“I fear they are preparing people that will get violent with the LGBTQ+ community.”
Arizona’s largest elementary school district meeting was filled to capacity Thursday night, as hundreds of people came to comment publicly on the board’s recent decision not to renew a contract with a private university because its core values include discriminatory and anti-LGBTQ ideology.
Washington Elementary Board President Nikkie Gomez-Whaley’s request warning not to use “derogatory language and slurs, or personal attacks upon board members” were disregarded several times throughout the night, with shouts of “white power,” calls on the board to “repent,” and repeated personal attacks against board member Tamillia Valenzuela.
Ending the Contract
Last week, the WESD board held a vote regarding the renewal of their student-teacher contract with Arizona Christian University. By a unanimous vote, the board decided not to renew the contract, stating that ACU’s values and mission violated Washington Elementary School District’s values.
“At some point, we need to get real with ourselves and take a look at who we’re making legal contracts with, and the message that that is sending to our community,” Valenzuela said. “Because that makes me feel like I could not be safe in this school district. That makes other queer kids who are already facing attack from our lawmakers, that they could not be safe in this community.”
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While Arizona has no state law prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people, both cities covered by WESD—Glendale and Phoenix—have passed nondiscrimination ordinances. These ordinances prohibit residents from being subjected to discrimination in housing, employment, and places of public accommodations based on various factors, including race, ethnicity, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
Opponents Attempt to Assign Blame
Despite the WESD board’s distinction that the non-renewal resulted from anti-LGBTQ policy, those who were against the move accused the board of religious discrimination.
“Thank you, Valenzuela, very much, for having successfully just put a target on the backs of all the little Christian children at these schools,” said Moon Valley resident Kendra Stanley. “It’s the entire board… but especially you, Valenzuela, that led this charge.”
Stanley and a majority of the 16 speakers opposed to the board’s decision characterized WESD’s decision not to renew their contract with ACU as an attack on Christianity. However, religion was not mentioned as a reason to end the contract during the board’s vote.
Instead, the board referenced a number of beliefs supported by the university they found to be discriminatory, including their opposition to same-sex marriage and conflating being LGBTQ as equal to bestiality or incest.
“No one on this board has stated that Christian teachers will not be allowed within this district,” said Valenzuela. “An agreement with an institution that allows bigotry within its core values is what was terminated.”
Religious Leaders Rally to Support Board
While those opposed to the board’s decision cited religious discrimination, many of those in support were faith leaders.
“I would like to say to all my Christian brothers and sisters in the room,” Chuck Foreman, pastor at First Christian Church in Phoenix, said during Thursday’s board meeting.”When we can demean and castigate people who disagree with us—and in the same breath, sing songs to Jesus, and pray in his name—we give the very one that we claim to follow a bad rap.”
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While Foreman—who was one of 16 speakers in support of the board—used his time to speak as a plea that fellow Christians in the room “pay closer attention to the way Jesus would do things,” other religious figures in attendance were less forgiving.
Rev. Redeem Robinson, Founder of All Souls Movement, said he believes the crowd opposing the board were there not simply to have their voices heard, but to “stir up violence.”
“To see Christian nationalism that close yesterday was frightening,” Robinson told The Copper Courier. “We need to take it seriously as they are preparing the next generation to hate others and I fear they are preparing people that will get violent with the LGBTQ + community. Lastly, what I saw last night was actually anti-Christian.”
Robinson, who is studying the rise of Christian nationalism at Berkeley School of Theology, said those in opposition to the board were tying Christianity with patriotism—as evidenced by the crowd singing patriotic songs, saying the Pledge of Allegiance, and chanting slogans such as, “Jesus back into government” outside the meeting.
“Christian nationalism is about to get out of hand, and we have a moral duty to stop it,” Robinson said. “This isn’t a game!”