Town of Arlington to LGBTQIA+ students: You belong

We’re only a quarter of the way through 2022, but the year has already been a tough one for LGBTQIA+ people, especially transgender children and adolescents and their parents. Lawmakers across the country have filed a record-breaking 238 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills with discriminatory policies being put in place in Texas and anti-LGBTQIA+ measures being signed into law in Tennessee, Florida, and Alabama. Most of these measures aim to silence LGBTQIA+ children and families, prevent transgender kids from playing sports, and block gender diverse children from receiving medically necessary health care.

But the town of Arlington recently sent a different message altogether to its LGBTQIA+ children, adolescents, and families.

That message was a simple one: We love you just the way you are.

On March 29, the Arlington Public School’s LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Task Force, the Arlington Human Rights Commission, and the Arlington LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission jointly sponsored an “LGBTQIA+ Community Conversation” at Arlington Town Hall. About 80 students, parents, teachers, and other community members showed up to hear LGBTQIA+ students talk about what it’s like to attend school in Arlington and what they like best about their schools.

Many of the attendees were middle and high school students, a number of whom wore transgender Pride flags as capes.

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Dr. Roderick MacNeal, who chairs the Arlington Public Schools LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Task Force, welcomed attendees. He provided an overview of the most recent results from the Arlington portion of the Middlesex League Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS).

The Middlesex League YRBS surveys students in 11 school districts in Middlesex County to capture vital information related to health status and behaviors that can put the health of students in middle and high school at-risk. In addition to Arlington, the communities of Belmont, Burlington, Melrose, Reading, Stoneham, Wakefield, Wilmington, Winchester, Woburn, and Watertown also participate.

Key findings related to mental health found that around one-quarter of Arlington High School students (27%) and middle school students (23%) reported that their mental health was “not good most of the time or always.” Among all students, cisgender male students reported the lowest rates of mental health issues with 13 percent of high school and 15 percent of middle school students reporting that their mental health was “not good most of the time or always.” Genderqueer students, loosely defined as LGBTQIA+ students, reported the highest rates of mental health issues with 68 percent of high school students and 52 percent of middle school students reporting that their mental health was “not good most of the time or always.”

By contrast, 30 percent of Black high school and middle school students of all genders and 32 percent of cisgender female high school students and 29% of cisgender female middle school students reported that their mental health was “not good most of the time or always.”

The numbers are a sobering reminder of the negative impact that stigma and discrimination based on anti-LGBTQIA+ beliefs can have. Such beliefs, when held by parents, faith leaders, school officials, and other community leaders can be devastating.

The Community Conversation was moderated by Jeff Perotti, the founding director of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Safe Schools Program for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning Students. Three students from Arlington High School’s Gender Sexuality Alliance, a parent of one of the students, a middle school teacher, and a graduate of Arlington Public Schools talked about ways that teachers and other staff can be strong allies to LGBTQIA+ students. Strategies can range from putting rainbow stickers on a classroom door and disclosing pronouns in a matter of fact way at the start of the school year.

Students said that the most powerful thing teachers can do, however, is to confront intolerant behavior immediately and facilitate discussion that leads to greater understanding.

The next Community Conversation will be held Tuesday, April 26 at Arlington Town Hall at 6:45 p.m. You can register for the event here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdkvErKMmka3eOg7lJXYqnKuwZ967Doh55Spjr0qAL-zCrWBA/viewform

Statement on the war in Ukraine

Arlington community members, 

Today, the Arlington Human Rights Commission, the Disability Commission, the LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission, and the Diversity Task Group of Envision Arlington issued the following statement on the war in Ukraine: 

We support Ukraine and everyone affected by the Russian invasion. As of this writing, more than 3.2 million people have fled Ukraine to neighboring Poland, which has taken in 1.9 million refugees, as well as Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, and Moldova.

While many Ukrainian refugees have been generously welcomed by other countries, there have been reports that non-white refugees have faced racism from border guards, other officials, and residents of neighboring countries in their attempts to find safety. Additional reports have documented the heightened risk of violence faced by LGBTQIA+ refugees entering countries with harsh anti-gay laws and the difficulties faced by people living with disabilities as they flee the war.

Everyone who has been displaced by this crisis deserves to be safely housed and fed regardless of their race, ethnicity, physical and mental ability, sexual orientation, and/or gender. We deeply empathize with those affected by this crisis and we urge residents of Arlington who are concerned about the war in Ukraine to do the following:

Think globally and act locally: Twenty percent of Arlington residents were born in countries outside of the United States including Ukraine (445 residents) and Russia (1011 residents), and English is not the first language for 19 percent of residents. Our town is also home to refugees and asylum seekers who have fled violence in Central and South America, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. The ArCS Cluster serves refugee families and individuals in Arlington, Cambridge, Somerville, and nearby towns by mobilizing local volunteers who provide practical help, emotional support, and financial assistance to people fleeing violence and war as they work to establish themselves in a new community. You can help by volunteering or making a financial contribution.

Support local efforts to assist Ukrainian refugees: Breadboard Bakery at 203A Broadway is donating proceeds from the sale of loaves of Sour Cherry Sunflower Sourdough bread to CARE’s Ukraine Crisis Fund, which is providing immediate aid and recovery, food, water, hygiene kits, psychosocial support, and cash assistance to Ukrainians while prioritizing the needs of women and girls, families, and the elderly.

Arlington resident and musician Hazel Dean Davis is participating in “An Evening of Chamber Music for Horn, Clarinet & Piano” featuring music by Akimenko, Brahms & Reinecke on Saturday, March 26 at 7:30pm at Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church, 1555 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge. Tickets are $15-$30. All proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the United Ukrainian American Relief Committee, Inc., which is providing medical supplies, health care treatment, and food and shelter to Ukrainian residents and refugees.

Reject bias against Russian nationals: The Boston Globe has reported that the owners and employees of Russian restaurants, bookstores, and schools have faced acts of bias from people angry about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These attacks serve no purpose other than to sow division and hatred. If you witness or hear such acts of bias, do not participate and intervene to stop it, if you can do so safely. If you have experienced or witnessed an incident of bias, you can also report it to the Human Rights Commission here. Meanwhile, there are many people in Russia who are protesting the war and facing dire consequences as a result, which serves as an important reminder that making sweeping generalizations about a group of people is never a good idea.

Protect democracy: Democracy is fragile. It can be significantly weakened or undone by war, propaganda, apathy, or a combination of these factors. You can protect it by participating as a voter and, if you’re able, a civic volunteer. On April 2, the town of Arlington will hold elections for Select Board, School Committee, Board of Assessors, Town Moderator, and Town Meeting. Decisions made by these elected officials affect the culture, priorities, and management of our town, and include important expressions of civic values such as the creation of the Human Rights Commission and the Disability Commission in 1993, and the LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission in 2017. These Commissions and other town committees rely on volunteers to get their work done. Learn more about opportunities to volunteer here.

Resources for further information: Experiences of refugees and displaced persons

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) publishes information about refugees that can foster greater understanding. Here are some that may be of interest:

  • Data portal on Ukrainian refugees that is updated daily. This includes the number of refugees, number of refugees accepted by other countries, and number of displaced people within Ukraine.
  • Resources: “National, ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples”
  • Report: “Checklist to strengthen UN work at country level to combat racial discrimination and advance minority rights, March 19, 2021”
  • Discussion Paper: “2021 Global Roundtable LGBTIQ+ Persons in Forced Displacement and Statelessness: Protection and Solutions”
  • Report: “UNHCR’s approach to forcibly displaced and stateless persons with disabilities – 2022”
  • Resources: Gender-Based Violence experienced by refugees and displaced persons

Resources for further information: Learning about Ukraine and Russia

Neiman Lab: “Some resources for following the invasion of Ukraine: Lists, liveblogs, maps.” The Neiman Lab is a project of the Neiman Foundation, the mission of which is to “promote and elevate the standards of journalism and educate and support those poised to make important contributions to its future.”

New Yorker writer Masha Gesson’s columns about Russia and Ukraine. Masha Gessen is the author of eleven books, including “Surviving Autocracy” and “The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia,” which won the National Book Award in 2017. Gessen is a Distinguished Writer in Residence at Bard College and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship, a Nieman Fellowship, the Hitchens Prize, and the Overseas Press Club Award for Best Commentary.

“US Military Escalation Against Russia Would Have No Victors,” an interview with Noam Chomsky published by Truthout, March 1, 2022. Noam Chomsky is the founder of modern linguistics and one of the most cited scholars in modern history. He is also a philosopher, social critic, and political theorist. He is both an anarchist who believes in a radically different way of ordering society as well as a pragmatist who urged leftists to vote for Joe Biden in 2020.

“It’s time to ask: what would a Ukraine-Russia peace deal look like?” An article by Anatol Lieven published by The Guardian, March 4, 2022. Anatol Lieven is a Senior Research Fellow on Russia and Europe at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and a visiting professor in the War Studies Department of King’s College London. A former journalist for the Financial Times and the Times of London covering Central Europe, Russian, and the former Soviet Union, Lieven is the author of numerous books on these regions including “Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power?,” “Ukraine and Russia: A Fraternal Rivalry,” and “The Baltic Revolution: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania,” which was awarded the 1994 George Orwell Prize for Political Writing.

Resources for further information: Reading Lists

The First Book Marketplace offers books and educational resources at deeply discounted prices to educators serving children in need. It has curated a list of books, titled “Immigrant and Refugee Experiences” that spotlight the diversity, histories, cultures, and experiences of people who have left their homelands, either by choice or forcibly. These books are geared for children of all ages, but many would also be of interest to adults. Included among these recommendations is “Refugee,” by Alan Gratz, which tells the story of three middle schoolers who escape Nazi Germany in the 1930s, Cuba in 1994, and Syria in 2015. “Refugee” was a 2019 selection of Arlington Reads Together.

We’re looking for new members!

Do you identify as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community? Are you an LGBTQIA+ ally? Are you committed to ensuring that Arlington continues to cultivate a strong LGBTQIA+ community? Do you want to work with fun, hardworking, fellow Arlington residents who are committed to increased access, equity, and inclusion?

The Arlington LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission is seeking committed residents to apply to join the Commision! We’re a highly engaged group of residents, appointed by the Town, who are dedicated to creating greater access, equity and inclusion in Arlington for LGBTQIA+ individuals and families through active community building, affirming policies and programs, resources, advocacy, and initiatives.   

Please consider joining us to make a positive impact in our community!  

The Commission encourages applicants of all backgrounds and identities to ensure that the group truly represents the wonderful diversity within Arlington’s LGBTQIA+ community. We’re also seeking educators, writers, artists, PR/marketing pros, and thoughtful, collaborative individuals to round out the collective experience and skill-set of current Commissioners.

Apply now! Residents of Arlington who are interested in becoming a member of the LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission should send a resume and a letter of interest to: Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine, 730 Mass. Ave., Arlington, MA 02476 or via email to townmanager@town.arlington.ma.us.  

Positions will remain open until filled.

Rainbow Commission forms Task Force with Arlington Public Schools

In 2021, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Rod MacNeal was appointed liaison to the Rainbow Commission by the School Committee. He and Rainbow Commissioner Molly Blaauw Gillis have established the LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Task Force. The leadership group is composed of the following stakeholder groups to create alignment, collaboration, and positive momentum within the Arlington community: administrative and instructional staff; students; parents and caregivers; and community members. The mission of the Task Force is to promote and support continued awareness, empathy, access, safety, inclusion, and belonging for LGBTQIA+ students, families, caregivers, and staff. The leadership group will:

  • Communicate, create connectivity, and partner with various stakeholder groups within the extended community
  • Work to ensure the safety of the LGBTQIA+ students, families and staff within our community;
  • Connect and convene individuals and groups within the community to identify and focus on action areas related to: 
    • Revisions to district policies;
    • Revisions to curriculum;
  • Promote and support LGBTQIA+ initiatives within the district;
  • Plan meetings/caregiver forums focused on relevant topics to provide opportunities for community education;
  • Provide input into creating professional development opportunities and strategies for educating staff; and
  • Interface with the district’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion leadership, including to create awareness and action around areas of intersectionality.

This spring, the Task Force will launch a series of forums co-hosted by the Rainbow Commission and Human Rights Commission focused on LGBTQIA+ topics to provide opportunities for community-wide education. An important focus of the series is including and amplifying student voices and leadership. Dates for the series will be announced soon!

Just the Facts about Texas, Florida, and Ukraine 

News out of Texas that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott notified state health agencies that medical treatments provided to transgender adolescents should be classified as “child abuse” under existing state law is very disturbing. As explained in a policy brief published by the Fenway Institute at Fenway Health, the move is part of an orchestrated effort to advance the political right’s culture war against LGBTQIA+ people. The policy brief also outlines recommendations for clinicians, parents and other caregivers, school officials, and lawmakers to take in response to these attacks on transgender and gender diverse children and adolescents. You can read a summary of the policy brief here. The full brief can be downloaded here.

If you would like to directly support organizations in Texas working on behalf of transgender and gender diverse children, adolescents and adults, three of the most established Texas-based LGBTQIA+ advocacy and service organizations are listed below: 

On-going efforts in Florida to silence LGBTQIA+ people and prevent their access to health care are equally disturbing. The Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act (Stop WOKE Act) would permit employees, parents, and students to sue employers and schools that teach about racism and offer training to deal with systemic racism. The Don’t Say Gay bill would prohibit discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. The Protections of Medical Conscience bill would permit health care providers to refuse treatment on the basis of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability, immigration status, and national origin. To learn more about Florida-based efforts to defeat these bills, visit Equality Florida

To learn more about the status of LGBTQIA+ people in Ukraine:

  • The Kiev-based LGBTQIA+ rights organization NASH MIR Center published a report in 2018 documenting violence against LGBTQIA+ people in Ukraine between 2014-2017, which captured the impact of the 2014 Russian invasion and subsequent annexation of Crimea in 2014. The report showed that physical violence and threats against LGBTQIA+ people “sharply increased” after 2014. The authors wrote: “We attribute this to the fact that some informal Russian homophobic groups (first of all, Okkupai-pedofilyai) at this time extended their activities into the territory of Ukraine.”
  • Last year, NASH MIR Center published a report published its annual report on the status of LGBTQIA+ people in Ukraine.
  • The Daily Beast reports that LGBTQIA+ people are taking up arms to fight back against the Russian invasion.
  • In an opinion piece for the Washington Blade, Olena Shevchenko, Chair of Insight, a Ukrainian LGBTQ rights group, writes about the dangers LGBTQI+ people face under Russian occupation of Ukraine.