The new rainbow crosswalk at Amherst Regional Middle School. Photo: Art Keene

As a thought experiment, I considered how I might react to recent events at the Amherst Regional Middle School. Giving this some thought, if I had a LGBTQI+ child (or grandchild) and discovered that staff at the public school were “counseling” them using biblical admonitions, I believe I would have been apoplectic. I would have been rightly distressed that the separation of church and state was not upheld by public school staff and equally distressed if their supervisor’s behavior was not also being scrutinized. That some in the community say the school superintendent did not know this was happening, I would view as evidence that his leadership was inadequate, since how could a superintendent not know that counselors under his supervision were using religion in their public-school roles. Further, if the white superintendent was not put on administrative leave pending an investigation while the staff he supervised, all people of color, were placed on leave, to me that would signal racial privilege, further cause for outrage in a town that touts itself as actively trying to fight racism. Finally, if my child or grandchild, or a child of my friends was distressed, or worse, felt suicidal after this kind of “counseling”, let’s just say I would move mountains to make sure this kind of outrageous behavior never happened again in our public schools. I write this as the mother of a daughter who came out to us in college and the grandmother of a trans grandchild who reside in Seattle, where, if this were to happen there, the entire city would have reacted with vitriol, not just the part of the community most directly impacted. I conclude that Amherst has a long way to go toward governing with equity and vitriol is not the problem.  

Peggy Matthews-Nilsen

Peggy Matthews-Nilsen is a retired psychotherapist, and an Amherst resident since 2009, with family roots in Amherst that go back to the founding of the town.

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