LAS CRUCES – After months of discussion and dozens of public comments, the Las Cruces Public Schools School Board has approved a new gender inclusion policy.

Twenty-one community members spoke ahead of the board vote on “JBD Policy: Gender Inclusive Schools” at the first school board meeting in 2022, held at the Karen Trujillo administration complex on Tuesday. .

JBD is an anti-discrimination policy aimed at protecting the education rights of students based on gender identity and sexuality. It would also require training for LCPS staff to become familiar with different gender identities and sexualities in order to better serve the LGBTQ + student body.

Read more:What you need to know about the gender inclusion policy offered by Las Cruces public schools

Specific regulations will be determined later by Chief Superintendent Ralph Ramos, as outlined in the draft policy.

At the December school board meeting, the district conducted a second reading of the policy and four board members claimed JBD had to fend for himself, not be included in any of the district’s other anti-discrimination policies.

A divided public comment

Of those who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, 12 were in opposition and seven in favor while two were in the middle.

Most of those who spoke out against the policy voiced concerns that are nowhere in the policy, such as a situation where a transgender student wants to play sports on the gender team they identify with. The individual district wouldn’t decide those policies, it would be up to the New Mexico Activities Association, according to board chairman Ray Jaramillo.

Opponents also said there was no need to give “special treatment” to LGBTQ + youth.

Dora Luchini-Lucero, who spoke out against the district's gender inclusion policy, points to another meeting participant after being ordered to put on her mask during the Las Cruces school board meeting at Las Cruces on Tuesday January 4, 2021. Masks are mandatory inside the Karen Trujillo Administrative Complex.

“Why are they getting preferential treatment? Said Dora Luchini-Lucero, who spoke out against the policy at previous board meetings. “Harassment is for everyone.”

Another commentator, Dave Gallus, suggested that children no longer know how to solve problems, ignoring the direct experiences of discrimination that several gay commentators have reported to the board.

Gallus, a former policeman who ran for state senate and lost in the 2020 election, said that when he was young he “used to fight” with his classmates, suggesting that students undergo a physical exam to resolve the harassment today.

“There are no safe spaces they have to learn to deal with the issues,” said Gallus.

He then told the board that if authority figures aren’t listening to students, then they should do something about it, which some say is the purpose of JBD policy.

Transphobia in the community

Unlike the last meeting in mid-December, opposition to the gender inclusion policy has been much greater.

The final speaker for the evening was Lance Bukowski, a transgender senior from Centennial High School.

Lucas Herndon speaks out in support of the JBD policy for gender inclusive schools at a Las Cruces school board meeting in Las Cruces on Tuesday, January 4, 2021. Herndon said his middle-aged daughter saw the transphobia at school.

“This policy will affect my life in a tangible way,” said Lance. “The reason I came here is because I have had teachers who openly revealed the difference between my sex and my gender, my last name (a birth name that is no longer used by one person after changing genders) to entire classes. I was bullied. from there I was harassed, and I was put in danger. I believe this policy will act as a shield for them. students like me to be myself.

“I have been threatened with transphobic violence on me, and I don’t want that to happen to the children I want to help.”

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Vibianno González, a representative from the Transgender Resource Center in New Mexico and a former LCPS student who uses the he / they pronouns, said they counted more than 50 transphobic comments in the hour the public comment took place. It is not new to them.

“In ninth grade at LCPS, I had to change my schedule four times because of the bullying and harassment that I can only describe as internalized transphobia and homophobia,” Gonzalez said. “This has been the manifestation of the majority of the comments that have been made to us here today.”

He described his own struggle with bullying and mental health in elementary school, which prompted him to self-harm and attempt suicide. They were once stuck in a locker room by a group of seventh grade girls, where he was harassed even more.

“None of the supportive teachers around had a clue of what was going on or what to do,” Gonzalez said. “They were girls, because I was not allowed to go anywhere else.”

Gonzalez also recalled not being able to participate in the men’s sports they tried out for, despite being one of the best on the team. A coach later informed them that was because they were transgender and parents would not allow their children to participate if Gonzalez was on the team.

Later in the meeting, board member Pamela Cort said she had Gonzalez in her class when she was a teacher at Las Cruces High School.

Pamela Cort, board member of Las Cruces public schools, attends a school board meeting in Las Cruces on Tuesday January 4, 2021.

“All the students loved them,” Cort said of Gonzalez. “I didn’t realize the depth of what you were going through in high school. I hope my classroom would be a safe place for people to go, but in 31 years of teaching, my empathy and understanding of what students are going through , has evolved.”

Board member Teresa Tenorio also said she was able to learn more about how current and former students have faced transphobia and homophobia in the district.

“It’s not special interests, it’s family, friends and neighbors,” Tenorio said. “These are elected officials, these are students, these are employees, these are people we love. This is my spiritual direction, so I can’t wait to vote.”

Board approval

Four of the five board members voted in favor of JBD.

Carol Cooper, a board member, proposed to table JBD until the bylaws were drafted, but the motion did not receive support. Cooper then voted against the policy.

Newly elected board member Robert Wofford said he believes there has been more than enough input on this policy, and hearing firsthand accounts from LGBTQ + students only affirms the need for a specific gender inclusion policy.

“We need to make sure that LGBTQ students don’t feel left out,” Wofford said. “This policy, as a stand-alone, stand-alone policy, will make it clear in our district that we can begin to formulate school-level policies that affirm that transgender or non-binary LGBTQ students are placed in our schools.”

Wofford is the first openly gay LCPS school board member and advised the Gay Straight Alliance during his teaching time at Las Cruces High.

Las Cruces Public School Board President Ray Jaramillo attends a school board meeting in Las Cruces on Tuesday January 4, 2021.

Jaramillo was last on politics, introducing himself first and stating that he uses pronouns.

“They talk about the very small number of people we are protecting – that’s why,” Jaramillo said. “People say ‘harassment, not everyone gets harassed’, but we protect those who are.

“The reason we’re here today and this type of politics is here in the second largest district in the state of New Mexico, is because we’ve taught kids how to think, not what to think. . “

The regulations for the JBD policy will be developed over the next few months.

JBD is a policy code based on guidelines from the National Education Policy Network and the National School Board Association. The JB indicates an equal opportunities policy. The D indicates that this is the fifth LCPS Equal Opportunity Policy following the JB, JBA, JBB and JBC policies, all of which are listed at www.lcps.net/page/policies.

Miranda Cyr, a member of the Report for America corps, can be reached at [email protected] Where @mirandabcyr on Twitter. Show your support for the Report for America program on https://bit.ly/LCSNRFA.