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Equality Florida launches new program to help advocate for LGBTQ+ students at school board meetings

A group of people dressed in bright colors stand together in front of glass doors.
Equality Florida
A group of Hillsborough residents came together to speak at a Hillsborough School Board meeting Sept. 19. Equality Florida launched a program called "Fall into Action," which encourages parents, students, and community members to voice support for LGBTQ+ students' rights.

Equality Florida is empowering parents, students, and community members in a new program called "Fall into Action." It gives people the tools to voice support for LGBTQ+ students at local school board meetings.

A small group of parents, students, and residents voiced their support for LGBTQ+ students at a Hillsborough School Board meeting on Tuesday.

Their message to board members was simple: marginalized groups deserve protection and respect.

A new program launched this year by Equality Florida called "Fall into Action" helped them share that message.

Spokesperson Carlos Guillermo Smith said the initiative's goal is to give people the tools needed to sign up and speak out at local school board meetings in every district in the state.

"We're basically empowering the community — empowering parents, students, and community members to show up to their school board meetings to make sure that their voices are included, and that they are empowered to continue to share their stories and their needs with the local school board," he said. "(That) includes wanting safe, inclusive, and healthy educational environments for all students."

Equality Florida provides the dates and times to each county's school board meeting on their website. Smith said he hopes this will encourage people to show up to every school board meeting to keep the conversation going.

Smith said the program is important to offset the expanded law critics call "Don't Say Gay," which limits how gender, sexuality, and student's preferred pronouns are discussed in K-8 classrooms.

"Hillsborough County School Board took an important action," Smith said. "They established LGBTQ guidelines for our schools, on how to make sure LGBTQ students are treated with dignity and respect, even in the wake of some of these draconian laws and new bills that were signed by Gov. DeSantis that we call 'the slate of hate.'"

The people who spoke at Tuesday's meeting in Hillsborough County thanked board members for their work in "pushing back" against legislature from Tallahassee.

Speakers also thanked the board for rejecting PragerU educational materials, which include animated history lessons produced by the conservative media company

Florida recently became the first state to approve videos made by PragerU Kids for use in public schools for grades K-6.

Hillsborough County Schools confirmed in an email to WUSF that "the district has not purchased any materials from PragerU and has no plans to purchase it."

Samira Burnside attended the Hillsborough meeting. The 16-year-old field and advocacy fellow with Equality Florida e says "Fall into Action" is a grassroots effort to give more people interested in helping access to the meetings.

"When you give people the tools, when you give people the instruction, they'll turn up, they'll turn out, and they'll make their voices heard. And they will make things change."

She said there are two common threads she's encountered while working phone bank lists for the organization. First, a lot of people are interested in helping. Second, they don't know how to.

But the new program fills that gap for people.

"Because there are many ways in which the school board meetings have been made to intentionally be unapproachable to the normal person. There's a lot of ways in which the everyday civic functions that our society runs on and is based upon are made unapproachable or oftentimes invisible to the everyday citizen," Burnside said.

"And it's important as activists that we bring that to the forefront of our work and bring the empowerment of not only our people, but the empowerment of the citizen to the forefront of what we do."

Nothing about my life has been typical. Before I fell in love with radio journalism, I enjoyed a long career in the arts in musical theatre.