Let’s Put The Focus Where it Belongs!

?️‍?Let us put the focus where it belongs!?️‍?
This conversation is about two things, and neither of them are Natalie Cline! A statement from the Utah Pride Center in solidarity with Utah Black Lives Matter #blacklivesmatter #pride

February 5, 2021

RE: Let us put the focus where it belongs!

Somewhere over the course of the last four days of media frenzy about Utah State Board of Education member Natalie Cline and her comments about the Utah Pride Center’s “Pride, not Prejudice” conference, the conversation has shifted to people, personalities, and the “will they/won’t they” meet up to talk. This is the wrong focus and is missing the bigger, more important picture.

This conversation is about two things, and neither of them are Natalie Cline!

First and foremost, this conversation is about young people. It is about the lives and identities of black and brown young people, of lesbian, gay, queer, bisexual and transgender young people, of immigrants and English as a second language young people, and all young people who feel othered or invisible or bullied in schools – it is about their safety, their care, and their lives. It is about empathetic, compassionate, inclusive education and teachers.

For some young people, schools are difficult, dangerous and stress filled spaces, where they feel unseen, unsupported, or misunderstood. We know that, ideally, family or caregiver support and encouragement would help these young people deal with these issues. But the reality exists that for some, their families, parents or caregivers do not understand what they are going through or are one of the factors causing fear and anxiety. They fear “coming out” and not knowing how their parents might react, or being thrown out of their home, or of not being believed when they talk about being invisible or marginalized or harassed in school. Family or caregiver support and guidance is wonderful thing, but what happens when there is none? Or when families don’t understand what their child is saying or feeling? Who can help? Who should be there to help then?

The conversation and this work is about finding and developing those places for support, it is not about “indoctrination” or “cancel culture”. It is very distinctly and purposefully about educating teachers, parents, school administrators about critical issues facing our queer youth, and youth of color, and youth who speak different languages. It is about recognizing that schools should be places of care and understanding. This works needs to be driven by the education and training of teachers and school leaders who should know and understand the visible and invisible systems in place that hinder empathy, and the important issues which will keep young people safe, and alive.

Second, this conversation started with opposition to Critical Race Theory and Black Lives Matter in schools. It moved to opposition to Queer and LGBTQ+ issues in schools after the Pride, Not Prejudice conference. These two things are being treated as though they are separate issues – they are not. The choice to focus on only the LGBTQ+ part of the issue, during Black History Month, and not understanding that they are interconnected is lazy at best, and dangerous at worst.

As human beings we all bring our racial identity, our genders, who we love, how we love, our language, our religion with us into every room – and that is wonderful and to be celebrated. The view that schools and classrooms should be “neutral environments” is problematic. As is the assumption that anytime anything “controversial” or “political” is mentioned or spoken about that parents need to be informed and involved. At this time in our culture, skin color is political, gender is political, and who you love is political.

Schools, and in fact any space, are not and never can be “neutral” spaces! The suggestion that somehow teachers, or principals leave parts of their identity at the door before they walk into the classroom to teach is impossible and unfair. Issues of race, culture, love, genders are interconnected, intersectional and intertwined. By focusing on just one of these dimensions, as the media and Natalie Cline have done, we are missing the more important complex and nuanced discussion that should be taking place. The African concept of Ubuntu states this better – “I cannot be fully me, if I don’t allow you to be fully you” or “I am, because you are!” This is what the conversation should be focused on – we should be talking about how can young people (and teachers) bring their interconnected perspectives, their lived experiences, and their full selves into the classroom without fear, and how can their full selves be seen and celebrated?

Finally, the Pride Center issued an invitation and had welcomed the opportunity to talk about how important inclusive education is to our community. We asked Natalie Cline to remove or hide posts that we knew were dangerous and ill-informed until such time as we could sit down together and strive for understanding. Natalie Cline has not responded to our invitation and has doubled down on her hurtful online rhetoric, and over the last few days once again attacked both Black Lives Matter and the Utah Pride Center online. As a Utah State Board of Education member, Natalie Cline represents a district where there was the largest spike in youth suicide in the State of Utah, she should know, do and be better than this.

I continue to believe that open and honest dialogue is important. I will always believe that, but after reading the latest online posts by Natalie Cline I also believe that she is not honestly wanting to know more, or learn more, and would only be connecting with us to bring further publicity to her views. From the start, we have pointed out the danger of these statements, and asked for them to be removed. Open and honest dialogue requires individuals to want to know more, and seek common understanding. It requires participants to recognize the dignity of one another. If “actions speak louder than words”, then Natalie Clines actions have said all we need to hear. The Utah Pride Center and Black Lives Matter Utah will not engage in a public discussion which places our LGBTQ+ and BIPOC youth and teachers at risk, and where one party is trying to hold the conversation hostage.

It is my intention (and always has been) to work collaboratively and in solidarity with Black Lives Matter Utah, in order to show the interconnectedness and interdependence of our respective struggle for visibility, empathy and equality.

And to all the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ youth and teachers of Utah – please know that you are seen, you are supported, and you are loved! Do not ever forget or doubt that!

Yours in Pride and Solidarity,

Dr. Rob Moolman
Executive Director: Utah Pride Center

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single issue lives” – Audre Lorde

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