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School boards are the battleground for LGBTQ+ rights


LGBT people are under attack across the United States, whether it be through legislation that strips the LGBTQ+ community of hard-fought protections and rights, attempts to censor queer literature and media, or outright violence against the community.

Many have blamed this rise in anti-gay sentiment on demagoguery emanating from prominent conservative figures such as Governor Ron DeSantis. However, less attention has certainly been paid to the role that local school boards played in facilitating vile bigotry within the public school system.

The school boards and school districts that they oversee, like most municipal authorities, were generally considered an afterthought by the larger allied electoral organizations, which was reflected in the scant resources they devoted to controlling them. This oversight has proven to be very costly, to the detriment of LGBTQ youth everywhere.

Although some state governments are headed by homophobes like Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota, and Gov. Gov. Florida, all of whom are already responsible for enacting pieces of highly publicized anti-gay legislation — they also fall largely within its jurisdiction. School boards to interpret and implement them.

The former is a particularly important force, since the most damaging of the laws in question, such as DeSantis’ “Don’t Call Me Gay” legislation, were written deliberately vaguely to enable conservative school districts to enforce the most extreme laws. Law enforcement is possible.

Over the past few years, far-right forces have succeeded in taking over school districts across the country. Perhaps the most well-known of these forces is Mothers for Freedom, which has distinguished itself not only as a dangerous hate group according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, but also as the number one vehicle for pushing bigots into positions of power within educational institutions.

The M4L movement funnels large sums of unaccountable dark money into towns covered in frantic mailings and other ads filled with misinformation, capable of drowning out any rebuttal from under-resourced opponents. After using this questionable strategy during the 2023 election cycle, candidates backed by the MFL or other like-minded groups won a large number of school board seats. Not only in the places you’d expect, but also in the dark blue communities of states like New Jersey, Maryland, and even California.

And in Florida, the Republicans’ hysterical culture war was marked by the decisive victory of Mothers for Freedom, the nation’s most powerful organization. Ron DeSantis himself has joined the MFL in funding dozens of handpicked jerks. Of the sixty-seven candidates who were endorsed, forty-one were elected. As a result, the DeSantis administration worked in conjunction with the nominally independent school districts to enforce extreme anti-gay bigotry within the state’s public schools.

The battlefield for LGBTQ+ rights is closer to home than you thought

These victories represented a terrifying new reality in which systemic homophobia can expand maliciously to new levels. Many of the increasingly outrageous headlines surrounding new anti-LGBTQ+ regulations in schools can be attributed to far-right school board members who arrived in office on a platform of overtly anti-LGBT sentiment.

These rogue school boards, despite the protests of the students they are tasked with serving, have continued to advance an extremist agenda. Teachers who support LGBTQ+ students have found themselves doomed not to renew their teaching contracts. Supervisors are under pressure to throw marginalized students under the bus, lest they, too, find themselves suddenly expelled.

Furthermore, school boards have embraced transphobia by targeting transgender student-athletes and their ability to use facilities that match their gender. Perhaps even more revolting is what many school boards thought Assigning an outing for vulnerable LGBTQ+ students to nonaccepting parentsAnd open the door to abuse and abandonment. Far from just LGBTQ+ issues, far-right board members have pushed for arming teachers, Dissolution of Student Identity Clubsand other regressive measures that also pose an existential threat to public education in the United States.

Defeating the far right’s campaign to hijack our education is imperative, and it is possible. I should know, because I did. Flagler County, Florida, where I grew up, is one of the epicenters of the culture war in the state.

For example, our small town made headlines after a school board member, supported by another member, (both M4L fans, naughty) filed a police report against district library employees for providing literature that caters to LGBT students and students of color. In the summer of 2022, some friends and I campaigned to replace these two members of our school board with real champions for the issues students care about.

We spent hot summer days knocking on thousands of doors, registering our peers to vote, and waving signs along busy intersections. We’ve been well spent, by both Moms For Liberty and Ron DeSantis’ super-personal political action committee. We’ve had a long political headwind in a county that voted for DeSantis by more than thirty-five points in the last general election. Despite all these challenges, We succeeded in removing both incumbents on election nightrepresenting one of the few school boards that did not shift to the right.

Courtney Vandeponte, Alyssa Vidal, Cameron Excavators and Jack Petoch reunite on Election Night in August 2022 thereafter He successfully dethroned all of the anti-LGBTQ+ people incumbents School Board of Flagler County, Florida (Image credit: “Call the Flagler County School Board”)

The kind of grassroots movement I witnessed in my hometown is exactly what we need not just in Florida, but across the country. The likes of Moms for Liberty are well funded by far-right dark money donors. But while they may have money, young people have something far more important: an active passion. And that means the fuel that enables a tense group of high school students to spend their summer changing hearts and minds to defying the odds.

However, providing resources for young people eager to take over the boards of far-right schools in their communities should be an urgent priority, because the battlefield for LGBTQ rights is closer to home than you thought.

Cameron Excavators A progressive student activist who teaches at the University of Florida. As a high school senior, Cameron led statewide campaigns to resist anti-gay measures, such as the Don’t Tell Gays campaign in 2022.

Today, Cameron continues to advocate for youth empowerment to effect change as a fellow Florida People’s Power organizer.


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