CHARLOTTE, NC (Ann Doss Helms/The Charlotte Observer) - It's about time that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools formally recognizes transgender students and others who don't fit traditional gender molds, half a dozen students and parents told the school board Tuesday.
The small, quiet public hearing stood in sharp contrast with protests that greeted earlier attempts to support LGBTQ students.
The revised multiculturalism policy that was up for public comment Tuesday adds gender orientation and gender identity/expression to the list of characteristics that should be considered in promoting diversity in lessons, classroom material and staff training. The policy already spells out that race, religion, gender and national origin are aspects of diversity.
Vincent Holt of Northwest School of the Arts, a transgender male student, and Alex Donatelli, an East Mecklenburg High student who rejects male/female labels, stood together at the podium to thank the board for recognizing students like them.
"I definitely believe this policy could prevent a lot of bullying that I myself have faced," Donatelli said.
In August 2016, then-Superintendent Ann Clark sparked large, vocal protests when she announced a new antibullying policy that spelled out protections for transgender students.
In March 2017, the school board delayed putting the multiculturalism policy up for a hearing and vote, fearing that uproar over LGBTQ issues would distract from work on student assignment changes.
When the board took it up Tuesday, at the first meeting of 2018, all the comments were supportive.
"If we do not know that people express their gender identities in different ways then we are putting them in the wrong boxes," said Jennifer Holt, mother of Vincent Holt.
It's not clear that the new policy will bring specific, immediate change.
The existing and revised policy both call for multicultural education that promotes cultural appreciation, respect for a wide range of people and "understanding of historical, political and economic bases of current inequities." The new version strengthens the language, requiring CMS to "intentionally incorporate" diversity, rather than just "appreciate the value" of it.