CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board voted 7-2 to add LGBTQ students to its multiculturalism policy on Tuesday night following a heated public comment.
The policy now includes gender identity and expression, as well as sexual orientation to the definition of diversity, alongside race, color, ancestry, national origin, differences in abilities, religion, age and socioeconomic status.
“Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will acknowledge and support multiculturalism and by intentionally incorporating appreciate the value of diversity throughout the curriculum, instruction, and staff professional development,” the policy reads.
Members Elyse Dashew, Mary McCray, Rhonda Cheek, Margaret Marshall, Ruby M. Jones, Carol Sawyer and Ericka Ellis-Stewart voted in favor of the updated policy, while Thelma Byers-Bailey and Sean Strain voted against.
CMS votes on the expanded multicultural policy
The vote followed a public forum where members of the community had a minute each to speak on the issue.
Raleigh-based NC Values Coalition fired up their anti-LGBTQ base with emails and social media posts, accusing the board of trying to “sneak through yet another attempt to rob parents of their rights to teach their kids about sensitive moral questions.”
The board held another hearing earlier in the month, on Jan. 9, that drew only half a dozen speakers, all of whom spoke in support of the policy.
Those who spoke against the policy this time around called the policy “social engineering,” mentioned their opposition based on their Christian faith and argued that parents should be the ones to teach their children about such issues, while schools should stick to teaching the basics.
Those in favor thanked the policy committee for putting forth the change and asked the board to vote in favor of it in order to protect all students.
Public debate on the policy change
“As a parent of a transgender son, I wanted to thank you for and the Board of Education for your continued commitment to academic and cultural inclusion. The added inclusion of gender identity/expression and sexual orientation to the existing policy will continue to provide all students with an excellent education that acknowledges the diversity that truly makes our country great,” said Douglas Cooper.
“Additionally, I wanted to thank the board for its commitment to preparing students for a society that already values and embraces this diversity. As stated in the multiculturalism policy, and echoed in the core beliefs of this board, it is imperative that our students in this district be prepared for a global and pluralistic society that values the ability to work with diverse groups of people to accomplish its goals,” he added.
“Thank you for your courage and your principles,” educator Kenan Kerr said. “You make me proud to be a CMS teacher.”
Kirby Overcash, a teacher at Independence High School, was among those who spoke against the policy change.
He argued that the district’s anti-bullying policy was enough.
“It’s very clear that what you’re considering is something adding to the multiculturalism policy that is not culture. It’s strictly values and those values should be left up to the privacy and the privilege and the right of the parents, and it should not be incorporated into the classroom,” he said.
He claimed that students are already “treated with dignity and respect, regardless of what they choose, or think they are, or want to be.”
“I’m going to be a little vulnerable and transparent tonight,” he added. “I grew up in the sixties and seventies, I struggled with this very same issue, so I’m just saying I have credibility on this issue.”
Another opponent of the change quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., in saying that he was “free at last” from same-sex attraction.
Preacher and infamous anti-LGBTQ activist Flip Benham also spoke, Bible in hand.
“You can’t make a moral wrong a civil right,” he bellowed, after complaining that he wasn’t given enough time to speak. “To be black is not sin, to be Chinese is not sin, to be a Jew is not sin, to be handicapped is not sin. But homosexual sodomy is sin, and it separates our kids from God.”
When his time expired, he rushed the dais and yelled at board members before being led out by security.
“I’m going to have to say this, at one time, I was judged as a sinful thing because of the color of my skin,” said Board Chair McCray after Benham was removed. “So please, don’t forget that.”
Superintendent Clayton Wilcox and staff assured that the policy won’t take away from classroom instruction on other important subjects and topics before the board voted to pass it.
“Equality NC and countless LGBTQ students and their parents are grateful for the support of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board of Education,” said Equality NC Interim Executive Director Matt Hirschy. “The revised policy language is a proactive and welcome step to ensure that all children will have an opportunity to learn in an environment free of harassment and discrimination no matter who they are. History has shown and will show again that we are better people when we allow everyone an equal chance to succeed.”