Charlotte school board passes anti-bullying policy
LGBT students offered protection after heated debate
by Matt Comer . Q-Notes staff
CHARLOTTE — After more than two hours of public comment and an hour of heated debate, the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Board of Education passed by a vote of 6-3 an anti-bullying and harassment measure including protections for LGBT students.
A packed auditorium at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center heard more than 40 citizens and students speak out on the policy. The overwhelming majority were in favor of adopting the new guideline for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS).
CMS Board of Education member Trent Merchant introduced the new
Arcena Todd, a senior at Berry Academy, told Q-Notes that bullying is a daily occurrence at her school. “This policy will give teachers the tools they need to stop the bullying and it will raise awareness. People aren’t aware of these issues and this is going to help them learn and grow.”
Brian Zarbock, a Providence High School senior and president of the campus’ Gay-Straight Alliance, told CMS Board members that his school experience has been extremely challenging. “In June I will walk across the stage to receive my diploma. While everyone else there will be graduating, I will feel like I have finally survived.”
Steven Shoemaker, senior pastor of Myers Park Baptist Church, asserted, “A school policy might not be able to change hearts, but it can create safer spaces for vulnerable students.” Myers Park was honored last month with an Equality Award from the Human Rights Campaign for its welcome of LGBT congregants.
The few citizens who opposed the anti-bullying policy seemed to be the usual malcontents from right-wing groups Operation Save America (OSA) and Coalition of Conscience (CoC). Significantly, no students spoke against the policy.
In fact, while OSA and CoC members used biblical passages, inaccurate statistics and other homophobic rhetoric to condemn the board and the proposed measure, many students in the audience held high their signs in support of the change.
“How we are fighting this battle is going to be determined on what we perceive the battle to be,” said OSA Director Flip Benham, who claimed the real struggle was against the absence of God in school.
CoC director Dr. Michael Brown echoed Benham’s remarks. He cited extreme examples of a supposed “homosexual agenda” in public schools to further his case.
When the board’s discussion commenced, Larry Gauvreau, Kaye McGarry and Ken Gjertson stated their staunch opposition to the measure.
“We all know what this is about,” said Gauvreau. “The genesis of this policy really comes from [CMS Board of Education member Trent] Merchant’s joining the board and a breakthrough from the [LGBT] community in Charlotte.”
Gauvreau claimed that gays were “driving the policy” rather than concerns about bullying. He also accused Merchant and the Mecklenburg Gay and Lesbian Political Action Committee (MeckPAC) of having an ulterior agenda.
“This policy is a Trojan horse. It is wrong,” he said.
George Dunlap and Vilma Leake, the two African-American members of the school board, took time to address the religious arguments used against the policy.
“As a Christian, I get concerned when other Christians take aim at other Christians who don’t believe the same as they do,” Dunlap said.
“I do question the religious focus some people come in here talking about,” Leake echoed. “My Bible says to ‘love ye one another’ and to respect each other and that’s what my philosophy is and will continue to be.”
Following the vote, MeckPAC chair Phil Hargett told Q-Notes, “We realize this policy is not just about gay students, that it is about all students, but we are happy and very excited that sexual orientation and gender-identity are protected.”
The new CMS policy protects students on the basis of about 20 “real or perceived” characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender-identity. It also calls for inclusiveness training and detailed record-keeping of bullying incidents.