The Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network has been around for the last 28 years or so. During its existence, it has focused on providing advocacy, support, and resources for LGBTQ+ youth who live in North Florida as they navigate their teen years into young adulthood while dealing with the developmental agenda of every teenager: Who Am I?
Kermit the Frog sang, “It’s not easy being green.” LGBTQ+ youth know exactly what the frog was getting at. It’s not easy being them. Besides working out who they are, they become the targets of bullying and harassment. JASMYN offers programs for teens by providing group and 1 on 1 support as well as social activities, help with housing and other needs (LGBTQ+ teens sometimes get kicked out of their house,) counseling services for LGBTQ+ youth struggling with mental health issues (surveys of youth repeatedly show that LGBTQ+ youth experience higher rates of mental health issues and suicidal thoughts,) and programs for families with LGBTQ+ youth.
It’s important to understand what this organization does day-to-day and year-after-year before weighing in with an opinion on the Duval County Public School’s (DCPS) decision to terminate its association with the organization after more than 20 years.
Before addressing the specifics of the controversy, let’s set the context. In its 2022 legislative session, Florida enacted a bill that is commonly known as “Don’t Say Gay.” The new law, deliberately vague, introduced a sense of unease into every Florida school district. A number of issues arose, including in no particular order:
- Needing parent permission to use the pronouns or preferred name that a student might request.
- Appropriate curriculum for health/sex education at all grade levels.
- Displays of support for LGBTQ+ youth like rainbow stickers on a classroom door or a teacher’s identity badge.
- Choice of bathroom or locker room by transgender youth, which is a particularly strange one because this issue is determined by federal law and court decisions.
- Grooming, the spurious accusations that teachers of grades K through 3 are actively encouraging children to change their gender identity.
In Duval County, the school system chose to respond (comply?) with the new law with two notable policy changes:
- Symbols of support for LGBTQ+ youth, like the rainbow stickers on the doors that the school district had handed out several years ago and hanging of rainbow flags, were removed. District officials were at pains to clarify that their new prohibitions did not apply to teacher dress. The District insisted that it owned the walls, but not employee clothes, and that made all the difference.
- The manual for school employees on handling LGBTQ+ issues was revised. After the edits, the manual went from 37 pages of advice addressing numerous scenarios specific to the LGBTQ+ community to 8 pages of student support with a few sections specifically addressing trans students.
The import was clear: if a student presented as LGBTQ+, a teacher should only point to the nearest closet and maybe open the door. (But this is Grumpy Old Teacher’s [GOT] interpretation.)
More context is needed. Let’s draw the lens back to consider the 2022 school board elections, the results, and what is now happening.
Florida’s school board elections are supposed to be nonpartisan. A candidate’s political party affiliation does not appear on the ballot. However, in a break with past practice, Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, chose to endorse school board candidates. A number of them won.
It’s happening in several counties. So against a background of changing school board … er… persuasions, is it any surprise that Duval County, undergoing a change from an Elizabeth Anderson, defender of all youth, who had this to say on Twitter:
@JASMYNJax has been a refuge for so many struggling LGBTQ youth. We need to be working together to move forward in the best interest of children and community, not severing relationships and sowing division.
To an April Carney, the delight of Ron DeSantis, Florida Governor, and Moms for Liberty (check the link,) Brevard and Sarasota Counties would seem to be a template.
Fire the superintendent.
Thank you for your patience. With all this in mind, we can finally talk about what took place recently in Duval County, Florida.
To recap, Duval County Public Schools decided (Diana Greene, the superintendent, made the call) to terminate its 20+ year relationship with JASMYN, an LGBTQ+ advocacy and support organization whose activities in the schools were only to provide help and support for such youth who are being bullied and/or targeted for threats and violence because they are LGBTQ+. In particular, JASMYN worked through GSA clubs (officially approved school organizations of students with faculty sponsors) to focus on the bullying issues. They did not and are not doing anything on campus in regard to sex education or issues arising from being sexually active.)
But they made a mistake. On a social media site, a post appeared with images and a message that was meant for young adults (out of school, in their 20s), about the consequences of being sexually active. A blogger seized upon the post and magnified it into a maybe-controversy. (JASMYN deleted the post and apologized for it after this tempest gained legs and took off in cyberspace.)
Duval County could have ignored this.
They didn’t. Duval’s superintendent decided to end the school system’s relationship with JASMYN. What does that mean? GSA clubs will not be able to use any resources from JASMYN. The superintendent promises that her district staff is identifying alternate resource groups to fill the need. Principals have been notified although the rest of us have yet to receive an explanation. We are finding out through our local media.
There’s so much more to this story that we don’t know yet. GOT cannot opine without more information. But he hopes that by laying out the timeline, facts, and context, you may gain a better understanding of what is taking place.
In one sense, we can interpret the superintendent’s action as an institutional response. Every institution and Duval Public Schools is an institution, instinct is toward self-preservation. Given Florida’s hostility toward LGBTQ+ youth, including the quack general’s dismissal of gender-affirming care, the termination could be merely an attempt to evade more state attention. After all, the state has targeted the district by saying it is not in compliance with the new state laws.
Or maybe the superintendent is nervous about her timeline to retirement and this is her attempt to fend off the oncoming storm.
What would really help now is for some intrepid journalist (damn, Emily Bloch is leaving for Philadelphia, Claire Goforth doesn’t have education in her DailyDot portfolio, Melissa Ross has a large gamut to cover in one hour five days a week) to file some FOI requests for all emails, texts, and other communication between the superintendent, current board members, and past board members, as well as other politicos like the governor, legislators, and to be thorough, maybe locals like the mayor to discover all the background conversation that’s taking place and led up to this decision.
But for now, JASMYN is no longer officially associated with Duval County Public Schools.