Earlier this summer, I reported on Broward County School Board Diversity Committee Vice Chair Tom Lauder's homophobic rant at a June 2013 Broward County School Board meeting. At the meeting, speaking as Vice Chair and without the authorization of his committee, Lauder insinuated there was some kind of "homosexual agenda" at play when he stated:
"For the majority of members, we are not playing politics. We are not looking for outside groups whose main goal are not children. [I] love the ADL, the ACLU and LGBT, their mission isn't the kids, they have agendas of their own."
Shortly after Bilerico published my piece, Buddy Nevins, a South Florida blogger, reacted and wrote about my criticism of Lauder's statement. But absent in Buddy's response was any evidence to suggest Lauder is supportive of any LGBT rights. Buddy wrote:
"There might be reasons to dislike what Lauder writes. But this attack on Lauder over these comments is much to do about nothing. For all we know, Lauder is a strong supporter of LGBT rights....like I am. Has anyone asked?"
The irony in all of this is that Tom Lauder, in his position as the Vice Chair of the Broward County School Board Diversity Committee, has had several opportunities to contribute to a healthy conversation and help the district address the many factors that prevent LGBTQ youth from achieving academic success. However, at each meeting of the Diversity Committee when LGBTQ youth and families were on the agenda, Lauder continually attempted to block any constructive dialogue.
On June 25th, I met with Lauder's appointing school board member Donna Korn to discuss the matter. While she agreed the comment was inappropriate, she reported that she spoke with Lauder but she admittedly refused to ask him to publicly apologize or explain to his colleagues on the Diversity Committee exactly what "agenda" the Anti-Defamation League, American Civil Liberties Union and LGBT groups allegedly had in public schools.
Our Fund, Equality Florida and a parent of a transgender student in Broward County wrote to express their concerns. Even local South Florida blogger/activist Chaz Stevens of My Acts of Sedition wrote to Korn, but she did not respond.
So, while homophobes like Lauder continue to sweep the concerns of LGBTQ youth and families into the closet, perhaps his original and subsequent appointing school board members should educate him on Broward County School Board policy, which clearly recognizes and values lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and families.
Below is my October 24th email to Broward County School Board Members Leach and Korn and their colleagues expressing my ongoing concerns:
Good morning School Board members Leach and Korn:
I continue to be dismayed by how you continue to support Tom Lauder who engages in yellow journalism and blogs as Red Broward, Media Trackers, and formerly as Broward Cleansweep. Chris Moody of Yahoo News reported on the conservative Republican ties to parent company Greenhouse Solutions.
While Tom Lauder has the legal right to exercise his free speech like any other American citizen, I find it appalling that you continue to appoint him as a public official to a school board committee responsible for issues of diversity, especially because he's theoretically required to abide by the characteristic school board traits of respect, honesty, responsibility, self-control, tolerance, kindness, citizenship, and cooperation.
On a regular basis, Tom Lauder's yellow journalistic blogs continue to degrade, demean, and disrespect your fellow school board members. I also hear that his blog posts often advocate intolerance of some minority communities, which raises a concern about Lauder's definition of "diversity."
Recently, political blogger Buddy Nevins even reported on the sometimes hostile working relationship of Broward County School Board members in an October 7, 2013 blog post titled "Broward's School Board: Mean Girls."
I can certainly attest that school board members themselves need to revisit the school board's characteristic traits and model the characteristics the board and district wish to teach our students as they prepare to go on to higher education and enter the workforce.
Mrs. Leach and Korn, what troubles me more is Tom Lauder's ongoing homophobic interference anytime the Diversity Committee attempts to discuss how to reduce and remove barriers to academic success for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and/or families.
Tom Lauder has continually acted contrary to your position of support, and has attempted to block opportunities for dialogue on the district's efforts for a meaningful discussion, as well as a presentation on the District's LGBT Critical Resource Guide that serves as a national model and receives much acclaim from educators and education experts.
At the June 18, 2013 Broward County School Board Workshop, Tom Lauder spoke as the Vice Chair of the Broward County School Board Diversity Committee. In that capacity as one of two elected officers of the committee, he insinuated that a homosexual "agenda" was in play in non-profit organizations like Equality Florida, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Anti-Defamation League. These groups work hard to respond in an affirmative and meaningful approach to reduce or remove the unmet needs of marginalized youth so they too can achieve academic success. But to Tom Lauder, such work does not dovetail with the concerns of Broward County students.
Here is a YouTube link to the video of Tom Lauder's comments.
At no time did Diversity Committee vice chair Tom Lauder ever state his comments were solely his opinion and not that of the committee. Given that he identified himself as the vice chair of the Diversity Committee, Lauder was officially speaking de facto as the official position of the Broward County Board's Diversity Committee. At no time did the Diversity Committee authorize vice chair Tom Lauder to make such a statement or assertion. Nor did his fellow school board members ever demand he apologize for his reckless and harmful assertion while acting in the role as a public official on behalf of the Broward County Schools...
Mrs. Leach and Mrs. Korn, I have publicly applauded your courageous support for the expansion of programs in Broward County Public Schools to be inclusive of the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth and families -- even as homophobic and racist Tea Party activists publicly blasted you for taking such a stand.
I remain puzzled as to why you continue to support and protect Tom Lauder's appointment to the Broward County School Board Diversity Committee despite his divisive attacks and obstruction of educational opportunities for all students and families in Broward County, one of the most diverse in the United States.
As the Diversity Committee membership sunsets in November 2014 and you consider your appointments to this and other committees, I hope you seriously consider this concern as you identify members of the public who will serve as public officials and individuals to appropriately represent your view(s), opinion(s), and direction(s) in accordance with School Board Policy 1.7.
Michael Emanuel Rajner, BSW
Past Member of the Broward County School Board
Diversity Committee, Code of Student Conduct Committee and
School Board Member Redistricting Committee
Photo of Tom Lauder via Chaz Stevens, MyActsOfSedition.com