do not choose to identify as part of this group. They are born this way. And safe space stickers are declaring safe spaces for all. I simply cannot fathom that a simple message to a population of children who are more vulnerable to abuse, bullying, and depression should feel threatening to students who are straight.
I hold two degrees in science: a BS in Biology and an MS in Physical Therapy. I learned that LGBTQ isses are biological. We are hard wired from birth with certain preferences as humans.
As a healthcare provider, I am required to treat all of my patients equally and with respect. I do so gladly, keeping in mind that all of my patients are someone’s loved one. It’s an honor to care for other humans in their most vulnerable moments.
While treating students equally may also be a goal of the school board, your messages to students and the community this year are clearly discriminatory toward the LGBTQ community. And since you passed a rule that will explicitly punish students who protest for any reason, you have also taken away their voice to address their concerns.
This argument in defense of this particular policy addressing safe space stickers sounds a lot like “All LIves Matter” in response to the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Loosely translated, it means “Maintain the Status Quo.” Well, we need to do better than that. LGBTQ youth are more than 4 times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers. Hanover County is not immune to suicide among high shcool age children, and you know this. (One high school alone had two suicides last year.)
All of these new rules make Hanover schools less safe for vulnerable students. You have sent a signal for those who already feel negatively toward these students that they can discriminate, too, including members of our community. You cannot make these spaces feel safe only for straight, white, evangelical Christian students. Again, these are public schools.
Thank you for reading my letter and attempting to address my concerns.
I did receive another response. He reassured me that he read every word, took them to heart, and would like to work together to see how we can make our schools safe for all students.
Not a bad response. Perhaps I should set up a meeting and see how it goes.
The lead photo is an example of the safe space stickers in question by my county’s school board.
I had planned to post another vegan restaurant review today. But then this came up, so… Do you see this type of organized influence by conservative groups to influence your local governments? If so, I’d like to hear about it.
As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.