Education

Miami-Dade School Board Nixes LGBTQ History Month

LGBTQ advocate Maxx Fenning appears before the Miami-Dade County School Board in support of the proposal to recognize LGBTQ History Month.
LGBTQ advocate Maxx Fenning appears before the Miami-Dade County School Board in support of the proposal to recognize LGBTQ History Month. Screenshot via Miami-Dade County Schools
Late Wednesday night, the Miami-Dade County school board roundly rejected a proposal that would have recognized LGBTQ History Month and explored resources to teach high school students about landmark  Supreme Court decisions regarding gay and transgender rights.

During the hours-long debate at the September 7 school board meeting, opponents of the proposal expressed deep-seated angst over supposed attempts to "indoctrinate" children about sexual identity. One man claimed the proposal would allow the "indoctrination of satanic practices," which, in his view, include homosexuality.

Supporters of the measure said it represented a vital gesture of solidarity amid rampant political rhetoric targeting gay and transgender youth, and attempts by politicians to use LGBTQ issues to incite anger among their base.

The school board struck down the proposal in an 8-1 vote. Lucia Baez-Geller, who sponsored the item, was the lone board member to vote in favor.

"This item has been attacked as indoctrination and [opponents] falsely claimed that this requires a LGBTQ curriculum," Baez-Geller said from the dais. "This honors the important roles LGBTQ people have taken in shaping our country."

Opposing the measure, board member Marta Pérez said she was "disappointed that another social issue" came before the board to "distract our community."

"The more we bring social issues to the board, the more you scare parents," she said.

The proposal aimed to recognize October as Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History Month. It included a general directive for the superintendent to support policies that "respect and support LGBTQ students and their families."

The measure also would have provided optional resources for 12th grade history teachers to teach about two pivotal U.S. Supreme Court rulings involving LGBTQ rights. One case was the court's 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which recognized same-sex couples' constitutional right to marry and required states to issue same-sex marriage licenses. The other was the 2020 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, which established that federal law protects employees against workplace discrimination based upon their sexual identity.

PRISM, a local nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to LGBTQ-inclusive education and sexual health resources, had gathered more than 700 signatures in support of the proposal.

"LGBTQ history is American history," PRISM president and founder Maxx Fenning tells New Times. "Most importantly, it's history that is deserving of being in a classroom. It's a fundamental part of the fabric of our nation and us as a society."

Scott Galvin, executive director of Safe Schools South Florida, says LGBTQ history should be represented in social studies classes along with other U.S. minority groups' distinctive pasts. Safe Schools is a local organization that advocates for gay and transgender students in the area.

"Talking about the history and Stonewall riots and [same-sex marriage] is important because if [students] don't understand where they've been, they won't understand why we're where we are," Galvin says. "I want teachers to talk about LGBTQ history, African-American history, Jewish history, and Native American history. That's what America is made of."

Last year, the board approved recognizing LGBTQ History month, though the accompanying item did not include curriculum-related action.

Opponents of this year's measure, which included members of the Christian Family Coalition and Moms for Liberty, argued to the board that the proposal violates the Parental Rights in Education Act. Signed by Governor Ron DeSantis in March, the legislation, which critics refer to as the "Don't Say Gay" law, prohibits instruction about LGBTQ-related issues in kindergarten through third grade and allows parents to sue a school district if they deem lessons to be inappropriate under the law's provisions.

Wednesday's board meeting was permeated by a strong undercurrent of religious fervor.

"Let us parents teach our children according to our values, morals, and religious beliefs," one parent demanded. "I don't see how celebrating so-called LGBT will benefit our students. We are losing the origins of human organic identity."

Rachel Morales, another parent who opposed the proposal, said if LGBTQ history can be recognized in school, then the board should consider a Christian history month. Her speech was followed by cheers and applause.

Others opposed the measure because they said it encourages "grooming," an increasingly popular conservative trope that baselessly accuses LGBTQ supporters of fostering sexual molestation.

Representatives from Miami-Dade schools' Gay-Straight Alliance clubs, history teachers, and Miami-Dade County Council PTA/PTSA leaders rejected warnings that teaching about LGBTQ history harms students.

"This decision harms absolutely no one. It benefits everyone," said Alberto Cairo, a parent and University of Miami professor. "The need to teach this history is more urgent than ever, as some people fail to recognize the existence and dignity of [LGBTQ] people."

This is the latest politically charged controversy to take place within the school district over LGBTQ issues. In late July, the school board rejected the use of two sex education books, bowing to local conservative groups that argued the materials were not age-appropriate. A week later, the board reversed its decision, adopting the textbooks, which discuss emergency contraception, abortion, reproductive health and gender identity.

"We've seen heightened fears from school board members surrounding LGBTQ inclusive education, specifically as a result of things like 'Don't Say Gay,'" PRISM's Maxx Fenning says. "The school boards are sort of overinterpreting this legislation. [That is] exactly why it was written to be as vague as it was: so that it could be overinterpreted and really applied to the furthest extent."

With newly elected board members Monica Colluci and Roberto Alonso set to assume their posts in November, the school board will soon lean more staunchly conservative. Governor DeSantis and Moms for Liberty voiced support for both candidates ahead of August's school board elections. 1776 Project Pac, a right-wing political action committee, declared last month that Colucci's and Alonso's wins flipped the school board conservative.

Fenning says the school board's most recent decision wipes out any pretense that the Miami-Dade school district is a "liberal bastion" in the state. He worries about the message this sends to South Florida's queer community.

"It does send this signal that we are not deserving of having a place in the classroom and the rich history of queer people is something that is inherently inappropriate at best, and predatory at worst," Fenning says.
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Naomi Feinstein is a fellow at Miami New Times. She spent the last year in New York City getting her master’s degree at the Columbia School of Journalism. She is also a proud alum of the University of Miami.
Contact: Naomi Feinstein