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Union, Activists Call For AISD Police To Undergo Cultural Training After School Board Incident

Residents hold signs during an AISD school board meeting
Julia Reihs
Community members hold signs during an AISD school board meeting in August where members discussed the new sex ed curriculum.

Education Austin and LGBTQ activists are asking the Austin Independent School District for a discussion on training for AISD police officers after an August school board meeting where audience members clashed over homophobic comments. 

"We have asked the district to meet us and join a roundtable planning for how to create stronger policies, to contain police actions, to respect our community, and to hear the voices of those who don't have a voice," Ken Zarifis, president of the union Education Austin, said at a news conference Friday.

During public comment at the August meeting, residents spoke out against proposed changes to the district's comprehensive sex ed lessons. Part of those proposed lessons include teaching children about LGBTQ terminology and experiences. 

“We recognize just two genders defined by X and Y chromosomes," Gary Moore told the board, "and anything else is a distortion of the truth."

Another speaker, Doug Harrington, asked the board why classrooms should focus on the experiences of LGBTQ people when they aren’t the majority of the population. 

“How can we get focused on so few people as to design our curriculum according to such a small percentage of our population?” he said. 

There were similar comments throughout the night. Toward the end of public comment, Naomi Wilson, a transgender black woman, stood up and began chanting "trans lives matter" and "protect black trans women." 

Because she was speaking out of turn, which isn’t allowed, an AISD police officer came and stood by her, trying to get her to stop talking. She eventually walked out of the room.

Zarifis said police contacted him a few days later to look at his phone because they believed he had video of the incident. According to a search warrant filed Aug. 30, police were investigating charges against Wilson for disrupting a meeting, interference with public duties and assault. 

The warrant said one of the sex ed protesters claimed Wilson become "verbally aggressive towards her.” The woman said she was taken by EMS to the hospital after feeling faint.

At the press conference Friday, Wilson said she started chanting after two people in the audience called her “disgusting,” but that she did not assault anyone. She said she wants to discuss these issues with the district, because she was the only person police talked to – despite a lot of emotional and offensive language at the board meeting.

“I want the police to be less reactionary, because their reactions are covered in biases based on race, based on sex, based on their privilege,” she said.

Wilson said she was bullied as a youth in AISD schools for being transgender. She said police need cultural competency training so all students feel safe at school.

In a statement, the AISD Police Department said it looks "forward to working directly with any group or organization to schedule a round-table discussion focused on ways we can continue to serve the AISD community."

Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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