Jefferson County school board member Julie Williams said late Friday that she was “sincerely sorry” and that she would remove a link on her personal Facebook page that she shared that encouraged families to keep their students home Friday and “away from perverse indoctrination” of the“homosexual-bisexual-transsexual agenda.”
“To be honest with you, I didn’t read the article,” Williams said. “I just saw it and thought I was sharing information with parents.”
The link, like most on Williams’ wall, was posted without comment. It directs Facebook users to a newsletter published by SaveCalifornia.com, but neither overtly endorses nor condemns the group and its message.
Friday is the national “Day of Silence.” It is organized by GLSEN, an organization that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender students and teachers in schools. The aim of the protest is to raise awareness about LGBT bullying. Students who participate in the protest attend school but remain silent. Some put tape over their mouths.
SaveCalifornia.com describes itself as a “frontline pro-family leader standing strong for moral virtues for the common good.” But the Southern Poverty Law Center considers the organization a hate group, akin to the white supremacy political party American Freedom Party and Westboro Baptist Church.
Williams said she was not familiar with the group and that she was “rattled” after learning it was recognized as a hate group.
The newsletter reads, in part, “The Day of Silence postures every person who identifies as a homosexual or cross-dresser as a victim of ongoing, unrelenting harassment and discrimination (being ‘silenced’). While some incidents like this do occur, this event is an overwhelming exaggeration in an effort to manipulate our kids’ natural sympathies. The result ironically is that youth develop favorable views about a controversial, high risk behavior.”
Williams said she does not support the statements in the newsletter read to her by a Chalkbeat reporter.
“I believe in choice — who you are and want to be and what you want to do,” Williams said, distancing herself from the newsletter that paints LGBT students as “unnatural.”
Last fall, Williams gained national notice for suggesting the school district review an advanced high school history course. She wanted to make sure the course was “patriotic.” Her proposal incited weeks worth of student protests.
The board ultimately dropped plans to review the course, but did make changes to how curriculum would be reviewed.
Williams is part of the conservative three-member majority on the Board of Education. The majority has been criticized for many decisions — a new teacher compensation program, giving more money to charter schools, and hiring a new superintendent — by a vocal group of parents, students, teachers and community members.
The board’s critics also claim the majority does not value diversity.
Williams’ post, first revealed Friday afternoon by the political blog ColoradoPols.com, will likely provide grist for her critics.
“Julie Williams and the rest of the board are not LGBT, and they will never know what it is like to feel adversity based on who they love and how they identify their gender,” said Arvada High School student Leighanne Grey. “Because she doesn’t understand our experiences, she has no right to tell us that not speaking is a “perverse” act of the gay agenda.”
Grey is the president of her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. She led her group in protests over Williams’ proposal to review the Advanced Placement U.S. history class.
The post on Williams’ Facebook page does not represent the opinion or policy of Jeffco Public Schools, said Superintendent Dan McMinimee.
“As Jeffco Schools always strives to foster an environment that encourages students to feel safe, to learn, and to thrive, we respect students’ rights to participate in Day of Silence, a student-led effort, and to express themselves as they prefer.” McMinimee said in a statement to Chalkbeat. “We celebrate freedom from bullying.”
Earlier in the week, Jeffco officials provided schools with guidance on how to respect students who were participating in the Day of Silence. The guidance was approved by the Jefferson County Education Association.
Schools were encouraged to provide “reasonable accommodations” for students who choose to participate. But “staff should not solicit, proselytize, advocate for or against of a non-school sponsored event.”
Colorado is considered by many to have some of the most robust protections for LGBT people among the states — including an anti-bullying law. But that doesn’t mean bullying has been eradicated.
One reason may be because several school districts have failed to align their anti-bullying policies with state law.
According to a review of bullying policies from 166 school district in the state, 107 school districts, or about 64 percent, include sexual orientation in their anti-bullying policies and are in compliance. Only four school districts include gender identity in their anti-bullying policy. The scan was done by One Colorado, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy organization.
Jeffco includes sexual orientation protections but not gender identity protections in its policy, One Colorado found.
“I think it would be helpful for Ms. Williams to know the challenges LGBT students face every day in school, which are pretty appalling,” said Dave Montez, executive director of One Colorado.
Seven in 10 Colorado students said they were verbally harassed based on their sexual orientation, according to a 2013 survey conducted by GLSEN. Eight in 10 student regularly heard other students in their school make negative remarks about how someone expressed their gender.
Students here also reported hearing anti-LGBT language from school staff, according to the survey. Nearly 20 percent regularly heard staff make negative remarks about someone’s gender expression, and 8 percent regularly heard school staff make homophobic remarks.
“The numbers have to change. And that’s part of what the Day of Silence is all about,” Montez said.
Montez said as more students come out bullying will decrease and that will create a climate and cycle that will lead to more students feeling comfortable about coming out.
While Grey, the Arvada High student, said she’s aware many of her peers experience harassment, she considers her school to be an anomaly.
“It’s a pretty supportive school,” she said. “No one ever walks out or boos us when we participate in assemblies. A few teenagers might say some stupid things like ‘no-homo.’ But they’re cool with us being happy.”