Political Notebook: Nonbinary San Carlos school board candidate aims to be voice for LGBTQ youth

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday September 21, 2022
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San Carlos school board candidate Kit Waffle. Photo: Courtesy the candidate
San Carlos school board candidate Kit Waffle. Photo: Courtesy the candidate

In 2021, an equity report for the San Carlos School District on the Peninsula found that LGBTQ+ students and families, in addition to people of color, "frequently" reported to district officials that they experienced "pejorative remarks from other students that went unaddressed."

Consultants hired by the district to conduct the review suggested that school staff "could benefit from comprehensive education around micro-aggressions that intersect with issues of race/ethnicity and gender-identity." They also noted "staff training on gender-identity and respecting pronouns is a critical need."

And they suggested the district conduct an audit of all school sites for gender-inclusive bathrooms. "Providing transgender students with access to the restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity is one way that schools adjust to meet students' individual needs," they noted in their report.

Having worked in the district as an educator and being a single mom of a son who transitioned while attending its schools, Kit Waffle was not surprised by the report's findings and recommendations on LGBTQ issues. The COVID pandemic had exacerbated the situation, said Waffle, 41, who identifies as queer and nonbinary.

"Teachers were under so much stress and the schools were under so much stress because of COVID. The needs of trans kids fell by the wayside," Waffle told the Bay Area Reporter in a recent phone interview.

Their own son, who asked that their name not be published due to privacy concerns, had issues with a middle school teacher using his dead name. School administrators didn't seem to take the family's complaints about the matter seriously, said Waffle, who ended up enrolling their son in a private school for the rest of the academic year.

"My kid was getting more and more disengaged from school and not wanting to go to that class or go to any classes," recalled Waffle, who filed an informal complaint with the district.

Their son is now enrolled at a high school in a different district that has gender-neutral bathrooms and a policy in place for using the names and pronouns that students go by even if they haven't legally changed them.

"Everyone has been very understanding and accepting so far. It's been a really stark experience," said Waffle.

As the San Carlos school district works to address Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) issues, Waffle told the B.A.R. they are concerned that there is not enough focus on addressing the needs of LGBTQ students. It is one of the reasons Waffle decided to run for a seat on the school board that oversees the public Pre-K to eighth grade school district that serves more than 2,600 students.

"They chose to focus on racial groups and language learners and dropped the piece for LGBTQ students. Definitely, as a board member, I will push for the district to address that," said Waffle, who had overseen a school garden science program at one of the district's elementary schools.

While not teaching this semester, Waffle most recently has worked at local private schools mainly as an English teacher but also as a literacy specialist and a humanities teacher. The Wisconsin native moved to the Bay Area in 2002 to attend graduate school at Stanford University and married a man who worked in tech.

The couple bought a home in San Carlos in 2012 but ended up divorcing in 2018. The year prior Waffle had come out as nonbinary. The term better reflected how they felt about their gender, as they didn't consider themself to be a trans man.

"As a kid, I knew I was never comfortable with the female body and female gender identity. I was never good at it. I always felt like I was failing at gender class," recalled Waffle. "I knew I wasn't a guy; I just thought I was really bad at being a girl. Then nonbinary becomes a more common term, and I went, 'Oh, there is another option.' I can opt out of this binary gender thing and go with whatever."

According to a map of out elected leaders maintained by the LGBTQ Victory Institute, there are only two who identify as nonbinary serving in California. One is Redwood City Councilmember Lissette Espinoza-Garnica.

As far as Waffle knows, they would be the only LGBTQ person serving on the San Carlos school board if elected. The entire time they have lived in the city, they have not known of anyone from the LGBTQ community serving on it.

All five of the school board's seats are on the November 8 ballot, with two being for two-year terms. Waffle is running for one of the three full four-year terms against three incumbents, two of whom were appointed to their seats. Thus, Waffle feels they have "a good chance" of winning.

"I only have to beat one to get on the school board," noted Waffle, a first-time candidate for elected office. "Some people are really enthusiastic and some people just won't vote for me. I am not expecting, as a nonbinary person, to get everyone's support."

Even if they lose the race, Waffle said being able to run as an out queer nonbinary candidate talking about LGBTQ issues and the needs of trans students is victory enough.

"In some ways I think it's already a win for me if I am just pushing this forward, even as a candidate. Being a visible representation for the community, being out, and highlighting this issue of the poor treatment of trans students, I'll take that as a personal win," said Waffle. "If I win, awesome, and if I can help make substantial change over the next four years, that's even better. Representation counts I think for our youth. It affirms our youth to see me run."

Just this month, as the school board reviewed its non-discrimination policies, including for race, sexual orientation, and gender identity, a woman in the audience attacked trans youth during public comment, noted Waffle. It echoed the bias toward trans youth seen at school board meetings across the country over the last several years as their rights come under fire and are rolled back.

"While LGB issues, especially lesbian and gay that is understood and better supported in the Bay Area, I think transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming in general is way more stigmatized," said Waffle. "Structural change is needed in institution's policies and even peoples' conception of what does that mean to not be male or female. Whether it's like that parent last night at the school board meeting who thinks trans people aren't real and trans kids aren't real, in some ways it is a harder concept to grasp, and people feel uncomfortable with it."

In their experience as a teacher, most students don't have any issues if their peers come out as trans and ask to be called by a new name and pronoun, said Waffle.

"They don't care," said Waffle. "The youth are leading on this. It is something where the adults really need to listen to the youth on it."

It is also a matter of life or death, added Waffle, who pointed to the Trevor Project's 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health that found 45% of LGBTQ youth had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.

"Every kid deserves support. This is literally suicide prevention," said Waffle. "It is something that is a no brainer to me. Do you want to use a kid's name and pronoun or do you want a dead kid? It is not hyperbolic to ask the question."

As a school board member Waffle hopes to build "a really supportive school community" for all students, especially those who are trans and don't feel safe at home. While they told the B.A.R. the attacks on trans youth have to stop, Waffle added they have had one positive outcome.

"The blessing of that is it has galvanized a lot of people to be more vocal in their support to counteract how loud the vitriol is," said Waffle. "But we are talking about children, some as young as 7 years old. Use their name, welcome them at school, that is the only way they are going to learn."

To learn more about Waffle's candidacy, visit their campaign website.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on the U.S. Senate delaying a vote to protect marriage equality until after the midterms.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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