Comments published last week in the Fresno Bee attributed to Fresno Unified School Board President Brooke Ashjian got the community talking.
In a story about sex education by the Bee’s Mackenzie Mays on August 4, Ashjian is printing as saying:
“My biggest fear in teaching this – which we’re going to do it because it’s the law – but 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,” Ashjian said. “It’s so important for parents to teach these Judeo-Christian philosophies.”
Ashjian has told other Fresno media outlets his comments were taken out of context. It had been a hot topic on social media, TV news and local talk radio.
GV Wire spoke with another top educator in the community and Ashjian’s comments came up in discussion.
Dr. Carole Goldsmith is entering her second year as president of Fresno City College. She may perhaps be the highest profile lesbian in Fresno. While she considers Ashjian a colleague in education, she had qualms with what he reportedly said.
“I know Trustee Ashjian and I know his heart. I wasn’t there for the interview. I know he is discounting some of things he said. I also know he is a proud member of the Mormon Church. Many of my friends are Mormons and I defend their right to hold their religious beliefs and I defend their rights to be able to have different views than I do. It is my hope that Trustee Ashjian, and I look at his past so I think my hope is well founded, that he wants to serve all students. He wants Fresno Unified, just as I want Fresno Unified, to be the best school district possible. It is my hope and my trust that we’ll stand together on that,” Goldsmith said.
When reached by GV Wire, Ashjian, who was out of town, opted not to respond. Goldsmith also serves on the search committee to find a new Fresno Unified superintendent.
The community let Fresno Unified President Brooke Ashjian know they didn’t appreciate comments he made reported in the Fresno Bee this week regarding the gay community and sex education.
Wednesday night (August 9), the Fresno Unified School Board met for its regular session. It was the first meeting since the Bee published Ashjian’s comments. Members of the community voiced their thoughts- 15 members spoke during 30 minutes of public comment. Almost all addressed Ashjian’s comments about sex education and the LGBT community. Most spoke out against the comments.
Tamara Norris is an educator and said she spoke on behalf of transgender friends of hers. “Because when we limit what we are educating our students, it actually targets people of the LGBT community. What it does, it directly affects the population with emotional distress, psychological distress and a genuine concern of physical injury to oneself.”
Pastor Bill Knezovich of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church let Ashjian know he was none too pleased with what he read. “Your bigoted remarks, your ignorant remarks…I don’t’ know what to say, you should not be board president,” he said.
Afterward the public had their say, Ashjian attempted to move on with the meeting. It was at that point that trustees Christopher De La Cerda and Valerie Davis wanted to speak.
“What is he doing?” Ashjian can be heard. For the next three minutes, the three board members clashed, often times interrupting and talking over each other.
The audience yelled wanting to hear what De La Cerda and Davis had to say. Eventually, in between the arguing, Davis was able to say “I would like to apologize if they feel marginalized and offended by recently publicized remarks. “ Ashjian talked over her telling Davis “this is not political season.”
It was then that Interim Superintendent Bob Nelson spoke up, reminding the board they represent the children. “We can’t have our meetings devolve into something they ought not be,” Nelson said from the dais.
On advice of board council, Ashjian took a recess. When the meeting resumed, things calmed down and the board continued the agenda, mainly discussing the budget.
At the close of the meeting, the board members addressed the issue during their comment period. Claudia Cazares briefly mentioned it, saying that she stands by the LGBT community. Carol Mills said she disagreed with Ashjian, but that De La Cerda and Davis were out of line.
De La Cerda complained that by attempting to speak after public comments, he was just following Ashjian’s lead at prior board meetings.
And Ashjian offered this message for the LGBT community.
“I appreciate you expressing your views. And, for you to have to come all the way down here, whether you agree with me or whether you didn’t, it’s truly in my heart an apology to you that you feel you might have been slighted and that was never the intent,” Ashjian said concluding the meeting.
illustration: Hannah Reilly