February 17, 2017
On Tuesday, February 14, the Jacksonville City Council passed an amendment to update Jacksonville’s existing Human Rights Ordinance to establish nondiscrimination practices that protect the LBGTQ community. 2015 TFA-Jacksonville corps member, Anna McDaniel, reflects on what the fully-inclusive HRO means for students and teachers in our community.
The amendment to update Jacksonville’s existing Human Rights Ordinance establishes nondiscrimination practices that protect the LBGTQ community. Teach For America supports SAFE classrooms for LGBTQ youth and teachers, and is firmly committed to safety, fairness, and dignity for all students. All students deserve an equal opportunity to learn and succeed in school, and students who are, or who are perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are no different.
As a high school teacher, one of the first questions I ask my students is what they plan to do beyond high school. I want them to know that a high school diploma is merely a door opening to a world full of possibility. As an English teacher, I help students fine-tune the skill of resume creation and ask them to reflect in writing on how they will achieve their goals.
Unfortunately, many of my students list leaving Florida as a goal beyond graduation. I hear this especially among LGBTQ students, who are acutely aware of the lack of legal protections that exist for them in this state. Jacksonville has demonstrated a hopeful measure of progress by passing a fully-inclusive HRO. When my LGBTQ students tell me why they want to leave they invariably name the hostile social climate as their primary reason, and the tone and rhetoric of the HRO opponents is symptomatic of the unwelcoming culture my students perceive. Students who are extraordinary analytical thinkers, talented artists, budding entrepreneurs, and gifted writers are leaving because we have not done our job to create a world in which they feel accepted and included. Students are looking to us as examples of what their future holds. Today, in Jacksonville, Florida, that future feels like a bleak and unwelcoming one for too many of our young people. We not only have the power, but the responsibility to change that future into a brighter and more inclusive version of our Bold City.
As a queer woman who came out for the first time in high school, I know the importance of finding safe space both as a student and as an educator. In my role as the co-leader of Teach For America-Jacksonville’s Prism chapter, I have the opportunity to work alongside a diverse group of LGBTQ educators and professionals committed to ensuring educational equity.
Decades of education research has shown that having diverse teachers in front of students benefits school environments and student growth alike. Purposefully inclusive diversity work within our schools must include the many intersections of identities which our students have. Just as we must commit to including more school leaders and teachers of color in our classrooms, we must commit to purposeful inclusion of LGBTQ individuals, individuals of different religious backgrounds, and the many other facets of identity that our students have. It is not enough to say that schools are permitted to have a Gender and Sexuality Alliance club if a student requests it. It is not enough to distribute stickers and badges to identify adults as allies of LGBTQ youth if there is no substantive policy action to back up these symbolic gestures.
I do not expect that the addition of language to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression to the Human Rights Ordinance (HRO) will change Jacksonville overnight. I do expect that it will provide a meaningful foundation for other employers and groups within Jacksonville to examine their own practices around LGBTQ inclusion and make significant policy changes. This inclusion of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in the HRO is an important milestone in addressing discrimination based on these facets of a person’s identity.
I am proud to have witnessed over 600 businesses, countless faith groups, and numerous civic leaders come together to take an active stance to protect the vibrant diversity that makes us “The Bold New City of the South.” Though there is still more to be done to eliminate discrimination and inequity, -our students, our teachers, and the future of our city will benefit from the fully-inclusive Human Rights Ordinance.