After listening to nearly six hours of testimony on both sides of the issue, the Orange County School Board added protections for gay, lesbian and transgender students and staff to the district’s nondiscrimination policy early Wednesday. More than 200 people had packed into the Orange County school-district headquarters for a heated debate on the proposal.
The board approved the changes on a 6-2 vote after rejecting a proposal that would have approved the protections for sexual orientation only, and not gender identity and expression.
The crowd was split nearly evenly between opponents, wearing blue, and proponents, wearing red. Supporters called it a vote for equality and a necessity so teachers and students feel protected and safe in schools.
“I want to go to school in a safe place where my teachers are protected and I am free to be myself,” said Shelby Hill, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Howard Middle School. She pointed to surveys by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network showing that students in schools with specific anti-discrimination policies experienced less harassment.
Michael Slaymaker, president of the Orlando Youth Alliance, which provides a safe space for lesbian, gay and transgender youth, said the school district is overdue in providing such protections. Orange County and Orlando already have similar nondiscrimination protections, as do schools in Osceola County and 10 other districts in Florida, including Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.