It was a sombering moment when the Broward County School Board unanimously voted to officially recognize October as LGBT History Month.
Emotions ran high as the vote came on Sept. 19 at 12:51 p.m., and was preceded by a dozen or so speakers from both public office and private civilians, like 18-year-old Leo Washington, a Hollywood Hills High School student, actor, football team captain, and club president.
“I’m 18 and African-American,” he said, choking up. “All we want is to recognize them for who they are so we can recognize ourselves for who we are. That’s what I want for every student in every school.”
Washington said he knows of at least 30 people in his school who are LGBT but afraid to come out as such, not even in their own homes.
“There’s a lot of people out there that come to me and tell me they can’t come out,” he said. “It can be really bad.”
One of the influential community leaders who pushed this measure and was recognized by the board as having done so was Michael Rajner, a local LGBT activist.
“I certainly would believe that more school districts will follow.” “The conversation has been started nationally.” “In Florida, Broward has started that conversation in this state.”
In Broward, Board Member Laurie Levinson presented the resolution and read it in its entirety (see below) before moderating the various speakers.
“It’s the first step to equality for LGBT people in our schools,” she said. “Knowing more about these individuals can be an asset.”
Board Member Robin Bartleman told the various student speakers that they have made history, too.
“You’re going to be the individuals that students will read about in future LGBT history months,” she said. “Every child deserves to feel safe — not just in their school, but in their own skin.”
The resolution does not set a curriculum or force any teachers into anything, but rather opens the door for teachers to create curriculum surrounding LGBT history and teach another segment in school that may have been overlooked up until now.
“Over the last several years, we’ve had wonderful progress— we often criticize an entity such as the school board for not doing things for the community,” Rajner said. “But lately, there’s been a wonderful partnership between the school board and community leaders to really figure out what we need.”
The Los Angeles Unified School District followed up in early October, announcing their support as well.
And following on the footsteps of the Broward County School Board, the Palm Beach County School Board, from the county immediately to the north of Broward, unanimously issued a proclamation in support of LGBT History Month.
On Oct. 17, the proclamation had the support of Superintendent E. Wayne Gent and was accepted by Dan Hall, gay activist and longtime Treasurer of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.
"We are pleased that Superintendent Gent and the entire Palm Beach County School Board are taking this opportunity to recognize the contributions made by LGBT Americans,” said Rand Hoch, president and founder of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.
"Previously, the LGBT community was the only minority not taught its history at home, in public schools or religious institutions," said Malcolm Lazin, executive director at Equality Forum and founder of LGBT History Month. "The recognition of LGBT History Month by the Broward, Los Angeles and Palm Beach County school boards is a giant step in embracing LGBT inclusion and respect."
Hoch said that these school board decisions will allow the community as a whole to change and to evolve onward.
“This is a really good basis for a learning curve for the years to come,” Hoch said. “I would hope some day the school board says that if schools teach history, they teach about the contributions of LGBT.”
Michael Rajner has strong hopes for years to come.
“For one, that it wouldn’t be anything controversial anymore,” he said. “Unfortunately, there’ll always be an issue of controversy. I would say that one day it’d be nice to open up textbooks and learn about LGBT free of the condemnation that we often see from extreme conservative religious groups.”