Prop 8 in California. These measures, juxtaposed with the election
of Barack Obama, gave the impression of major setbacks in our
struggle for justice and equality. On the contrary, the struggle
for justice and equality is alive and well in the 50 states. So
much pro-equality movement has happened in the last few weeks, it’s
hard to keep up!
Just yesterday the Fairbanks, Alaska North Star Borough School
Board voted to add gender identity to its nondiscrimination and
harassment policies, which cover not only students but also staff
and outside parties with which the district conducts business.
As with the recent vote in
Wyoming not to pursue a constitutional amendment
banning same-gender marriages, the most interesting part of this
story is not the vote, itself, but the dialogue amongst school
board members before the vote.
A sample of the dialogue from the Fairbanks Daily News Miner
Grace Matthews, a student a West Valley High school who
presides over her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance club, asked the
board to consider passing the policy change.
“I know several people in my club who would appreciate having
this, knowing they are protected under rules and laws of our
school,” Matthews said.
“As to the bathroom concerns, it is a real concern, but I
would just like to say that everyone in the GSA would be more than
willing to work with the administration and other schools to come
up with solutions if that would be a problem.”
Others questioned the need to include gender identity, fearing
the policies would only become convoluted.
Col. Michael Fitzgerald, Eielson Air Force Base representative
to the school board, voted against the policy change.
“I am proud we can discuss this issue in an open forum,”
While Fitzgerald made it clear he was opposed discrimination of
any kind, he voted against adding additional language to the
policy, stating he had faith in the district faculty to protect all
Not everyone on the school board or involved in the meeting agreed
on adding gender identity to the nondiscrimination and harassment
policies, but it appears that they expressed their views
respectfully and maintained open minds. Moreover, they did all
agree that protecting students is one of the district’s number one
There are two key morals to this story:
1. When possible, seek common ground. School board
members are charged with ensuring the health and safety, as well as
the proper education, of their district’s students. With a common
objective on the table, people can converse, negotiate, leave the
table without breaking trust, and work towards agreeable
2. Establish your principles; stand by them.
Proponents of adding gender identity to the district’s policies
sought to protect transgender and gender nonconforming students and
others from discrimination and harassment. Clearly they feel that
explicitly stating gender identity as a protected category is the
best way to do that (and research on the subject backs them up).
Proponents could have decided, however, that assurances from their
counterparts on the school board that all students would be
protected even if they didn’t spell out specific categories were
enough. In an ideal world, that might occur. Instead, it appears,
proponents of the change established as a principle that gender
identity be added as a category to ensure protection. They stuck by
their principles, explained their position, convinced enough people
and took a vote. This doesn’t always work in the favor of minority
or otherwise under-protected groups, and in most cases we shouldn’t
have to vote on rights or equal protections. In this instance,
though, principled dialogue did result in a positive outcome, and
in no small part due to the resolve of proponents of the change to
ask for exactly what they wanted to achieve the best result.
Dialogue is difficult. It doesn’t always result in progress, but
when it does the progress is arguably more lasting because all
parties have an opportunity to understand, if not necessarily to
immediately agree, on the change that has occurred.
Dialogues like this one are happening in cities and towns across
the country. Justice and equality are moving forward. Our
willingness to participate in these dialogues is critical to
ensuring equality for our families, so continue talking and
continue making change!