Editorial: Sticking up for LGBTQ Hayward students

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday June 21, 2023
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Members of the East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club held a rally outside the Hayward Unified School District office prior to the June 14 school board meeting. Photo: From Ryan LaLonde
Members of the East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club held a rally outside the Hayward Unified School District office prior to the June 14 school board meeting. Photo: From Ryan LaLonde

The Hayward Unified School District Board of Trustees stuck up for LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff last week despite the outrageous homophobic comments made by board member Joe Ramos. On a 4-1 vote, with Ramos in dissent, the board adopted a resolution declaring support for LGBTQIA+ youth, staff, and families. The resolution calls for fostering diversity, teaching an inclusive curriculum, and observing Pride Month in June, LGBTQ History Month and National Bullying Prevention Month in October, and Transgender Awareness Month in November.

According to a video of the June 14 meeting, the resolution had been pulled from the consent calendar and was thoroughly debated. Ramos has a history of anti-LGBTQ comments — he went off at the board's May 24 meeting talking about how the district was trying to "indoctrinate" students and staff because of its pro-LGBTQ curriculum and policies, a video of the meeting showed. "If you're homosexual, that's your business," he said. "Don't bring it to the school house." Ramos seems to be under the misguided impression that Hayward schools are teaching students about same-sex intimacy, which is not the case, as other board members pointed out. "I'm having a very hard time with this conversation," Trustee and board Vice President April Oquenda said after Ramos' comments, adding that she couldn't let his "indoctrinate" comment stand. She explained that a lot of the district's policies describe how it values diversity. "Not just inclusion, but a sense of belonging," she said.

LGBTQ community leaders became alarmed after that May meeting, and last week, several East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club members held a rally outside the district's offices before the start of the meeting. Ramos has reportedly expressed interest in running for Hayward City Council; that would be a disaster for the East Bay city, which held the first gay prom in the country back in 1995, as school board President Peter Bufete said. He and several other board members had LGBTQ flags draped over their chairs as a way to show support for the resolution; Ramos pointedly did not.

Ramos's comments echo those made by anti-LGBTQ school board members in other parts of the state, as we've reported. In the Southern California city of Temecula, the board, with its anti-LGBTQ majority, voted against a textbook because information about slain gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk was included in supplemental materials. Board President Joseph Komrosky even called Milk a "pedophile," to the anger and shock of Governor Gavin Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor, and LGBTQ elected officials around the state. While Ramos did not go that far, it's clear where he stands. When you start your public remarks with "to my homosexual friends and lesbian friends," as Ramos did, well, you know where he's going. And he did not disappoint: "The point is we're not against you — we just don't want you telling us how to treat our children." (It's unclear what he meant by "we," as every other board member disagreed with him.)

Trustee Sara Prada forcefully pushed back. "As a mother, I will do anything to protect my children." She said that while she understood some who disagreed with the board might think what they're doing is right, problems arise for students when they're in an environment where they feel "othered" and are bullied because of who they are. The district is trying to be inclusive, she said, and "having parents be part of that so you can support your children and they know how to accept all children and all people."

Trustee Ken Rawdon, a former longtime teacher in the district, alluded to the anti-LGBTQ decisions made by the Temecula school board. At one point in his career, he said, he left Hayward for a year to take a teaching job in Southern California. While he said he would not name the city, he did say, "I commuted from Temecula everyday. The community was not very welcoming," he said, and he came "screaming" back to Hayward to get his job back. "A lot of school boards out there are not very civil right now," he added.

We should note that this resolution is not new for the Hayward school district. As Oquenda said, the district has been flying the Pride flag for the past three years and is one of 13 school districts in Alameda County to do so. Bufete said that non-discrimination appears in the district's various policies "over 100 times." What is new is the pushback by Ramos, who apparently is galvanized by what has been going on in other school districts.

Tom Temprano, a gay man who's managing director for external affairs for Equality California, the statewide LGBTQ+ rights group, spoke during public comment by phone, urging the board to adopt the resolution. "This policy would have changed my life when I was coming out 25 years ago," he said.

We're glad the Hayward school board did the right thing in passing the resolution. The four trustees were adamant that the district be welcoming to all, no matter someone's sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, race, religion, and a host of other criteria. And we hope that the divisiveness that has been exhibited at recent school board meetings will dissipate. It's clear that a majority of trustees are pro-LGBTQ. As Bufete said, "I want our community to heal from this division and I think empathy is needed all around."

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