Take for instance one Minnesota school district’s “neutrality” policy. Dubbed by state public health officials as a “suicide contagion area,” the district of Anoka-Hennepin holds the distinction of a “no homo promo” policy. This policy keeps gay youth in the closet by narrowly regulating free speech related to sexual orientation or gender identity, including interventions to stop bullying on either basis. It effectively eliminates safety, support and the potential for education to eradicate an epidemic sweeping our nation. In just two years, nine teenagers in the largest school district in Minnesota committed suicide. Many were bullied for being gay or simply for not acting straight enough.
By contrast, Palm Beach County is the largest county east of the Mississippi River, the third most populous county in the state of Florida, and home to the largest gay and lesbian community center of the southeast United States. Thanks to the hard work of passionate individuals, dedicated organizations and responsible public officials, Palm Beach County maintains inclusive school policies and protections for gay youth in the county. It does not have a restrictive school policy like Anoka-Hennepin. And unlike some areas in Florida led by demoralizing public officials, Palm Beach County stands above the rest.
Palm Beach County is my home and has been for more than 30 years. As a professional social worker for 10 years, I coach families to “come out” from the closet of invisibility and shame. Each story I have heard proves to me that being genuine is the key to a healthy and whole self, and resolved truth and understanding can unite a family through love and acceptance. This is something those distractors running for office know best and use as disingenuous plots to discount the existence of gay people. If we are kept silenced, and therefore ashamed, it’s surmised that we do not exist nor are we worthy of happiness.
The City of West Palm Beach, the pulse of our county, renounces antagonistic speechifying. In fact, in the mid-90’s it became the first city to defeat an anti-gay measure. With the persistence and guidance of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, the Palm Beach County School District went on to implement safer and fairer policies by ending discrimination based on sexual orientation in the school district.
Over two decades of visibility and participation have not gone unnoticed by the people who lead us locally. The result of this community’s hard work is a healthier, happier and safer place for families to live, work and play, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. So, for all of the administrators and elected officials in Minnesota, and unfortunately most of Florida, perhaps the best distraction would be to take a closer look at how we build safer communities in Palm Beach County.