Safe Schools and the Elections of 2009
Last week's election results were decidedly mixed, and we'll need some time to sort through the full implications of the wins and losses for LGBT issues, including the victories in Kalamazoo, MI, and Washington State, and a crushing loss in Maine. But two school board races - one a victory, one a loss - offer the day's most important lessons for Safe Schools advocates.
In Canton, Ohio, Eric Resnick of GLSEN Northeast Ohio (GLSEN NEO) won a seat on the cityís school board. Some advised Eric to downplay his connections to GLSEN, especially at a time when GLSEN founder Kevin Jennings was under attack by GLSENís most vitriolic critics at the national level. Eric chose instead to wear a GLSEN lapel pin throughout the campaign, include (and spell out) the name of the organization on every piece of
campaign literature, and talk about Safe Schools issues every chance he got.
Not only did Eric win his race to help govern Canton's schools, but he won with support from across the spectrum of the Canton community. On the Sunday before the election, Eric received the endorsement of a small AM radio station called Joy 1520, a mostly gospel station that reaches much of Cantonís African American church community. Reflecting on this crucial support, Eric said that "Joy 1520 validated everything I have spent my adult life working on in this town with one announcement."
In Springfield, Mass., Sirdeaner Walker, the mother of Carl Walker-Hoover, an 11-year-old who took his own life last spring after months of relentless bullying, decided to run for the city's school committee in order to make a difference. She fell a few hundred votes short in her race. But when I spoke with her shortly after her concession speech, her perspective on the race gave me comfort in the midst of a difficult election night.
"The race was a victory unto itself," Sirdeaner told me, "we started a real conversation in Springfield about school safety. My opponent is a good person who has learned about this issue and will talk about it as a committee member." How often these days do we hear about a race where the candidates respect each other, and will say so publicly; where the debate during the election actually advances issues of concern to a whole community rather than just the prospects of an individual candidate?
Ericís election to Canton's school board and Sirdeaner's election contest are both beacons of hope from Election Day 2009. In Canton, open dialogue about GLSEN's issues from a candidate with a clear and long-standing commitment to his community prevailed, despite efforts at the national level to misrepresent and discredit GLSEN's work. In Springfield, two candidates rated "excellent" by MassLive had an open, spirited and respectful debate, each acknowledging their opponent's goodwill and character as they both sought an office that would allow them to help schools and the students they serve. These outcomes are, to me, the day's most important harbingers of a better future.
Our warmest congratulations also go out to Steve Kornell, long-time friend of GLSEN, a former GLSEN chapter member and GSA advisor, for his election to the City Council of St. Petersburg, FL.
As Sirdeaner said on election night, "the work continues." I thank each and every one of you for your partnership in the ongoing effort to build a future of respect for all people.
GLSEN Executive Director