Fresno Unified trustees continue to be pressed to take action against board president Brooke Ashjian after his controversial comments about the LGBT community, but that seems unlikely.
More than 60 people signed up to speak about Ashjian at Wednesday’s school board meeting, after he called for parents to teach “Judeo-Christian philosophies” and likened LGBT advocates to perpetrators of genocide.
Several people called on trustees to demote him from his position as president or issue a formal censure, noting that the board does not have authority to remove him from office.
But Fresno Unified Trustee Claudia Cazares, who has been criticized for staying quiet about the issue, said the board “cannot and will not” ask Ashjian to step down.
“I personally do not support, nor do I appreciate … the sentiment behind the words” of Ashjian, Cazares said. “He knows that. I’ve had this conversation with him. Yet, as all of us are able to show our viewpoints, so is he. Just because you don’t see me in front of a television set saying that doesn’t mean I do not support your child.”
The board cannot and will not ask (Ashjian) to step down.
Fresno Unified trustee Claudia Cazares
Local activists have directed their demands at trustees since Ashjian has publicly refused calls to resign. While trustees decide who will be elected president of the board, there is no FUSD bylaw that specifically provides guidance on how to remove a person from presidency status or how to issue a censure. Cazares said it’s her preference that the board establish a bylaw that does so before it considers such action.
Trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas also spoke out for the first time about Ashjian’s remarks, which included that LGBT-inclusive sex education, mandated by state law, could “sway” kids to become gay.
The California Healthy Youth Act went into effect last year and requires comprehensive, medically accurate sex education, including lessons on abortion and HIV prevention. The law also requires that sex education be inclusive of same-sex relationships and teach about gender identity.
My heart doesn’t have space for hate. Love is so much more powerful than hate that it just drowns it out completely.
Fresno Unified trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas
Jonasson Rosas said she has never before been asked “so forcefully and repetitively to reaffirm my commitment to equality,” but made it clear Wednesday that she supports the LGBT community. She also took issue with some of Ashjian’s supporters who said a traditional household, with an active mother and father, is needed for students to succeed. Jonasson Rosas said her parents were divorced.
“I firmly believe in love and equality. I don’t believe we can make someone gay by teaching them sex education or want to change their gender, for that matter. I also don’t believe there’s only one way to raise a child. If a two-parent household is what’s required, I must be a fluke,” she said. “My heart doesn’t have space for hate. Love is so much more powerful than hate that it just drowns it out completely.”
Dozens of Fresno Unified employees stood up during the meeting – some with tears in their eyes or hugging others – to issue a joint statement about “acceptance of all students” regardless of sexual orientation or other status. While the statement did not name Ashjian, it focused on “civility and inclusiveness.”
“To the staff who stood here tonight, I really know that that took guts, and I couldn’t agree more,” Jonasson Rosas said.
Ashjian later suggested that the employees’ statement was not made in connection to his recent remarks.
“We are Fresno Unified,” he said, “and you saw it tonight.”
I will not stand to have someone like you be the face of my school district.
Fresno Unified student Tristan Stokes
Tristan Stokes, a 15-year-old Fresno Unified student who is transgender, spoke to the board through tears, retelling of his suicide attempt in April because of “people like” Ashjian.
“I was too afraid of what others might think of who I am and what I am,” Stokes said. “What you said, that was prejudice. I will not stand to have someone like you be the face of my school district.”
Tanya Stokes, Tristan’s mother, called on the board to remove Ashjian, saying it is sending the wrong message to students.
“Bullying is acceptable because he’s doing it and nobody’s making him apologize,” she said. “Our children need to know that the focus is on them and not Brooke’s reputation.”
Supporters of Ashjian also spoke. Steve Prout, a 67-year-old retiree of Fresno, set up a booth outside the school district building with signs that said “we back Brooke” and “stand against sin!”
I believe if we’re going to teach children the LGBTQ agenda, then we also need to give them the flip side, which is Judeo-Christian.
Tyrone Carter, Ashjian supporter
Prout said more than 100 people have signed a petition he’s circulating in support of Ashjian.
“We’re taking it upon ourselves and rallying people for Judeo-Christian values,” he said. “We know (LGBT-inclusive sex education) is the law, but again, we don’t want to have it pushed down students’ throats.”
Tyrone Carter also spoke in support of Ashjian, saying he was “vilified” for what Carter believes is the truth.
“I believe if we’re going to teach children the LGBTQ agenda, then we also need to give them the flip side, which is Judeo-Christian,” he said. “We are actually just forcing this on them, and that’s not right.”
According to the district, a discussion item has been added to the Oct. 11 meeting to formally address the calls for Ashjian to be demoted or censured.