Alana Franklin stood up at Dailey Elementary Charter School with a message for Fresno Unified School Board President Brooke Ashjian: She’s not going away.
Franklin, who identifies as queer, has a kindergartner at Dailey and is pregnant with a child who will also likely enroll in the school district.
“(Ashjian) has the freedom of speech to say whatever he wants but believe me … I will definitely be using my freedom of speech, too,” she said. “And it’s going to be a long 20 years.”
Franklin joined other LGBT families and allies of the Fresno charter school on Tuesday to call for Ashjian to be removed from the school’s board of directors – and the district altogether. The International Baccalaureate school prides itself on inclusion and diversity, something that Dailey’s so-called “modern families” say Ashjian does not value.
The outrage comes after Ashjian made controversial comments about LGBT-inclusive sex education, and then compared LGBT advocates who have called for him to resign to perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide, saying his beliefs are being oppressed.
I have to assure Mr. Ashjian of at least this much: My son’s friends think it’s different but pretty cool to have two dads.
Martin Oftedal, parent at Dailey Charter school
“Mr. Ashjian is not being oppressed. He is in a position of power. He sat down in front of a mic and he reached a thousand angry ears and eyes because he had the power to do so,” Franklin said. “Being called out for the abuse of that power is not oppression.”
Dailey parent Martin Oftedal, who is gay, also received much applause on Tuesday for his comments, saying Ashjian is unapologetic and has “no business” being on Fresno Unified’s school board.
“I have to assure Mr. Ashjian of at least this much: My son’s friends think it’s different but pretty cool to have two dads,” Oftedal said. “They learn of similarities and differences without judging … And knowing me isn’t going to make a single one of them turn gay.”
In his comments about LGBT sex education, Ashjian promoted “Judeo-Christian philosophies” and said “you have kids who are extremely moldable at this stage, and if you start telling them that LGBT is OK and that it’s a way of life, well maybe you just swayed the kid to go that way.”
Oftedal said his 8-year-old son has also weighed in on Ashjian’s remarks, saying, “Those comments are inappropriate and we do not tolerate bullying at Dailey,” and that Ashjian would be sent to the principal’s office if he were a student there.
I’m terrified to think what his opinions would be on my son and issues as simple as which bathroom he chooses to use or the name he’s chosen to go by.
Frances Echeverria, parent at Dailey Charter school
Since his sex education remarks, a libel lawsuit Ashjian settled in 2013 has also came to light and shows that disparaging comments about a Fresno gay rights group were made from his home computer after he donated to Proposition 8, the 2008 California initiative that aimed to ban same-sex marriage.
Frances Echeverria, a parent of a transgender student at Dailey, said Ashjian has “spared no one’s feelings” in expressing his beliefs.
“I’m terrified to think what his opinions would be on my son and issues as simple as which bathroom he chooses to use or the name he’s chosen to go by … ” she said. “As a parent, how do I explain the homophobic and transphobic comments and outright bullying via social media to my trans child?”
The school’s governing board, which includes Ashjian, voted on Tuesday to recommend that he be removed from his role there as part of an LGBTQ resolution. Ashjian did not attend the meeting.
“Sexual orientation and gender expression-based bullying is among the most common form of harassment in schools,” the resolution said. “The significantly higher rates of school dropout, academic failure and school disengagement among LGBTQ youth across the country are attributed to peer harassment and bullying.”
The resolution passed, including support from Fresno Unified trustee Valerie Davis, who also sits on the Dailey board and has spoken out against Ashjian’s comments. Fresno Unified superintendent finalist Bob Nelson abstained from the vote but voiced support to families on Tuesday.
“This whole situation has created some difficult, dark times for us,” Nelson said. “I’m sorry for the sleepless nights.”
Ashjian did not respond to requests for comment.