The Clayton Board of Education voted to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation following emotional testimony from Clayton residents at a meeting Wednesday night.
The measured passed unanimously, adding the phrase to district policies governing the hiring and firing of employees and the harassment of staff or students.
An audience of about 30 people greeted the board’s decision with a standing ovation. Several of those attending addressed the board in support of the proposal and called the policy a victory for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals.
Many also shared personal experiences as members of the LGBT community.
David Hoffman, an employee of the for 32 years who works as an education technology specialist at , said discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is real. He disputed recent comments made by Missouri State Sen. Jane Cunningham in which she suggested, Hoffman paraphrased, that granting protection for sexual orientation is a slippery slope that could lead to people who are fat, are ugly or have green eyes being given the same status.
“Show me a case where a woman couldn’t visit her husband in intensive care because she was too fat,” he said. “Show me a teenage boy who killed himself because he was constantly bullied for having green eyes.”
Hoffman is the teacher liaison for the Gay Straight Alliance, a student group. He told the board that adopting the policy would provide more than just legal protection for students and staff.
“For these kids, adding sexual orientation to the non-discrimination policy will be an affirmation of their self-worth. Please consider confirming the worth of our scores of students and our staff members tonight,” he said.
Several students who spoke at the meeting reinforced Hoffman’s words. Halo Multz-Howell, a junior, described how joining the Gay Straight Alliance had changed her life. She said her previous high school “did not have a place for young LGBT students.”
“I dreamed of being counted, of being part of something bigger than myself that I could fight for—and then I moved to Clayton,” she said. “I came out at my old school roughly a year before, but this was an entirely new everything—a new state, a new home, school and family … a new closet door. But I quickly realized my dream had come true: No hiding would be necessary here.”
Board President Sonny Buttar said the addition of sexual orientation to the district’s non-discrimination and harassment policies reflects the values the community of Clayton shares as a whole. She added that hearing from students such as Multz-Howell made it even more powerful.
“It is very moving when I hear students come forward and as grown-ups and adults articulate and express themselves in an impassioned way,” she said. “These are our future leaders.”
- A joint session that had been planned Wednesday between the board and the Clayton Board of Aldermen will be rescheduled.
- The board met in closed session Wednesday night to discuss legal matters. Chris Tennill, the district's chief communications officer, declined to elaborate on the subject of the discussion.
Editor's note: Come back Friday for a story about construction projects the board discussed at its meeting.