"THE TIME IS ALWAYS RIGHT TO DO THE RIGHT THING."
— Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
A decade ago Dr. King’s words inspired us to action during very troubling times in Novato. Embroiled in controversy around diversity education, one 2002 news headline accurately read: “Emotions run high as Novato debates diversity curriculum,” while another described the debate as a “Diversity battleground.” Indeed, passions and tensions were running high.
In response to incidents of hate and bullying, our school district did the right thing by seeking materials that would teach respect and honor the need to be more inclusive in our efforts to create campuses and neighborhoods where all felt safe and welcomed.
The 's recommendations generated by its Diversity Advisory Committee involved presentations and curriculum reflective of our diverse students and families, including gays and lesbians. While the majority of Novato parents and residents supported reasonable educational materials that did not discriminate, our community wrestled with strong opinions against the inclusion of gay and lesbian families. An emotional and at times rancorous public debate ensued for two years.
After painful individual and community soul searching, which included advocacy by United for Safe Schools Novato, a grassroots effort begun 10 years ago this May, the school board ultimately did the right thing by adopting the proposed materials including the video "That's a Family!" As one board member courageously said, “This isn’t only about school curriculum. This represents something much greater; it’s about equity and basic human rights.”
The video, the flashpoint in our debate, was ultimately approved of by more than 97 percent of the parents of fifth-grade students. A lawsuit against the district by a handful of parents opposed to a play that included gays and lesbians in its message of respect was dropped after United for Safe Schools Novato and the ACLU intervened.
President Obama's historic support of same-sex marriage last month reminded us of the struggles and hardships of our gay and lesbian residents and allies 10 years ago in Novato. We endured. Our struggles ultimately created schools and a city where gays and lesbians are most welcomed. And we are most proud.
Now as then, we honor the leadership and courage of those who do the right thing even during very difficult circumstances. We applaud Novato’s individuals, organizations and elected officials who supported USSN along with other agencies, such as Spectrum LGBT Center, who joined with us to advocate for the rights of our gay and lesbian students, staff and parents.
Ten years ago Novato was “ground zero” in a national debate. We look back on that difficult time and know that we as a community, like our president, have “evolved” and are better for it.
Standing up isn’t easy, and at times it’s even perilous, but it is always the right time to do the right thing.
Annan Paterson and Lynne Wasley, co-founders
United for Safe Schools Novato