Militant Journalism

Trans activists confront Sarasota school superintendent candidates

On October 13, activists demanding rights for transgender students in Sarasota County spoke with three candidates for superintendent about their stances on #NatesList and transgender student rights.

The #NatesList campaign started when trans activist Nate Quinn was denied access to the men’s bathroom at Pine View High School. Within weeks, pressure from dozens of students and community members led to a change in Pine View’s bathroom policy.

After the victory at Pine View, Quinn and his supporters decided to make trans protections and rights available to all students in Sarasota County, creating a list of demands known as #NatesList. #NatesList consists of three demands: that Sarasota County Schools include gender identity and expression in their anti-discrimination policy; that they adopt district wide policy and guidelines that will help teachers and faculty support transgender students and; that they train and educate their teachers and faculty about how to support transgender students.

Local activists confronted each of the candidates at a community meet-and-greet event at Riverview High School. The three candidates stood in different areas of the room, surrounded by parents, students and community members waiting their turn to ask questions about the candidates’ positions.

While other attendees were given the time to speak and ask follow-up questions, event staff interrupted Quinn during each of his conversations with the candidates. They also aggressively followed activists throughout the event.

When Quinn asked if the candidates supported #NatesList and rights for transgender students, candidates Tom Bowden and Mark Porter revealed their bigotry. According to the candidates, they believe that “all students” deserve to be safe, but that they are against protections for transgender students.

“I feel like they are doing the same thing that people who say ‘All Lives Matter’ are doing in response to the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Quinn. “They are looking at a minority and saying, well, you already count in this group of ‘all’. But they’re not looking at issues that a minority faces and actually taking into account that the situation is different, and they need to focus on the minority to get the problem solved.”

Bowden and Porter also repeatedly mentioned the fear of a lawsuit if #NatesList were to be implemented, showing little concern for the lives of the trans students they were speaking to.

“If you care about your job and you’re doing it for the right reason, lawsuits shouldn’t matter,” said supporter Aiden Howard, who graduated from high school in Sarasota. “I know how hard it was as I was growing up. Trans people that are coming out in high school, they have a lot of courage and they need protection.”

According to a National Survey done by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, 75 percent of transgender youth feel unsafe at school. More than 50 percent of transgender youth have had at least one suicide attempt by their 20th birthday.

The third and final candidate, Brenan Asplen, was the only one to not mention lawsuits or money. “I didn’t feel like he was very openly progressive about the issue, but he was the most supportive,” said Quinn. “He said that in the county he was in before, they had already trained staff and teachers on how to deal with issues involving the trans community, and their policies already include gender expression, which are two of the steps we have in #NatesList.”

Quinn told Liberation News why it’s important to keep fighting for #NatesList: “2016 has been the deadliest year in America for trans people already, especially trans women. That starts in public schools, in starts in elementary, middle, and high schools when trans students aren’t protected and they aren’t seen as equal. They are causing a mindset that is extremely harmful for the trans community.”

Since the writing of this article, the School Board appointed Tom Bowden as superintendent. In addition to being anti-trans, Bowden has been accused by three women of sexual harassment while he served as a director at Suncoast Technical College. ANSWER Coalition and #NatesList activists will join teachers and community members to protest Bowden’s hiring at the School Board meeting on Tuesday, November 1.

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