Guest column by Kairo Serna: Amherst Forward not standing up for LGBTQ+ students


Published: 08-16-2023 2:49 PM

Since the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee’s refusal to protect students against homophobic and transphobic attacks on students, along with their lack of transparency and suppression of public dissent, Amherst residents are calling for accountability for school officials. Recently, parents and community members began collaborating with the LGBTQ+ Caucus of the College Democrats of Massachusetts on organizing.

On Aug. 3, Amherst Forward, a political group that’s endorsed four of the five Regional School Committee members from Amherst, received a letter signed by the LGBTQ+ Caucus. The letter presented requests from the public to call for a public emergency School Committee meeting, ensure protection for LGBTQ+ students, and provide accountability for School Committee members and administrators who allowed the abuse.

Katherine Appy, Amherst Forward’s chair, responded, calling the situation “distressing and heartbreaking.” However, they declined to meet any of the requests, citing adherence to voting issues and reluctance to act before the conclusion of the Title IX investigation into discrimination by staff and the administration’s mishandling of abuse.

Amherst Forward cannot parrot concern while their refusal to stand with students signals a shocking acceptance toward homophobia and transphobia. Their silence is loud considering their advocacy on numerous local issues including library funding and school buildings. Somehow, denying LGBTQ+ children safe and equal education is not considered serious enough to warrant attention. It seems that to propel Amherst forward, marginalized children must be left behind.

Though Amherst Forward claims to limit itself to “candidates and issues that come to a vote,” the systemic failures that permitted staff to mistreat students and administration to turn a blind eye extend to the School Committee members, who are up for reelection in November. Whether the next elected School Committee members hold Superintendent Michael Morris accountable and protect LGBTQ+ students is now a voting issue.

Hesitance to act before the Title IX investigation ends likewise makes Amherst Forward complicit in the systemic acceptance of marginalization.

The investigation is far from impartial — since his unpopular return, Morris will receive its results despite failing to report discrimination as required by federal law. This conflict of interest remains unresolved. Waiting serves nobody, as administrators’ complicity in abuse has already been exposed; nonetheless, Amherst Forward uses it as an excuse for inaction.

Amherst Forward prides itself on a progressive-sounding platform centered on civic engagement and responsive government — and now that both ideals are in jeopardy, it is time for them to follow through. Yet as November’s elections draw nearer, Amherst Forward is not siding with the people of Amherst. Rather, they refuse to hold their own candidates and School Committee members accountable.

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Looking at the candidates Amherst Forward supports, they have been unwilling to protect LGBTQ+ children or uphold transparency in the School Committee’s supposedly public process. In particular, School Committee member Peter Demling has sparked outrage for dismissing victims of discrimination in the schools and suppressing public comment at School Committee meetings.

Amherst Forward’s endorsements of Demling and others who are similarly complacent toward systems of marginalization have been disappointingly predictable based on their long-running preference for the interests of the white and affluent of Amherst.

Amherst Forward’s non-response sends a clear message that they prefer to stand by as the leadership they back ignores the suffering of the most vulnerable parts of our community. Though they claim “it’s important that this issue in particular doesn’t simply fade away after a few news cycles, and we look forward to your continued attention to the situation at the middle school,” this is meaningless without corresponding advocacy.

Their inaction leaves the responsibility of defending not only students, but democracy itself, in the hands of the rest of Amherst’s community.

Kairo Serna lives in Amherst and is a member of the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee.