Amid mounting uncertainty over Florida’s recently passed “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, a school district far to the north offers teachers an alternative.
On Tuesday, a letter began circulating on social media, which showed the Fargo Public Schools district in Fargo, North Dakota, offering Florida teachers a more welcoming alternative. Fargo is the largest city in North Dakota by population, and the district sending the letter is the third-largest in the state, with roughly 11,300 students.
“You don’t know us, so we’ll start with this important statement,” the letter addressed to teachers in Florida, began. “We are okay with saying gay, straight, or LGBTQ+. Though we have a long way to go to become a fully inclusive community, we believe it is an injustice to diminish any individual’s gender identity in any way. People should be welcomed to show up as their authentic selves!”
The letter was authored by district Superintendent Dr. Rupak Gandhi, Director of Equity and Inclusion Dr. Tamara Uselman, Fargo City Commissioner John Strand and North Dakota state Representative John Boschee. The letter initially began to circulate on Twitter after screenshots were shared by Ethan Harsell, a Republican candidate running to represent North Dakota’s 43rd District in the state Legislature.
Signed into law by Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis in late March, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill is officially known as the Parental Rights in Education Act. The law bars school faculty members from discussing gender or sexual orientation topics in grades K-3, and bars any such discussions found to be inappropriate for all grade levels above that. That latter clause has been heavily criticized, as it leaves the definition of inappropriate vague, leading many to worry about all such discussions being banned for most or all grade levels.
Responding to an inquiry, Dr. Gandhi confirmed the authenticity of the letter and of the inclusivity initiatives it reflects.
“The letter to Florida Educators was drafted by the authors for the reasons outlined in the letter,” Gandhi said in a statement to Newsweek. “Inclusion is necessary for Fargo Public Schools to meet its mission to ‘achieve excellence by educating and empowering all students to succeed.’ The letter shares our welcoming environment in Fargo to those who are interested in joining our community and was intended for those considering new opportunities.”
The letter acknowledged that it is unlikely that some educators will be willing or able to make such a move, and also offered a general message of support for “Florida’s LGBTQ+ education community.” It also assured those who might consider the move that the district is “doggedly” working to become a more welcoming and inclusive place, noting that it was North Dakota’s first district to hire a director of equity and inclusion, and that it has a five-year plan guiding its projects.
“In summary, please know that Fargo Public Schools and public sectors within the greater Fargo community not only offer a welcome to you but also offer actionable examples of our commitment to becoming an inclusive community that LGBTQ+ people can call home,” the letter concluded.