SKOWHEGAN — Amid the announcement that Superintendent Brent Colbry intends to retire and first steps in the process to name a new mascot have been taken, a community member addressed the School Administrative District 54 school board meeting at Skowhegan Area Middle School about signage for gender-neutral bathrooms using language that drew a heated response from members of a support group for LGBTQ+ students.

Gloria Gordon, who has worked in the district as a substitute teacher, questioned the district’s rationale on changing bathrooms from gender specific to gender-neutral.

“I know (the bathrooms) are bisexual now or whatever,” Gloria Gordon said, “and I guess there’s a problem with how they are labeled.”

School Board Chairwoman Lynda Quinn then said that Gordon’s remark was the first instance of a problem with gender-neutral bathroom labeling that she had heard that night.

Gordon continued, “If it’s changed to queers or lesbians or whatever you want to put up there, you’re taking away from the majority of the kids that are screwing around with bi or trans or whatever. I have no problems with bis or trans, but it’s taking so much away from the kids that are normal.”

Members of LGBTQ+ Somerset Social Group, the support group for LGBTQ+ students, objected to the language, calling it unacceptable and inappropriate, and urged Quinn to address it. Quinn used her gavel to silence the arguing, and Gordon continued.

“The majority of kids should be taken into consideration, not the minority,” Gordon said. “Everything is supposed to be politically correct, but enough is enough. We have to think of the majority, not the minority.”

Support group member Margaret O’Connell asked Quinn again to step in, but Gordon was finished speaking.

When the meeting ended, O’Connell said that she and other support group members spoke to Quinn and were told community members were allowed to have opinions and speak freely.

But Stacie Bourassa, a parent of a student at the high school, said on Thursday, “We feel like (Quinn) needs to set the tones at these meetings, that biased-based hate speech is not allowed in a meeting. To be speaking about students, it’s ridiculous, and (Quinn) is not controlling the narrative; she is normalizing it.”

On Friday, Quinn issued a statement that read, “Last night during the public comment portion of our board meeting, a member of the audience made a number of biased and hateful comments directed toward some of our students. Those statements were utterly inappropriate and have no place in this public forum, and certainly no place in our schools, which must provide a safe environment for all students. We regret not shutting those comments down sooner and want to apologize to anyone who was offended by what was said and to assure them and our entire community that speech of that nature is not acceptable in MSAD 54 and will not be tolerated.”

O’Connell said that the support group has reached out to administration and board members several times requesting an update on bathroom signage.

LGBTQ+ Somerset Social Group was created at the end of summer 2019 in response to issues associated with the mascot change. The group is comprised of students from the LGBTQ+ community as well as parents and allies, O’Connell said.

According to parents, the only gender-neutral bathroom at the high school is in the principal’s office, and it is not available to students after school hours.

In an email dated Dec. 18 and sent to board members Jennifer Poirier, high school Assistant Principals William Vigue and Jason Bellerose, Assistant Superintendent Jon Moody, Superintendent Brent Colbry and board Chairwoman Lynda Quinn and others, the group requested an update on the renovations to school bathrooms that was supposed to take place over the summer and also addressed other updates given to the community at previous board meetings.

The email notes that last spring the district said renovations would take place over the summer; that at an Aug. 22 board meeting, it was announced the project had been halted, but was expected to be completed in the next few weeks; that at the Nov. 7 meeting, it was reported to the community that renovations were complete, though the only gender-neutral bathroom was located in the administrative office.

“The stated goal of this project was to enhance privacy and accessibility for students seeking gender-neutral restroom options, noting the number of incidents of harassment that had occurred during the 2018-19 school year targeting trans and gender expansive students,” the email reads.

“To date, your efforts have only increased the privacy of students who identify with their biological sex,” the email continues, “but they have done nothing to address the privacy, and more importantly, the safety concerns of the trans and gender expansive members of your student body or the larger community.”

In the email the group requested an increase in the number of accessible gender neutral restrooms, arguing that the one in the administrative office is not public.

In response Colbry wrote in an email dated Jan. 9 that the district had received the group’s email of Dec. 18, that he had met with the appropriate administration and school board members, and that they agreed that the district had “made tremendous strides in the area of student privacy and making all students aware of their ability to utilize the restrooms of their choice.”

Colbry also noted in the email that “there have been no reported instances of access issues by students” and that the district will “make whatever adjustments may be necessary in the future.”

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