by Inanna Balkin and Marisol Pierce Bonifaz
Generation Ratify Amherst issued the following statement on May 18, 2023.
Generation Ratify Amherst stands with the LGTBQ+ students and community amidst allegations of transphobia against Amherst Regional Middle School (ARMS) adjustment counselor Hector Santos, and guidance counselors Delinda Dykes and Tania Cabrera. According to an article written by Amherst High School journalists in the Graphic, Cabrera misgendered transgender students, told staff that a transgender student had reverted to using their legal name when they had not, did not report an anti-LGTBQ harassment incident, and told a transgender male student that she sympathizes with his parents who had “lost their daughter”. Dykes and Santos expressed their religious beliefs at work, hosting a private prayer circle before school, misgendering students, and raising their beliefs during counseling sessions. The Graphic has also found anti-LGTBQ posts reposted and supported by Santos. Students, parents, and educators have submitted multiple complaints. The three staff members have been placed on leave.
It is unacceptable to discriminate, disrespect, and invalidate LGTBQ+ students’ identities. Amherst is a town that prides itself on progressive values, and it is unacceptable that students have been placed into discriminatory, unsafe environments within the school district. Many members of the School Committee and the administration have called these allegations untrue, something that is completely unacceptable. Complaints and stories of all people need to be listened to and we demand that these staff members be held fully accountable and that the LGTBQ+ youth of Amherst are listened to.
Middle school is a difficult time with changing friend groups and more rigorous classes and homework. Middle school is also a time to question who you are and to learn more about yourself. Throughout any change and adjustment, it is important to have a place where you can feel safe and have a sense of belonging. This is not possible when your identity is under attack by the very people who were hired to support you.
To thrive in a learning environment, we need to be able to feel safe and expected.
We must open ourselves up to social and academic vulnerability and accept that we will be wrong. It is unreasonable to ask students to learn when they are being told that their very existence is a sin and that their identity is invalid.
We fully support and stand with the LGTBQ+ community at ARMS. Generation Ratify Amherst demands accountability from the ARPS School District to foster a loving, respectful, and safe environment for all students, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. We cannot stress how important it is for families to show their support.
As we continue to fight for a safe learning environment, we must remember that although a whisper can be ignored, a shout cannot. And we need to shout loud and clear that we will not back down until safety is guaranteed in Amherst schools.
Generation Ratify Amherst is a youth-led organization fighting to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. It is the chapter of the national organization, Generation Ratify. Generation Ratify Amherst was founded in 2020 by Marisol Pierce Bonifaz.