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Salt Lake School Board Mulls Gay Protections

One of the largest school districts in the state is considering amending its code to prohibit discrimination against students and staff based on sexual orientation.

On Oct. 5, the seven-member body discussed the proposal in a standing room-only meeting where teachers also staged a silent protest against the alteration of the district’s high school schedules without input from faculty and parents. While many board members agreed that the policy was necessary to protect students from anti-gay harassment, they balked at adding gender identity to the list of protections.

Will Carlson, a former employee of Equality Utah and candidate for the school board’s Precinct 3 seat, told the council that including gender identity was the only way to protect all students.

“Issues of gender identity are a lot more apparent and visible than issues of sexual orientation. They are also in a lot more need of protection,” Carlson later told The Salt Lake Tribune. “As long as we are addressing injustice against the LGBT community, why would we say we’re going to protect ‘LGB’ but leave ‘T’ out?”

Carlson’s opponent, incumbent Doug Nelson, said that he supported the current proposal, which only includes sexual orientation.

Although the sexual orientation protection appears to have the support of at least four board members — enough to approve  it — two board members disagreed that a change was necessary. Precinct 2’s Alama Uluave said that the current policy offered enough protection for all students, and that adding another “protected class” might pose problems, including drawing attention to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.

“I wonder if we’re not opening up Pandora’s box,” he said.

Likewise, Precinct 4 board member Mark Maxfield suggested that a better way to prevent bullying would be for students to sign a form stating that they would not harass fellow students. He also said he favored implementing a zero tolerance bullying policy that would protect all students.

“We need to improve the situation for all students before we try to tackle a hot topic such as this,” Maxfield told the Deseret News. “Although I’m not opposed to making morally important decisions …  if it’s going to do any good.”

The board will discuss the proposed policy change at its Oct. 19 meeting and may call a vote as soon as Nov. 2. If a majority of four members approve the policy change, the Salt Lake School District will be the first in the state to explicitly prohibit anti-gay bullying and discrimination.

The subject of bullying against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students has been a popular topic in the media nationwide following the suicides of at least nine students in September following prolonged anti-gay bullying. In the following weeks, members of Utah’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and straight allies have held rallies in a number of cities in support of queer youth.

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