After a Grants Pass teacher and administrator started a transphobic campaign in their school district this spring, middle and high school students in Grants Pass and human dignity group leaders across Josephine County formed the I Affirm Coalition to respond. Through powerful middle and high school-led rallies, passionate school board testimony, and county-wide organizing, the I Affirm Coalition has won some incredible victories, but those victories are at risk. Read on to learn about the I Affirm Coalition’s important work to ensure all LGBTQ2SIA+ students are safe and supported in Josephine County schools and how you can support them!
In July 2021, the Oregon LGBTQ2SIA+ Student Success Plan (SB52) went into effect. This law resources schools with funding and tools to help students feel safe and supported at school and to adopt plans and policies to prevent youth suicide. Knowing this would be going into effect, two educators from the Grants Pass School district, in collaboration with a local church launched the ‘I Resolve’ campaign in the spring, to challenge school policies around gender and pronoun usage. Some of their demands included replacing signs on school restrooms to read “anatomical male” and “anatomical female” and disregarding students’ pronouns and chosen names.
Middle school students were outraged at the fear this was bringing to their friends and classmates and they organized silent protests at school, put up posters, passed out stickers, and wore affirming clothing to support them. The outrage spread to high school students, parents, and human dignity group leaders, and a coordinated coalition grew. 1500 people signed an online petition calling on the school district to fire these educators who had violated the school district’s Educational Equity policy. Students organized over four more rallies that drew dozens of participants at the school and mobilized the larger coalition to testify at school board meetings in support of firing the educators connected to I Resolve. As a result, North Middle School Assistant Principal, Rachel Damiano, and 7th-grade science teacher Katie Medart were put on administrative leave pending an investigation in April.
In mid-July, the I Affirm Coalition celebrated a major victory when Damiano and Medart were terminated from their positions! While the school district stated that they were fired for using district time and resources on I Resolve, not because of the undue harm they put on students or for violating the District’s Educational Equity policy, these terminations relieved students and community members alike. Additionally, this victory gave them the momentum to demand more from the school board including how they plan to respond to the harm this has caused the LGBTQ2SIA+ community and all students in the Grants Pass School District.
The I Resolve campaign and religious Right-wing organizations have not taken this victory lightly and are working overtime to reverse it. The Grants Pass School Board received a flood of requests to reinstate the educators and have now decided to allow them a second hearing. Appeal processes for this type of termination are not out of the ordinary and at this point, the school board is waiting on new evidence from the educators on why they should be reinstated. The amount of support for either side of this issue remains unclear since a second hearing date has not yet been set.
If you live in Grants Pass or elsewhere and feel compelled, now is the time to support LGBTQ2SIA+ people and all students in the Grants Pass School District by writing a letter to any or all school board members. The Grants Pass School Board must receive a clear message that reinstating these teachers would further harm students that currently feel unsafe and unsupported. Below you will find a sample letter, along with the email address for each school board member. To write your own letter, students and local organizers ask that you highlight these key points:
- Do not reinstate North Middle School Assistant Principal Rachel Damiano nor 7th-grade science teacher Katie Medart
- Teachers violated the district’s Educational Equity Policy. This should be taken into account if they are given a second hearing
- Ask that the school board allows for public comment as part of the appeal process
- Ask how the school board plans to respond to the harm this has caused LGBTQ2SIA+ community and all students in the Grants Pass School District
Grants Pass School Board Members:
Scott Nelson: email@example.com
Cliff Kuhlman: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gary Richardson: email@example.com
Debbie Brownell: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cassie Wilkins: email@example.com
Brian DeLaGrange: firstname.lastname@example.org
Todd Neville: email@example.com
Dear District 7 School Board Members,
I am very saddened and frustrated by the events of the last year in the school district.
According to Resolution No. 2021-03, as a school district, you have committed to providing a learning environment free from discrimination of all forms. Within this resolution, you have stated that you will provide a barrier-free environment where all students, regardless of their race, social class, geographic location, or personal characteristics such as creed, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, economic status, gender, sexual orientation including gender expression or identity, pregnancy status, marital status, physical status, the presence of any sensory, physical or mental disability; all students have the opportunity to benefit equally.
If you are a school district that “commits” to the work of equity, diversity, and inclusion then you should not allow teachers in your school district who openly oppose and deny transgender student rights. As a school board, you have recently voted to hear an appeal from Medart and Damiano, I want to make it clear that the reinstatement of these two women would create an unsafe and hostile environment for the LGBTQ2SIA+ students in your district. The correct decision was already made, these two women should not be allowed to be employed by the school district. You should follow the recommendations already made by your superintendent and the investigation. If you care about all students, you will create a safe environment for everyone.
Human dignity groups around the state formed ROP 30 years ago when they joined together to fight a homophobic ballot measure put forward by the Oregon Citizens Alliance in 1992. Our network continues to show up for LGBTQ2SIA+ folks around the state. Over the summer, when a Roseburg city councilor cracked a transphobic joke about gender identity at a city council meeting, human dignity groups in Douglas County moved the city council to vote to censure concilor Bob Cotterell. Right now in Newberg, human dignity groups continue to rally every Friday and are busy organizing other ways to support students and overturn the Newberg School Boards’ ban on Pride and Black Lives Matter symbols. If you or your group are looking for ways to ensure your local school board continues to support LGBTQ2SIA+ students, or if you are interested in getting involved in another way, reach out to your local ROP organizer or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!