Las Cruces Public Schools passes gender inclusion policy following intense public discussion
LAS CRUCES – After months of discussion and dozens of public comments, the Las Cruces Public Schools Board of Education approved a new gender inclusion policy.
Twenty-one community members spoke in anticipation of the board's vote on "Policy JBD: Gender Inclusive Schools" during the first school board meeting of 2022, held Tuesday at the Karen Trujillo Administration Complex.
JBD is an anti-discrimination policy directed at protecting the educational rights of students based on gender identity and sexuality. It would also require training for LCPS staff to learn about different gender identities and sexualities in order to better serve the LGBTQ+ student population.
The specific regulations will be determined later by Superintendent Ralph Ramos' lead, as stated in the policy draft.
Also at the school board meeting:COVID-19 protocols, new technology and internal school board elections
In December's school board meeting, the district held a second reading of the policy and four board members affirmed that JBD needed to stand on its own, not be rolled into one of the district's other anti-discrimination policies.
A divided public comment
Of those who spoke at Tuesday's meeting, 12 were in opposition and seven were in favor while two were in the middle.
Most of those who spoke against the policy expressed concerns that are not listed anywhere in the policy, such as a situation where a transgender student would want to play sports on the gendered team they identify with. The individual district would not decide those policies, it would be up to the New Mexico Activities Association, according to board President Ray Jaramillo.
Those in opposition also said there is no need to give "special treatment" to LGBTQ+ youth.
"Why are they getting preferential treatment?" said Dora Luchini-Lucero, who has spoken against the policy in previous board meetings. "Bullying is for everybody."
Another commenter, Dave Gallus, suggested that children don't know how to resolve issues anymore, discounting the fist-hand experiences of discrimination several queer commenters reported to the board.
Gallus, a former police officer who ran for state senate and lost in the 2020 election, said that when he was young, he would "fistfight" fellow students, suggesting that students get physical to resolve harassment today.
"There are no safe spaces, they have to learn how to deal with the issues," Gallus said.
He then said to the board that if authority figures aren't listening to students, then they should do something about it, which, some may say, is the point of Policy JBD.
Transphobia in the community
Unlike the last meeting in mid December, there was a much bigger turnout of opposition against the gender inclusion policy.
The final speaker of the night was Lance Bukowski, a transgender senior from Centennial High School.
"This policy will tangibly affect my life," Lance said. "The reason I came here is because I have had teachers openly out the discrepancy between my sex and gender, out my deadname (a birth name no longer used by a person after they've transitioned genders) to entire classes. I have received bullying from that, I have received harassment, and I have been put in danger. I believe that this policy will act as a shield for students like me to be myself.
"I've had transphobic violence threatened on me, and I don't want to see that happen to kids that I want to help."
Vibianno Gonzalez, a representative of the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico and former LCPS student who uses he/they pronouns, said they counted over 50 transphobic comments in the hour that public comment took place. This is nothing new for them.
"In ninth grade at LCPS, I had to change my schedule four times because of the bullying and the harassment that I can only describe as the internalized transphobia and homophobia," Gonzalez said. "That has been the manifestation of the majority of the comments that we were said here today."
He described his own struggle with bullying and mental health in grade school, which pushed to self-harm and to attempt suicide. They were once cornered in a locker room by a group of girls in seventh grade, where he was further harassed.
"None of the supportive teachers around had any idea what was going on or what to do," Gonzalez said. "They were girls, because I was not allowed to go anywhere else."
Gonzalez also recalled not being able to participate in the male sports they tried out for, despite being one of the best on the team. A coach later informed them that it was because they were transgender and that parents wouldn't allow their children to participate if Gonzalez was on the team.
Later in the meeting, board member Pamela Cort said she had had Gonzalez in her class when she was a teacher at Las Cruces High School.
"All the students loved them," Cort said about Gonzalez. "I didn't realize the depths of what you were going through in high school. I hope that my classroom would be a safe place for people, but in 31 years of teaching, my empathy and my understanding of what students go through, has evolved."
Board member Teresa Tenorio also stated that she has been able to learn more about how current and former students have faced transphobia and homophobia in the district.
"These are not special interests, these are family, friends and neighbors," Tenorio said. "These are elected officials, these are these are students, these are employees, these are people we love. That is my spiritual guidance, so I look forward to voting."
Four of the five board members voted in favor of JBD.
Board member Carol Cooper made a motion to table JBD until regulations have been written out but the motion didn't receive support. Cooper then voted against the policy.
Newly elected board member Robert Wofford said that he believed there has been more than enough input on this policy, and hearing the first-hand accounts of LGBTQ+ students only affirms the need for a specific gender inclusion policy.
"We need to make sure that students who are LGBTQ did not feel as though they are excluded," Wofford said. "This policy as a standalone separate policy will make that apparent in our district that we can begin to formulate school level policies that affirm transgender or non binary LGBTQ students place in our schools."
Wofford is the fist openly gay LCPS school board member and advised the Gay Straight Alliance during his time teaching at Las Cruces High.
Jaramillo spoke last on the policy, first introducing himself and stating he uses he/him pronouns.
"They talk about the very minimal amount of people that we're protecting — that's why," Jaramillo said. "People say 'bullying, not everyone gets bullied,' but we protect those that are.
"The reason why we're here today and this type of policy is in here, at the second largest district in the state of New Mexico, is because we have taught children how to think, not what to think."
The regulations for Policy JBD will be developed over the coming months.
JBD is a policy code based on National Education Policy Network and National School Board Association guidelines. The JB indicates an Equal Opportunities policy. The D indicates that this is LCPS’s fifth Equal Opportunities policy following policies JB, JBA, JBB and JBC, which are all listed at www.lcps.net/page/policies.