Seattle Hall Pass Podcast

E5 - Seattle Loves Our Trans Kids

October 01, 2023 Christie Robertson & Jane Tunks Demel Season 1 Episode 5
Seattle Hall Pass Podcast
E5 - Seattle Loves Our Trans Kids
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In this episode of Seattle Hall Pass, we cover the September 27 Seattle School Board Meeting. Because five anti-trans activists signed up for public comment, the Seattle Public Schools community came out in droves to support Seattle’s LGBTQIA+ youth. We share audio clips from many of the pro-LGBTQIA+ commenters. Christie and Jane also report on the Ad Hoc Policy Committee’s work.

For sources on the facts cited in the podcast and other supporting documentation, see our show notes here.

We want to hear from our listeners. Email us with comments, questions, or corrections at hello@seattlehallpass.org.

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Music by Sarah, the Illstrumentalist, logo by Carmen Lau-Woo.
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Episode 5 - Seattle Loves Our Trans Kids

[00:00:00] Christie Robertson: Welcome to Seattle Hall Pass, a podcast with news and conversations about Seattle Public Schools. this week we're reporting on the September 27th school board meeting. My name is Christie Robertson.

[00:00:11] Jane Tunks Demel: And I'm Jane Tunks Demel. 

[00:00:13] Christie Robertson: What was initially on the agenda for this meeting ended up taking a backseat to the community coming together in support of trans kids 

[00:00:21] Jane Tunks Demel: There were five anti-trans activists who signed up for public comment and word got out about this and spread all throughout the Seattle Public Schools community. 

[00:00:30] Christie Robertson: And people came out of the woodwork in about, was it less than 24 hours? 

[00:00:36] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah. To make it clear to the anti-trans activists that Seattle Public Schools supports trans students.

To kick off the meeting, Director Hampson read a proclamation in honor of Indigenous Peoples' Day, and Superintendent Jones also recognized Latinx Heritage Month. 

 Jones mentioned that he talked to Seattle legislators about the budget. 

[00:00:56] Brent Jones: We had the opportunity to talk with our Seattle legislative delegation this week about our current situation, primarily about budget. We're trying to capitalize on the good work that we did in the last session. But more importantly, we want to build a shared understanding of our vision for SPS — and what it'll take to realize that vision.  So we're thankful that we have our legislative delegation solidly with us, and we're going to continue to progress to provide the adequate and solid resources for Seattle Public Schools. 

[00:01:26] Christie Robertson: I don't know if they've done that before, but I have heard from legislators that they would like to be much more in communication with the leaders of Seattle schools and the board. I hope they just put that as an annual repeating task on their calendars.

Ayush Muthuswamy, the student board director who was there, also mentioned coordinating on legislative priorities.

[00:01:52] Ayush Muthuswamy: Something we as student board members have just started working on is bringing student voice into the SPS legislative agenda. I had a great conversation with Director Rankin yesterday, and in partnership with her, we're hoping to meet with student leaders across the district and work together to craft legislative agenda that reflects their short- and long-term needs. 

Two of my personal priorities and legislative agenda are incorporating more curriculum devoted to harm reduction into the health education learning standards and also expanding funding for free school meals for all students. Because in no world is it acceptable to have hungry students in our schools. 

[00:02:23] Christie Robertson: So then people launched into supportive comments to the community. I was not in the room. Were you there? 

[00:02:31] Jane Tunks Demel: No, no, I wasn't.

[00:02:32] Christie Robertson: But it was clear from watching the live stream that the room was full of trans supporters. The five people who came to testify about "trans indoctrination," there were five of them. They sat in the front right next to each other, and then every other seat in the house was people countering the message.

[00:02:52] Jane Tunks Demel: And also, there was about a hundred people watching the live stream and usually it's about maybe five.

Before the public comment, the directors and the superintendent said some words directed towards the trans students to show their support. 

[00:03:06] Christie Robertson: Here's Ayush Muthuswamy, the student board director.

[00:03:10] Ayush Muthuswamy: That love for each other is the only way forward, that hate is has no place place in this district. And that we will not accept as a school board, and as a school district, anything less than a welcoming and safe environment for every single student in this district. 

[00:03:32] Jane Tunks Demel: And here's what Superintendent Jones said. 

[00:03:36] Brent Jones: I need to be emphatic that as part of our safe and welcoming schools, we want to reaffirm our commitment to creating inclusive, identity-safe environments for every student. The rights — yes, the rights — and safety of our LGBTQ+  youth are a priority for this district. Let there be no doubt. This district stands for inclusion and belonging in policy and in practice. And representation matters. 

[00:04:07] Jane Tunks Demel: Director Rankin said a few words that were clearly directed at the anti-trans activists. Here's what she said.

[00:04:13] Liza Rankin: Students civil rights are nonnegotiable in our public schools by state and federal law. In Seattle, we also have board-adopted policy that clearly states the values of our community in support of all of our students and their rights to public education and to being fully included members of our community. Discrimination on the basis of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, disability, religion is not acceptable and is prohibited by federal law. 

All students are entitled to a public education that includes identity affirming curriculum. By state and federal law and by board policies, including 0010 Instructional Philosophy and 3211 gender-inclusive schools, which was adopted by this board under the leadership of a queer native Board President. We support the civil rights of our students, their rights to exist, be included, be safe and to learn and thrive. 

To our trans, non-binary, and LGBTQIA+ students. you will hear comments during this meeting from people who don't know you and are nonetheless directing hate toward you. I want to state clearly that we up here — whether or not we know you — love you and support your rights in Seattle Public Schools, and we'll continue to fight for them. 

[00:05:37] Christie Robertson: Director Zachary DeWolf, his main effort when he was a board director in 2021, was the Gender-Inclusive Schools board policy that Vice President Rankin was referring to. 

Director Hampson read it in its entirety. And we can link to her reading it and the actual resolution.

[00:06:02] Jane Tunks Demel: And Lisa Love, who's the manager of health education for Seattle Public Schools, spoke about what they've done in response to the resolution. They recently added K-5 gender book kits to every school. And all schools have Pride flags to hang for pride month, thanks to a grant that they wrote. They also participate in the Pride parade every year. And she also mentioned a new course that came out of the resolution, but she didn't give any details. So if any of you know what that is, please email us. We'd love to hear more.

And then the public comment began. Before it started, Greg Narver, the General Counsel for Seattle Public Schools, went over the rules of public comment and set up expectations. 

[00:06:45] General Counsel Greg Narver: Board Policy 1430 recognizes the critical role of public comment to help the board, to support the board in its oversight and decision-making and policy-making roles. So to everyone here who is here to help the board with those comments, welcome.

I do want to stress that what is said at this podium is protected to the full extent by the First Amendment. There's a lot you can say, and you may hear things tonight with which you disagree, strongly disagree, and you may hear things that call into disagreement the board's own policies or board-approved curriculum. You may hear things that are even offensive. Generally, all of that is protected by the First Amendment. 

 With that, though, welcome to everyone who's here to speak and we look forward to the kind of vigorous debate that the First Amendment is all about. Thank you. 

[00:07:45] Christie Robertson: We're not going to feature any of the audio clips from the anti-trans activists because we don't want to broadcast their point of view, but it's publicly available. One of them had grandkids at Seattle schools. Another one had served on Ingraham and Nathan Hale high school PTAs. And the other three, I don't know what connections, if any, they had to Seattle schools.

[00:08:07] Jane Tunks Demel: We will list the names of the commenters in our show notes, and we will also link to their testimony on YouTube, so if you want to watch it, you can watch it for yourself. And after those five anti-trans activists spoke, then we had the onslaught of parents coming out to speak on behalf of their trans students. 

[00:08:24] Christie Robertson: One of these was Amy Freeman, who is a parent and public interest attorney. And she talked about her experience. When her student wanted to change their name, here's what she said.

[00:08:36] Amy Freeman: So I looked up the policy, and let me tell you, I was thrilled. This policy is awesome. It is, it covers everything. It's nuanced. It tells parents what happens when legal names have to be used in very certain situations. And it tells staff that you should do something when you do have to use the legal name to keep it under cover and not call the kid out. This is a nuanced policy and I'm thankful for whoever wrote it. 

[00:09:00] Christie Robertson: She also had a message for the anti-trans commenters.

[00:09:05] Amy Freeman: I also want to say nobody, no teacher has ever told my kid they were born in the wrong body or that they needed surgery or what their pronouns were or what their name was. My kids told me theirselves who they were long before they set foot in Seattle Public Schools. 

[00:09:22] Christie Robertson: There were several students who testified and it's especially impactful to hear from the voice of a young student. 

[00:09:31] Ian Fogg: My name is Ian Fogg, and I'm a student in Seattle Public Schools. My mom showed me the list of testifiers today, and she asked me if I wanted to speak up. I do. I have friends who identify in different ways and they all need to be in school. 

I feel my education is better when the other students who are with me in class feel safe and welcome. The world outside of school is beyond our control. And there are deeply problematic things happening. Inside of schools, on our school property, during our school activities, students should be safe to be who they truly are so that they can learn. 

[00:10:01] Christie Robertson: And here's Ian's younger brother, Jacob Fogg, from later on in the testimony.

[00:10:06] Jacob Fogg: And we know some people are mean to kids because of who those kids are, and that is not okay. It makes it hard to learn when people are mean. 

[00:10:17] Jane Tunks Demel: A student named Adrian shared their experience.

[00:10:20] Adrian Martin: Here's the thing that you don't know about your trans kids. They're stronger, braver, and more stubborn than you think they are. Confidentiality has been a trans rights topic recently. I want to speak to those parents. Exploration is normal. When you demand that the students be outed to families. When they try out names and pronouns at school, you're giving them an all-or-nothing option. Many kids will choose nothing and go through with something hard alone and go through something hard alone. Kids deserve the chance to try out things among their peers. If I do get that support, they are more likely to share themselves with you as a choice. 

[00:10:50] Jane Tunks Demel: After the meeting, we heard from some people that they so appreciated all the people who came out to support them that night, but they also want the Seattle Public School community to know that there's so much work that's still to be done. That every single day, there are still trans students, or queer students, in our schools, and they're facing bigotry and microaggressions from their peers. 

There is one teacher, Makena Gadient, who touched on this difficult dynamic. She began her comments with a few affirming words. Here is what she said. 

[00:11:23] Makena Gadient: And there are so many more people that couldn't be here today that wanted to be here, that found out at 7 o'clock in the morning or 8 o'clock in the morning. So this is just a fraction of the love and support that our community has for LGBTQ two-spirit individuals in Seattle.

[00:11:41] Jane Tunks Demel: And then she reminded us all that trans students still face difficulties because of their identities every day in our school buildings. Here's how she explained it.

[00:11:50] Makena Gadient: But I think that it's important to be here and to show up and to stand up and to say that you are important and you deserve a safe space and you deserve curriculum that teaches other students not to be assholes to you. I hope that doesn't break our civility. But I have seen students come in being misogynistic and being full of the patriarchy. And because of our curriculum, because of the stories that we tell, because of the love that is in our school, they leave a better person and they leave a better person to other people. So it is not just about our LGBTQ students having a safe place. It's about making our other students see that they are important and they are valued. 

[00:12:30] Christie Robertson: Another parent Astrid Gielen also spoke of the difficulties trans students face at school:

[00:12:37] Astrid Gielin: Even in spite of the beautifully inclusive policies that we have in this district on paper, my trans child still struggles to access the full range of academic and extracurricular activities at school because of bigotry among students as well as adults in those schools. It is essential that if your student shares a classroom or a hallway or an auditorium with mine that they understand how to respect their pronouns and treat them as a human being. 

[00:13:14] Christie Robertson: Debbie Carlsen, who's running for school board on a platform related to having a queer family, also talked about there being more work that needs to be done.

[00:13:25] Debbie Carlsen: According to the SPS 2021 youth risk behavior survey, 65% of trans youth reported engaging in self-harm in the last 12 months, 65% reported depressive feelings, and 20%, one out of five of trans youth, attempted suicide. These numbers represent Seattle trans youth. 

They also show that our trans students do not feel safe in Seattle, and that Seattle Public Schools must do more to provide a safe and welcoming learning environment for them. 

Currently within the district's strategic plan, as well as the goals and guardrails, there isn't a single mention of LGBTQIA students or their families. 

Let that sink in: LGBTQIA+ students aren't centered anywhere in the district's five-year strategic plan or in the new governance structure called student outcomes-focused governance. This needs to change. 

[00:14:20] Jane Tunks Demel: And for me, the most striking comment was from an SPS staff member who felt they had to be anonymous to protect their own safety and had a colleague read their letter out loud to the board. And here's what the letter said. 

[00:14:34] Letter reader: "When I was growing up as a student in public schools, I was not taught a single thing about transgender people. When it came to the existence of trans identity, I was educated in an atmosphere of silence and denial. This invisibility and hostility led me to suppress my identity for many years at an enormous mental and emotional cost. Big surprise, even without learning a single thing about trans people in schools or at home, I still turned out trans. I was as a child and I am as an adult. 

Any educated person knows that exposure to ideas reflecting a diverse society does not make a person gay or trans. But visibility and affirming curriculum saves lives. Our goal is not for cisgender children to become transgender children, but for transgender children to become adults. 

Our trans staff are also terrified for our personal safety. We did not ask for our identities to turn into a hot button issue. That gets manipulated for conservative political clout. Please, SPS, be unapologetic in your support of us. We are literally dying out here." 

Um, and again, this is a letter written anonymously by a trans staff member at SPS. Thank you. 

[00:16:03] Christie Robertson: Student Board Drector Luna Crone-Barón was the last speaker for testimony. And we're going to play a long section from her clip.

[00:16:13] Luna Crone-Baron: I am a Seattle School Board of Directors Student member. I am also openly trans and proud. And the first openly trans person to ever serve on the Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors. And that is a fact that I am proud of and grateful for. 

I, first of all, want to say, thank you to the incredible amount of support pouring in since this morning, the incredible community that has showed up here. Our incredible school board who affirms trans students every day. And will continue. And I know that this is a commitment. And I will continue to push for this commitment to continue to affirm, uplift, support, and most of all, celebrate trans and LGBTQ students in our district, from now until forever. 

One thing I want to say to those in the room, if they are still in the room, who do not believe in my existence, who tried to villainize my body and the bodies of trans people, who try to villainize us as children, and the adults who support us and save our lives. I want to say, I wish you love. I wish you more love in your life. I wish you a more loving way of viewing the world. Because the incredible thing about being a young trans person and trans and the trans community that amazes me every day and inspires me every day is that no matter how hated we are, no matter how much hatred we face, how much discrimination, how much violence, we remain such a loving community who are, who our identities are built on love, open love for ourselves and our truth and our community. And I feel love, and I can hear and feel the love in the room today. So I wish you who want to deny us our existence, want to deny us our fundamental rights, I wish you more love. 

I also want to thank Lisa Love, who has supported me, defended me, for every step of the way as a trans kid through Seattle Public Schools, because it has been a hard process. It has been difficult. 

And I wish, and I hope, and I will make the commitment that I will continue fighting for all the trans kids who come after me in Seattle Public Schools to make their experience less hard than mine. And I want to send the message to every trans kid hearing this right now, every student in the room, that teacher who left that incredible message anonymously. That I love you. And I'm here with you, and I'm in pain with you. And I hope we can all find a more loving way forward together, no matter how complicated that may be. 

And I hope that those who wish to deny us our existence. We'll most of all find that love in their lives and in the ways they lead themselves in the world. Thank you. 

[00:19:52] Christie Robertson: This is one of the longer testimony sessions. And as the board changes its structural framework, there are pieces that are not naturally in there, that don't connect directly to student outcomes-focused governance. And clearly it was a really important session for the board, for the administrators, for the students, for the teachers. And yet, you could easily say, well, this isn't focused on student outcomes because we're not measuring outcomes. 

[00:20:28] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, the board monitors how many minutes they talk about student outcomes, and in this case, obviously they would get zero minutes. 

What I thought was amazing was to see all the different stakeholders in Seattle Public Schools coming together. Because so often, I feel like the teachers versus the admin versus the parents versus the students are pitted against each other. It was great to show that really we all have the same goals and the same values for the most part, and that we can come together and be really strong. 

And at the end of the public testimony, President Hersey told a story about when he was a teacher, and here's what he said. 

[00:21:07] Brandon Hersey: A lot of y'all know that I was a teacher for a number of years. And one of my favorite months, surprise, surprise, is Black History Month. And during Black History Month, we read this book about Ruby Bridges. Y'all know who Ruby Bridges is? Of course you do. 

And I just remember this conversation — it was my first or second year teaching. This little girl, we're reading the book, and in this picture, there's that iconic photo of Ruby Bridges being escorted in the school. Mobs of people who didn't want people that looked like me and our superintendent to go to school. Now look at us [Hersey gestures to Jones]. Hey. 

But one of the things she said really stuck with me. She said, "Man, they came all that way just to hate on that little girl?" 

"Yeah, they did." 

"Do you think?" And then she asked me, "Is ruby Bridges still alive?" 

"Well, yeah, she Is." 

It was like, "Wow. Are those people still alive?" 

i was like ,"I don't know. "

I was like, "I wonder if they feel any different now."

[00:22:09] Christie Robertson: The last piece of the meeting was a work session to see the work that the Ad Hoc Policy Manual Committee has been doing. And just to be clear, the student outcomes-focused governance framework suggests that you stop having continuous committees, but that you can have ad hoc committees to perform specific tasks. And so that's what the Policy Review Committee 

[00:22:38] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, and this committee is made up of Vice President Rankin, Director Rivera Smith, and Director Sarju. And the committee charter is: "To develop recommendations for a restructured policy manual that is informed by best practices, conforms with legal requirements, and enables the board to review policies on a regular basis." The state of things as they are now is that the school board just has, I think it's got to be hundreds or a hundred policies. 

[00:23:07] Christie Robertson: There are about 240 board policies. And altogether there are 417 board policies and procedures at the moment. You can see them on the Seattle School Board Policies and Procedures webpage.

[00:23:27] Jane Tunks Demel: And once policies are made, they just kind of languish there in perpetuity.

[00:23:33] Christie Robertson: And here's what Director Hampson said about that. 

[00:23:36] Chandra Hampson:  The bulk of the series that make up the policy manual, haven't been touched for like a decade. So that's what we're trying to get away from is, like, we can't have policies. We're not in compliance with the vast majority of our policies. Yeah. And so this is to try to get us to being in compliance with the vast majority of our policies by us focusing on what we can manage. 

[00:23:59] Christie Robertson: In actuality, Ellie Wilson-Jones, who is the main staff person that supports the board, her actual title is Director of Policy and Board Relations. And I was recently told that It's her job in the ideal situation to keep track of all the policies and have them on the schedule of review and make sure that what is in them is communicated to the Superintendent and that whatever reporting needs to be done to make sure they're followed is done. 

[00:24:26] Jane Tunks Demel: And actually what they were working on at this meeting was the first committee deliverable, which is to develop a policy evaluation tool. And here's how Ellie Wilson-Jones explained the tool. 

[00:24:38] Ellie Wilson-Jones: It's a pretty simple document in terms of what it is seeking to cover. The magic is in how it is utilized. The tool builds on some of the recommended practices for how one would engage in a policy manual review. And that would be looking at goals, guardrails, governing, and delegation as your four main categories.

[00:25:01] Christie Robertson: So I think this kind of ties into what we were talking about the other week with gotcha governance, that they want to avoid something like the labor issue where they're supposed to be updated on what's happening in labor negotiations. But since they never check on that policy, someone took the job who didn't even know that was part of her work. 

[00:25:22] Jane Tunks Demel: Although that might be one of the policies that they end up delegating, and so that they don't review it every year. So I wonder what will happen. 

[00:25:29] Christie Robertson: Yeah, that's a good question. How will the ones that get delegated, how will they make sure that those are getting checked in on the regular schedule? 

[00:25:37] Jane Tunks Demel: There was a great question from Director Song, which was, "Wait, why are we doing this again?" And Vice President Rankin answered her question, and you can also hear Director Harris chime in too. 

[00:25:49] Vivian Song: I'm still fuzzy. So after you've evaluated these on whatever scale you land on. Then what do we do? 

[00:25:58] Leslie Harris: And you get a little binder. 

[00:26:01] Vivian Song: So is the idea that anything that is a zero, we just cut? Or... 

[00:26:06] Liza Rankin: No. 

[00:26:08] Vivian Song: So that'S what I'm wondering about the scale. Oh, we're not monitoring it?

[00:26:12] Liza Rankin: No, we are, but it's not, it's not part of our —
 
Well, we're not even doing that part right now. Right now, We're just trying to use the tool to evaluate what do we have? 

[00:26:23] Jane Tunks Demel: And then Director Hampson further explained.

[00:26:28] Chandra Hampson: I was just going to say, this is all about creating focus. 

[00:26:31] Brandon Hersey: Yes. 

[00:26:32] Chandra Hampson: That's that's what this is doing is just — where is our focus? What policies do we need to retain as part of our focus?

[00:26:42] Jane Tunks Demel: It seemed like they're doing this whole process that's very, very time-consuming, and I'm not sure how much it's getting them to where they want to be with student outcomes.

[00:26:53] Christie Robertson: The good thing about the standing committees was there was a rhythm to them. They had been in place for so long that there was just a rhythm of things that came through. The ad hoc committees, just by virtue of being ad hoc , they have to make up their own structure. And both the Ad Hoc Policy Committee and the Community Engagement Committee suffer from a bit of just aimlessness and difficulty in efficiently getting things done. 

[00:27:22] Jane Tunks Demel: And Ellie Wilson-Jones wrapped it up nicely. Here's what she said.

[00:27:28] Ellie Wilson-Jones: So the committee is developing the tool. They're going to run a bunch of policies through it. Kinda check what their findings are. And make some recommendations back to the board about, you know, policies could be structured in this way. And you would review these policies with this frequency, these ones with this frequency. Or maybe some of these policies become more operational documents for the districts. Whereas these are sort of core governance policies. So those pieces, the committee just hasn't gotten to yet. 

[00:28:01] Christie Robertson: And that concludes this episode. 

[00:28:03] Jane Tunks Demel: And if you're the sort of person who made it this far, then we want to hear from you. Email us at hello@seattlehallpass.org.

[00:28:11] Christie Robertson: We'd love to interview you if you're part of the Seattle School community or have anything that you would like to contribute. Our show notes are available at seattlehallpass.org and you should definitely check them out. 

[00:28:24] Jane Tunks Demel: And you can subscribe at all the usual places, and you can also support our podcast by donating . 

[00:28:29] Christie Robertson: I'm Christie Robertson. 

[00:28:31] Jane Tunks Demel: And I'm Jane Tunks Demel. We'll be back with more episodes soon, and we hope you'll join us next time on Seattle Hall Pass.

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