Polk County Public Schools’ annual LGBTQ Pride Month proclamation, typically issued each June, has been put on hold this year as Superintendent Frederick Heid seeks guidance to create an “equitable and consistent” process for proclamations.

His decision comes amid a flurry of legislation in the last 18 months that, among several things, forbids teachers from talking about sexuality or gender identity with students.

Proclamations are routinely issued at School Board meetings each month at the request of members of the public. They range from applauding National Merit Scholars and winning sports teams to recognizing Black History Month.

“The Polk Pride organization did submit a proclamation for this month’s board meeting,” district spokesman Jason Geary told LkldNow. “The superintendent is recommending to board members that we postpone this proclamation until we create a formal process so that we are equitable and consistent in how we review proclamations submitted by the community.”

Geary further explained that the Polk County School Board does not vote on proclamations.

“In fact, there is not a clear process in place to approve proclamations that go before the board,” he said.

When asked if the district had received any complaints about the proclamation this year, spokesman Kyle Kennedy said he didn’t have any additional details beyond the provided statement.

The City of Lakeland went forward with a Pride Month proclamation last week despite controversy last year. However, the Polk County Commission declined to issue a similar statement of support for the LGBTQ+ community on Tuesday, ending a five-year tradition.

Kerri McCoy, vice president of Polk Pride, told a Facebook group that Heid reached out to her personally to let her know what was happening.

“Superintendent Heid called me because he didn’t understand why the proclamation was during June,” McCoy said. “The meetings are low in attendance and he feels October would be better, when kids are in school and it’s LGBTQ History Month. This way more people can attend.”

In the last 18 months, the Florida Legislature has passed and Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a flurry of legislation that some call an attack on the LGBTQ community.

One law may be construed to restrict children from attending drag performances. Others limit the use of preferred pronouns in schools, ban certain types of gender-affirming care for minors, and prohibit transgender people from using public bathrooms that differ from their assigned sex at birth.

“The Parental Rights in Education” bill, passed in 2022, forbids any public school teacher from discussing sexual orientation or gender identification with any student in kindergarten through 3rd grade. Known by its other name — the “Don’t Say Gay” law — it was expanded to all grades this year. 

In past years at Polk School Board meetings, the Pride Proclamation was read and representatives from Polk’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community accepted the document.  Students frequently stood with them and some would speak.

In 2021, as the proclamation was being read, multiple members of the ultra-conservative groups County Citizens Defending Freedom and Winter Haven 9-12 stood up from their seats in the back of the meeting room and turned their backs to the speakers.  One woman spoke during public comments and called the LGBTQ group “an abomination.” Last year, there was no controversy and a packed School Board room was awash in rainbows and supporters.

Former School Board member Sarah Fortney, the first openly gay PCPS board member, said she was going to attend Tuesday’s meeting to speak during public comments.

“This was not an issue last year, and we proudly presented the proclamation to a board room full of supporters and employees,” Fortney said. “The School District has traditionally kept the recognitions of Pride Month and LBGTQ History Month separate. While I don’t understand the need to move it to October, I align myself with Polk Pride’s stance.”

Fortney invited everyone to attend Pride in the Park in Lakeland’s Munn Park next Saturday.

“With or without official pride proclamations, the LGBTQ+ community isn’t going away or back in closets.”

sarah fortney, former school board member

“With or without official pride proclamations, the LGBTQ+ community isn’t going away or back in closets,” Fortney said. “I hope the superintendent and board understands this fact. I urge them to follow through in October and not allow right-wing extremists from Tallahassee or anywhere else to bully and intimidate our staff and students. I invite our allies to stand up, speak out and come out June 17th to celebrate love and inclusion at Polk Pride.”

One woman, Kristin Bradley Burke, said she is going to sign up for public comments and read the proclamation.

“I am going to speak and read that for sure!” she said.

Tuesday’s School Board work session, during which the public does not speak, begins at 12:30 p.m. at the school district office at 1915 S. Floral Ave. in Bartow.  The regular School Board meeting is held in the same auditorium and begins at 5 p.m.

Those wishing to speak during public comment, which is held at the end of the meeting, must sign up before the meeting begins.

The agenda for the meeting can be found here.

Last year’s Pride Proclamation read in part:

“Polk County, Florida, is part of a global community in which people of diverse cultures, races, creeds, genders, and sexual identities must work together toward peace and understanding iThe lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students within Polk County contribute to this vibrant, innovative, culturally-inclusive, world-class community and to its diversity …

Various advancements have been made with respect to equal rights and protections for all peoples including the LGBTQ community, throughout the State of Florida and the United States.

Members of the LGBTQ+ communities still face ongoing discrimination based on their innate status, resulting in immeasurable human tragedy, loss of life, community isolation and abuse.

Parents, families and friends of lesbians and gays of Polk County envision a world where diversity is celebrated and all people are respected, valued, and affirmed inclusive of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.”

2022 Proclamation Issued by the Polk County School District

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Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at kimberly@lkldnow.com or 863-272-9250.

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