Burlington Residents Call For Bringing Back Diversity-Equity-Inclusion Committee After Middle School Incident

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2023/06/19/burlington-residents-call-for-bringing-back-diversity-equity-inclusion-committee-after-middle-school-incident/

A counter-protest of a pro-homosexuality-and-transgenderism Pride event at a Burlington middle school has prompted several residents to call for reinstating the town’s diversity, equity, and inclusion committee.

The Pride-theme day was organized on Friday, June 2 by the middle school’s Spectrum Club, a place where students can “socialize and discuss LGBTQ+ issues” and “work on activism projects.” The club prepared educational signs such as one that read “Why it’s not ok to say ‘That’s so gay’.” The group also encouraged students to wear rainbow clothing and handed out rainbow stickers.

An unstated number of eighth-grade students at the school tore down rainbow decorations and went around shouting “U.S.A. are my pronouns,” Burlington school officials have said, according to a letter from Cari Perchase, principal of Marshall Simonds Middle School, cited in a story published by Boston.com.

NewBostonPost made a public records request for the letter on Thursday, June 15 but has yet to receive a response.

Unhappy town residents spoke during a board of selectmen meeting on Monday, June 12 and during a school committee meeting on Tuesday, June 13. Several brought up the town’s former Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, which met from January 2 to November 30, 2022. The committee was charged with preparing a report for the board of selectmen. The committee asked that it be extended, but the board in February 2023 declined, opting instead for outside diversity-equity-inclusion training.

Nancy Bonassera, who co-chairs for the Burlington Equity Coalition and is a former member of the town’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, called the incidents “displays of intolerance and homophobia,” at the June 12 meeting.

“The Burlington Equity Coalition stands in support and solidarity with the members of the school community who were harmed by these acts of intolerance.” Bonassera said, calling for consequences for the students. “While this is an opportunity for education for the whole community and a chance to remind residents that every person is important and welcome in our town, we also believe that without any direct and concrete action, these incidents will occur again and increase in severity.”

Carl Foss, a former member of the town’s school committee and the former Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, said he was “shocked and saddened” by what happened, and that he thought “Burlington was a safer place than Texas or Florida. Obviously, I was wrong.”

“Upon reflection, my reaction shows my privilege,” Foss continued. “I don’t have to worry about being accepted. I don’t have to worry about others using the American flag, a symbol that is supposed to unite us as a community, to intimidate or harass me. With this privilege, I’m able to have beliefs like this would never happen in Burlington. Not everyone has these same privileges. Some may argue that the incidents are a school’s problem. To that, I would say it runs deeper. This type of intolerant rhetoric starts in the home.”

Foss also called for the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee to be reinstated.

Earlier in the meeting, town resident Patricia O’Brien said the Pride event incident isn’t isolated.

“Tonight, I reflect on not only the issue that happened in the middle school but of many issues that I hear in our community from different parents about the unsafe environment for our children,” O’Brien said.

Condemnation of the eighth-graders’ acts continued during the town’s school committee meeting on Tuesday, June 13.

Burlington School Committee chairman Martha Simon said that school officials have provided support for “who were negatively affected” by the students’ acts.

Kerrylynne Abramov, who co-founded the Burlington Pride Celebration, spoke at the June 13 meeting, detailing her experience with her daughter, who at the age of 6, came out as straight, and at the age of ten, as “cisgendered.” (“Cisgender” is a term used to describe people whose gender identity corresponds with their biological sex.)

When her daughter went to the middle school, Abramov said she began to date a “transgendered man.”

“My daughter started to show signs of discomfort about my being queer,”  Abramov said, her daughter asking that she not “display anything rainbow that was visible from the outside.”

“She expressed to me that homophobia was rampant in the middle school, and she didn’t want anyone to know that her mom was gay. She was afraid we would be targeted and put in danger, and she was afraid no one would want to be her friend,” Abramov said.

Burlington superintendent Eric Conti said during the meeting that he is “disappointed” in the student’s behavior, but emphasized that most of the children behaved well. Conti went on to say that the town is currently performing an equity audit, after which a diversity, equity, and inclusion director will be hired.

“I don’t want public education to back away from promoting tolerance and inclusivity or its critical role in protecting our democracy,” Conti said.


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