The contrast told a story.
They’d gathered just past the entrance to the Government Services Building this evening, some 50 people of all ages, all sexes, all colors, many of them face-painted in rainbows, many of them wearing rainbow hearts, or just hearts, one of them wearing a rainbow-colored “Pronouns matter” t-shirt, another wearing a “Love is Love” shirt, some of them holding up welcoming signs–specifically, “You are welcome here”–or standing in front of signs–“your life matters,” “Don’t give up,” the latter for those thinking of suicide. They broke out in song (“We Are Family”), they danced, they cheered, they applauded in cadences, blew bubbles, took selfies and played videos, smiling at just about anyone who approached the group. If you stood there long enough, you were likely to be approached by a tiny little boy out of nowhere who’d hand you a life-saving card with a phone number and six words in six colors: “You are stronger than you seem.”
A few steps away, under the vault-like covered entrance to the GSB, 14 people had gathered–not of too many sexes: just men and women, if militantly so, distinctly older as a group than the other one and just as enthusiastic, if more somberly so down to the more monochromatic clothes they wore, the words booming out of their signs and mouths punctuated with warnings of “hell,” “Satan,” “lies,” “hate” (as in a question about “why homosexuals hate the truth”), judgments, pointed fingers, threats of damnation and fierce applause every time Jesus’ name was mentioned. Unlike the other group, some in the smaller group had come in from out of town, suggesting that a little recruiting from afar had been necessary to thicken up the ranks. The participants in that gathering spoke out of a megaphone, their voices quite loud though they ridiculed the other group when some of its children briefly tried to drown out the megaphone messages with squeals.
For the whole hour that the twin demonstrations stretched before the 6 p.m. meeting of the Flagler County School Board inside the GSB, where the gender issue was on the agenda (by omission: a proposed policy does not spell out LGBTQ protections), several people from the more rainbow-colored group, especially students, walked across the way to engage with the more dour group. Both sides gladly, at times happily if spiritedly, spoke with each other. But traffic was all one way. Members of the smaller group never went over to the larger one.
Members of the Christian contingent, led by Charlene Cothran, gladly spoke their opinions, lacing them with an insistence that what they spoke of was science–the science of what they see as exclusively binary genders. “You cannot provide me with scientific evidence, I don’t care where you go, to show me that a man can change into a woman,” Nathaniel Wilcox, a member of Cothran’s board (from Miami) said. “A person is not what they are based on what they think.”
“Our feelings cannot change our gender,” Cothran said, warming up for her latest appearance before the school board, when she revealed: “When I was 13 I thought I wanted to be a boy.” (In previous meetings she had revealed to have been a lesbian, but no longer was.) She urged the board not to add gender identity to the new proposed policy. “No boy has ever turned into a girl, no girl has ever turned into a boy,” she said, accenting her second “ever” with prosecutorial emphasis. She was upset with the notion of children “self-diagnosing” their identity. “A child can’t even make up his mind to put on with the right color socks to go with a pair of pants, and they’re diagnosing themselves?”
On the other hand, “there are 2 year olds that know they’re not in the right body,” said Cheryl Massaro, the former director of the Flagler County Youth Center and now a candidate for the school board, as she walked into the parking lot between the two demonstrations. “They haven’t been opinionated by anybody.”
“I feel like it’s a human right,” an 11th grade student who gave her name as Rileigh said. She spoke as she stood a few feet from Cothran, whom she’d approached moments earlier for a discussion, only to be “gaslighted.” Cothran proposed to her to play a silly game, as if she were a much younger child than her years, or her discussion points, suggested. “What they’re doing is discriminating,” Rileigh went on. “They’re hating on those and saying that we’re not born gay–is all 15 years of me being stuck in the closet, fearing that I’m going to get harassed and being teased by my family, and thank God that I came out to a wonderful family. To say that my entire sexuality is a lie? And although I don’t know much of the lady that is speaking,” she said of Cothran, who accuses people like Rileigh of lying to themselves, “I don’t understand why she would say such hateful things. If a religion preaches such love and openness, why would she say such hateful things to us and our community?”
Organizers from both sides–Randall Bertrand for the LGBTQ group, Cothran, the local head of an organization she calls “the evidence ministry,” for the “stop lying” group–had mobilized their supporters ahead of this evening’s school board meeting. Nothing got out of hand, no messages were overtly fired from one side to the other. There wasn’t even a police presence, as there would be moments later in the board meeting, which filled to capacity with the various advocates and representatives of a few other groups who had items before the board: the room was filled to capacity.
But neither school board members nor the superintendent showed themselves for the entire hour of the demonstrations, though as 6 o’clock neared they were a few dozen steps away, in the board chamber, preparing for their meeting with snacks, drinks and chatter. Had it been teachers demonstrating, or community members participating in a more conventional civil rights gathering, officials would have been jostling over each other to be in camera view. Jason Wheeler, the district spokesman, at one point ran out for an on-camera interview then walked briskly back in. That was it as far as a district apparition.
“Both sides behaved,” Bertrand said of the demonstrators. “When you look at the actual demographic cross section versus our opposition voice, it’s definitely a much younger demographic over here, so when you kind of look at it that way, I had people who showed up I hadn’t even talked to, friends of friends, it’s what happens when word of mouth gets out.”
Gender Pronouns Can Be Tricky on Campus. Harvard Is Making Them Stick. https://t.co/8UHKPSrokK
— FlaglerLive.com (@FlaglerLive) February 19, 2020
It was Bertrand’s son’s experience as a transgender student who’d felt disrespected by his chorus teacher at Matanzas High School that led to the debate and discussions on the issue over the past four months. (Abbey Cooke, a teacher, noted this evening that mis-indentifying a transgender person is a form of bullying.) It was growing community awareness and sympathy for the student that led to Cothran’s more incendiary appearances before the board, in almost solo dissent. The school board has yet to respond in policy. Its current proposal is cookie-cut from a state policy model, with no heed to local input.
This evening during the two demonstrations outside the building Bertrand walked over to Cothran, and the two spoke. “I just told her how much I respected her, because I respect anybody that wants to challenge my opinion, and it challenges me to be better in voicing it, it challenges me to be correct in my statements, it challenges me to do my research, so I respect that and I appreciate that, but I definitely don’t agree. And I don’t like the fact that she attacks my family whenever she gets the chance, calling my son a confused girl. But that’s how she plays it. I won’t play it, I’ll be respectful, I’ll let her know that I respect her.”
The bulk of the board meeting, which stretched well past 9 p.m., featured many of the people who’d demonstrated on both sides of the issue, though you could count Cothran’s acolytes on one hand. You would not have enough hands to count advocates for a more explicit school board policy protecting what Cooke summed up as one comma and two words that should be inserted in the wording of the current proposal: “gender identity.”
What seemed like a majority of the advocates who spoke were students, at least one of them in middle school, several of them transgender, some of them describing still-overtly discriminatory conditions, such as Matanzas High School’s positioning of two bathrooms for transgender students at a far distance from the students’ classes—a tactic reminiscent of the era of separate-but-equal accommodations, when the separate was always disproportionate to the equal. (Matanzas’s principal , Jeff Reaves, is a candidate for superintendent.) “The school board is complicit to any discrimination that happens to these students,” Cooke had said.
“I’m Alexander. That is who I am. I am not my dead name,” one student said, referring to his previous gender. “I am doing what I can do to be a man, and when I hear people say my dead name,” he said, as some faculty members–namely, substitute teachers who don’t quite know better yet– “it brings down my day.” Yet he said he still faces what feels like discrimination: “I have to make a walk of shame as I call it to the locker room,” he said, “having to walk somewhere where I shouldn’t be.” He added: “I’m not supposed to be in the girls’ locker room, and it feels wrong.”
Inside as outside, tempers were kept in check, statements to the board presented passionately, the occasional note of anger more eloquent than strident.
Board Chairman Janet McDonald acknowledged the civility of the evening’s discussion, and said the policy in question was still in debate, and could consider more input from the public. She then quoted Gregg Braden, a spiritualist, to illustrate a point about civility: “We are not accidents of evolution, we never were, and there’s science to prove it now. Darwin didn’t have that information available,” McDonald said. But aside from the Matanzas student board member briefly addressing the issue in what seemed like an endorsement of procedural rule making over actual changes in policy, the other board members kept the same 10-foot-tall distance from the policy proposal as they had from the demonstrators earlier.
The meeting ended at 9:40 p.m.
One of the largest problems of our country today! WTF people? Your born with a penis or vagina which desigantes your gender. Bring back the Bible and it’s teachings. This nonsence needs to stop!
FYI Welcome to the 21st Century. Things are gonna be different.
Time to check if earth is still flat. Science is an evolution, bigotry is stagnant. How about reading about ambiguous genitalia, open up your heart and your mind. Why harass a child who doesn’t fit the majority and old believes? Grow up and learn.
Big red says
Live and let live but please just stay with your birth gender in bathrooms and sports until that’s not an extreme violation of my culture.you don’t need to nuke every thought that’s not your own.
No Mr not all people are 100% male or 100% female, like not all people are born with 10 fingers and/or 10 toes. Intersex people are individuals born with any of several variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones or genitals that, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies”. Such variations may involve genital ambiguity and combinations of chromosomal genotype and sexual phenotype other than XY-male and XX-female. Intersex people face stigmatization and discrimination from birth, or from discovery of an intersex trait, such as from puberty. This may include infanticide, abandonment and the stigmatization of families.
Some intersex persons may be assigned and raised as a girl or boy but then identify with another gender later in life, while most continue to identify with their assigned sex.
Most women chromosomes are 46XX and most men are 46XY, however there are some variations therefore more than 100% female or 100% male.
Read about the variation and you will be the better for it.
How dare you Whathehck, camparing these young people and their sexuality to being born without 10 fingers as if they have a birth DEFECT!? Wrong!! there are no defects or anything “wrong” with transgender people as you may imply. Take you passive hate somewhere else!
Dave,either you misunderstood me or I didn’t express myself well, if this is the case I do apologize to you and anyone else who was offended. I didn’t think at all about defects because there is nothing wrong with people with more or less than 10 fingers just because the majority has 10. Just like there is nothing wrong with people with dark hair and eyes born in Holland of Dutch parents, it is simply not the majority. The majority of people are 100% male or female and there is no need to discriminate or hate people who are not in that majority. We should simply accept anybody whether they are a majority or a minority. Live and let live.
When alive they can identify however they please..In death, when all is said and done, the coroner, nore than likely will identify them as XX (female) or XY (male).
Not everyone believes in the Bible. There are those that identify with the Quaran, the Hebrew Bible, the Bhagavad Gita and of course those that are non-believers. If you want to ‘bring back’ the Bible you’re eliminating the beliefs of others. That’s why we must have a division between Church and state including public schools.
Science, at the end of the day, will always be able to identify them by their birth gender. XX or XY. In life they can identify themselves as whatever they want to be.
How wonderful to see young people engaged in defending human rights. Once again Mr. Bertrand showed respect when confronted by hate. Too bad Mrs. Cochran still didn’t learn to love God’s children as they are, she decided to continue her bullying. I am praying for her and the likes of her.
And of course the School Board didn’t do it’s job to protect one of its children when the child and parents were being bullied in public. Time for a new Board.
Mike Cocchiola says
Janet McDonald has evidence to disprove Darwin’s evolutionary theories? That I would like to see. All of science would like to see her evidence. I think I’ll attend the next school board meeting and ask her to discuss that evidence. It will rock the world of the science of human evolution.
Yes, yes, yes I want to know what her fairy tales are about.
Time for a new school board for the 21st century.
Flagler County stands with LGBTQ!
Good job children and young people for standing up for whats truely right!
Just Curious says
Ms. Cochrane asked for scientific evidence that people can change genders…did anybody ask her for scientific evidence of the existence of god?
Vincent Lyon says
Can science prove a man is a man?
Yes science does by checking sets of chromosomes. Males typically have two different kinds of sex chromosomes (XY), and are called the heterogametic sex.
However editing human DNA to “change” a person’s gender is 100% science fiction at this time, not quite the same as science.
CB from PC says
Go about your business folks and stop wasting time on BS.
We have a new group requiring protected class designation.
It is called Bikers, and we are all inclusive and diversified, as opposed to exclusively LBGTQ.
Let’s go! Youth (and Adults!) of Flagler County! I’m so proud of y’all for standing up for yourselves!
Steve Vanne says
GREAT whats our world coming to..
Its been getting bad i agree. Can you believe this Pastor bullying these children and young adults. Never thought i would see such hatred in this county.
Scurry along Rev says
Can science prove Jesus walked on water ? Turned water into wine ?
I am old, but not ancient, these bigots and haters are going to grow older, they will have needs to be met. What will they say or do when one or several of these younger people are standing in front of them offering help ?
Gender of a person has absolutely zero affect on how I treat someone. It just isn’t relevant. Nor is who you choose call your partner. It’s the 21st century we are all suppose to be equal. I don’t hold doors for females, I hold doors for anyone. I dogive up my seat to a female any longer, but I will give upthat seat to any ederly, disabled, or pregnant individual. I used to be more chivalrous, but No More. I treat males and females exactly the same. If that offends a certain sex, I say be careful what you wish for you just matter it. And if you expect to speak differently to either sex, well don’t hold your breath, and if that might offend you maybe you are the one whom has the problem. Maybe you want to be treated n a special way. Not here. That is called equality.
CB from PC says
I want all Public Schools and Government Buildings to provide a “Non-Binary” Restroom, in addition to “Men” and “Women”.
My Binary Rights are being violated.
Any Pro Bono Attorneys available to take this to court?
Get with It says
I’m so glad that we can ignore the new scientific discoveries that we don’t like and then call a bunch of made up BS “science” and “The Truth.”
Brain scans show that transgender people’s brains are different in the areas that process identity, sexuality, etc. I’m sorry people of certain religions don’t like this. GET OVER IT!! Back in the day people didn’t like women preaching the word of God or even being able to read. Do you like wearing pants? Do you like having antibiotics for infections? Things move forward. Deal.
Kids – This old fart is probably older than many of your parents, but I graduated from FPC a thousand years ago. I am really proud of you for standing up for yourselves and others in a respectful and positive way. You matter and there is probably someone out there who needs to see your message that you don’t even know about.
We are NOT talking about ones way of processing identity or sexuality its about being a male or female . Use the bathroom that correlates to your “privet parts” if you are a male play sports on a boys team. If you want to call yourself something you are not fine just dont SAY all others must agree with that choice.