The Burbank Board of Education recognized May 22 as Harvey Milk Day, June as Pride Month and May 18 as Speech Pathologist Day, along with discussion and approval on a number of items during a nearly four-hour-long meeting on Thursday, May 20.
The meeting, attended in person by the five Board members and Burbank Unified Superintendent Matt Hill, was streamed online. The regular meeting saw the utilization of translators during the stream, working to increase accessibility for community members by providing sign-language and captioning, along with Spanish and Armenian language.
“Harvey Milk was an activist, organizer and the first openly gay man elected to public office in the country as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the late 1970s,” explained Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services John Paramo in a report to the Board. “Harvey Milk came out and started organizing against discrimination of gay and lesbian business owners in the Castro District of San Francisco and against the Briggs Initiative, an initiative on the California state ballot in 1978 that would have banned gays and lesbians from working in California schools.”
“Milk was responsible for passing gay rights ordinances for the city of San Francisco and served eleven months in office before he was assassinated on November 27, 1978, along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. We celebrate Harvey Milk Day on his birthday, May 22. Harvey Milk Day is a day to educate your school about an extraordinary leader whose courageous work to end discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the 1970s set the stage for many of the civil rights advances we see today.”
One local parent, Jennifer DuFour, called in to complain during Public Comment about Burbank Unified’s recognition of Harvey Milk, sharing unfounded allegations of Milk as a sexual predator and quoting Milk’s murderer’s allegation that Milk was a “shady” politician.
Several Board members responded strongly to her comment.
“If you go online and you do any research about Harvey Milk, you will not find a single article from a single credible source that calls him any of the names that you so casually referred to him in your comment,” Board member Emily Weisberg said. “But what I can tell you is the decades and decades of homophobic attacks against gay men by calling them pedophiles, by telling them that they’re sex traffickers…”
“And for any of our students who are listening in tonight, who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, know that we know that is a trope that is tired and that is bigoted and we will not stand by and allow it to be spoken for anyone in our community who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community,” Weisberg added. “It is deeply upsetting to me to hear these specious claims. I encourage you to do a little bit of media literacy work and find credible sources.”
“I would also say that in your defense of Dan White, who you asserted killed – assassinated – Harvey Milk because of his political views, I would encourage you to Google the ‘Twinkie defense.’ This is a man who tried to defend his murdering of a human being by the consumption of an excessive amount of Twinkies.”
“So, all of that to say, the hurt that is caused when people use this language, when people equate homosexuality to pedophilia is disgusting,” Weisberg also said. “I know that my words are harsh and I know that I’m speaking intensely and from an emotional place. But my job as a Board member as I see it and my job as a teacher is to make sure that we’re creating safe spaces for everybody in our District and words like that are deeply unsettling and deeply unsafe.”
“The language that was used to describe Mr. Milk is incorrect and it is dangerous and it is hurtful,” she concluded. “I look forward to celebrating the Proclamation for Mr. Milk Day and I look forward to hopefully continued education for all of us in the language that we use when we talk about other human beings and their differences.”
“To Ms. DuFour, your comments really were so hard to hear. A lot of what you said is just wrong,” commented Board Clerk Steve Ferguson, in an emotional response. “If you don’t know, I am a gay man. I have met so many people in my life that have inspired me to activism.”
“One of those people is Cleve Jones, who marched with Harvey and was Harvey’s right-hand man. There is so much we don’t know about the leaders in our lives. But what I can tell you is that the legacy of Harvey Milk has been trashed for decades. All the man has done right now, frankly, for most people in this world, is inspire them to get uncomfortable.”
“I faced a lot of the opposition and a lot of the projections and conceptions that people had of what it was to be gay and in public office and to care about kids,” Ferguson continued. “I think I came out when I ran, to the most people in this community, than anybody else trying to have these very hard conversations.”
“And so, what I want to do is take this moment, Ms. DuFour, to offer a chance to sit down and talk,” he also said. “Because, I think, it sounds like you’re interested in working on child sex trafficking and I will tell you, I’ve been working actively on preventing child sex trafficking with Zonta Club Burbank and now working actively to try and get training protocols with our bus drivers so that they recognize the signs of sex trafficking.”
“I realize we disagree on whether or not this man should be honored but I think we can learn a lot from each other as we try and work to make sure kids are safe,” Ferguson added. “Hopefully you’ll meet somebody else besides your brother who can give you a different perspective on how this community is trying to work on behalf of its kids.”
“This is a public meeting and we invite all comments and as long as people aren’t vulgar, we allow them,” commented Board President Steven Frintner to DuFour directly. “I, along with my colleagues, challenge what you said regarding Harvey Milk.”
“Any politician has flaws… but virtually all of what you said is unsubstantiated. Taking the word of a murderer to explain why he murdered the people he did seems a flawed ideology at best,” Frinter added. “I believe we are doing the right thing in recognizing [Milk’s] contributions.”
The Board unanimously approved the Resolution and Ferguson read the Proclamation naming May 22, 2021, Harvey Milk Day.
“Whereas we honor Harvey Milk today, let us remember his words ‘Hope will never be silent.’ Members of the LGBTQ+ community – in the United States and around the world – still face discrimination and certainly misconceptions and violence, rooted in the same hatred that Milk died fighting,” Ferguson read. “They deserve hope, and they cannot abide our silence.“
The Board also approved a resolution naming June 2021 as Pride Month. Additionally, they proclaimed May 18 as Speech Pathologist Day, in accordance with the national date of recognition.
“The Burbank Unified School District is committed to creating a safe environment for all students, but has an additional concern for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) students who are most at-risk for feelings of isolation, depression, and suicidal ideations or attempts,” explained Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Sharon Cuseo, in a report presented to the Board.
“This is reflected in the adoption of the Mental Health and Wellness Master Plan in April of 2016. LGBTQ Pride Month is celebrated each year in June to recognize and commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots. The riots were protesting a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village in New York City. It is considered to be the event that launched the movement for LGBTQ rights in the United States. Although there has been some positive change since then, there is still a need to continue the work for acceptance in District schools.”
The Resolution was passed unanimously and Weisberg read the Proclamation recognizing Pride Month.
“National Speech Pathologist Day is recognized throughout the country as a day to recognize the importance of the skilled and valued work that Speech-Language Pathologists provide to support individuals with communications challenges or delays,” explained Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Sarah Niemann in a report to the Board.
“The Board of Education wishes to adopt the formal resolution that follows, to recognize and show their appreciation for the positive impact that the District’s Speech-Language Pathologists have on the lives of this community’s students. The Board of Education would like to thank the Speech-Language Pathologists of the Burbank Unified School District for their dedication and contributions. The resolution will be shared throughout the District to honor its outstanding employees.”
The Resolution was passed unanimously and Vice President Charlene Tabet read the Proclamation honoring Speech Pathologists.
The Burbank Board of Education is comprised of President Steve Frintner, Vice President Charlene Tabet, Clerk Steve Ferguson and members Dr. Armond Aghakhanian and Dr. Emily Weisberg. More information on the Board can be found online on their webpage.