A meeting of the Omaha Public Schools board drew about 1,000 people and ended up in a screaming match that resulted in the meeting ending early. Why? It turned out that the school board was making some minor revisions to its existing sex education course (which is optional) by making it more gender inclusive and word had been spread that this new curriculum was being designed by the latest incarnation of evil, Planned Parenthood (which was a totally false rumor) and was going to be glorifying all manner of sex, and the abstinence-only crowd was up in arms.
Jay Irwn, one of the people at the meeting, described what happened before the outbursts occurred.
We started with the superintendent giving an overview to the night and thanking folks for attending. Asst, Superintendent RaNae Kehrberg then took the stage to announce a FAQ sheet was being passed out (which said things like, no, we aren’t busing your children for abortions, no, planned parenthood is not writing the curriculum, etc.). Then Melissa Tibbits, PhD, gave a presentation about the findings of a scientific study on OPS parents’ attitudes on what should be included in their child’s curriculum, with over 90% of parents being pro-comprehensive education (only 5% said abstinence only, and less than 1% said they weren’t sure). She then went on to detail in specific topic areas (anatomy, reproduction, puberty, etc.) the rates of support for the topic area covered (all of the above mentioned, among others, were also well over 90% in support). The last topic area slide concerned people’s opinions about the need to cover sexual orientation and identity, as well as gender identity, in CSE.
But then the crazies took over, screaming about who would protect their children’s ‘purity’, and things went rapidly downhill.
Other outbursts were happening around the room. One woman was almost given a citation for breastfeeding her child in the audience, which is of course well within her rights. She had to speak up that breastfeeding was well within her rights, and that the police were there to ensure she was able to do so.
An athiest was physically assaulted because of her deeply held, personal beliefs and sexuality.
A group of young LGBTQ people were threatened with violence by a mother and her son for being there, for not apologizing for their sexuality, and for supporting education that was respectful of their identities. They were called evil, sinful, and told they were going to hell. The advisor that brought them, who is also queer identified, was told that she was teaching them how to be gay and that she should be ashamed of herself. When the advisor asked that the person be respectful, that’s when the treats of violence began. She ushered her groups out to make sure they stayed safe.
As he concluded, this must be frightening for the LGBT students in the schools and community.
I think, all in all, I feel so scared and sad for the young people who are the children of some of these parents, whether they were present or not. Or they are congregants at some of the churches that the adults attend. There is no doubt some of these kids are LGBTQ. They were given a very clear message from their parents and at least a segment of their community tonight. And that message is just flat out wrong. I wanted to scoop up every queer and/or trans kid and tell them how beautiful and amazing they are. That they deserve to have their identities not just tolerated, but fostered, and that they should have room to grow and explore their own sense of self in our public schools. To not listen to the (very vocal) minority who is still living in some by-gone time. That they are loved, valued, and vital to Omaha.
So, I’d ask, if you know one of these young people, and not only the ones who were there tonight, show them some love. They need some real support from adults right now. Because by and large, they were given a terrible depiction of adults in their community tonight. We must do better by our young people.
I am getting well and truly fed up with these loud, angry, intolerant people who seem to be gaining confidence that all they need to do to get their way is to shout loud and long in every public forum. The problem is that people who are thoughtful and reasonable about things would not dream of acting in a similar manner in support of their beliefs, and so these bigots get to control the floor even if they are a tiny minority.