My Open Letter

August 31, 2016

 

An Open Letter From Erin Jones:

Yesterday I was left saddened and in disbelief after reading the Stranger’s portrayal of my positions on the changing landscape of LGBTQ youth education and attempt to undermine 25 years of hands-on commitment to fighting for openness, acceptance and success for EVERY child. I have been a longstanding, strong supporter of LGBTQ children and adults and their rights to be treated equally, respectfully and lovingly in their schools and communities.

My track record is something my opponent—or writers at the Stranger, who did not bother to interview any of the many LGBTQ leaders or former students I have worked with— cannot take away.  Ultimately voters will make the call on whether a career educator, who has worked with some of Washington’s most vulnerable populations, should be rejected for what amounts to language that does not reflect my values or lifestyle.

I want to be clear that I recognize and regret using overly equivocal wording on issues related to the LGBTQ community.  I recognize that I have let friends and supporters down in my word choice. I know that in issues of race and sexual orientation, words do matter.  I used words that I have employed to persuade individuals who do not share our progressive values, but they were wrong in this context.  I assure you that my values have never wavered in my support of the LGBTQ community.

As an educator, I believe one never stops being a student. In the months since friends and supporters first raised the issue of my perspective on trans education in elementary schools, I have spent hours on the phone talking with friends who are members of the LGBTQ community, allies, experts on sexual health, parents of LGBTQ youth and LGBTQ youth themselves. I have intentionally sat in spaces to learn and gain better understandings that will help me best serve our students and our communities.

Over the course of the campaign I have been asked if I think being LGBTQ is a choice or a sin. I do NOT believe being LGBTQ is a choice, nor do I believe that being LGBTQ is a sin! However, my job as the state education leaders is not to take a stand on my religious beliefs but to ensure schools are prepared to be absolutely inclusive and embrace each and every young person and their families. To that end, I fully support a comprehensive sexual education curriculum that includes issues of gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. Even our youngest of children are experiencing bullying for gender expression that does not match their gender identity, from boys being bullied for having long hair to girls being harassed for not wanting to play with dolls or participate in tea parties. However, I do believe that our teachers must be effectively trained on how to teach the material to students at all levels. Our students deserve to receive the most accurate, compassionate and open-hearted curriculum.  I believe this office has a responsibility to work with teachers and advocates to provide the ressources and training necessary to support students across Washington.

My personal and professional life experiences and actions with the LGBTQ community are a mirror into who I am, and have always been. As a teacher, I worked to ensure that all my students felt safe and knew they were accepted and loved for who they were, regardless of their socioeconomic status, religious beliefs, gender identity, expression or sexual orientation. One example of my advocacy was my willingness to take on an additional course on diversity as an instructional coach at the high school. The school needed someone to step in when a teacher had to take a leave of absence, and I had the gift of participating in learning alongside my students. A significant portion of this course addressed developing inclusive practices for the LGBTQ community. In fact, we also created the first Mix-it-Up Day with the express purpose of helping students embrace the ethnic, linguistic and sexual diversity around them. As a mother, I have two biological children, an adopted daughter who is biologically my niece, and two socially-adopted children who were ostracized by their families after “coming out.” These young people are not biologically mine, yet I have embraced them and they adopted me as their surrogate mother, because I accept and love them for who they are. The thought of rejecting a child for being his/her/their authentic self makes my heart sick.

As a Black Woman, who holds the honor of being first to run for statewide office in Washington, I know too well what it means to be systematically and socially marginalized. My experience of being both Black and Woman is the foundation of my passion for equality and equity of all people and at every level of society. To suggest otherwise is a clear misrepresentation of my character, the history of my actions in my personal and professional lives, and is shortsighted and hurtful in nature.

I am running for OSPI precisely because of my combined personal and professional experiences. These experiences have led me to serve for over 20 years in K-12 environments with some of the highest need, highest poverty, and most ethnically, culturally, and sexually diverse communities in our state. I am proud of my work and support for the rights of all people—and all children—regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity or economic status. I have been a champion for children and will bring to the table a comprehensive plan to address our need for full funding, our need to address standardized testing, our need to eliminate opportunity gaps, our need to improve teacher retention, and our need to ensure that our schools are safe spaces for every child and their families. For over twenty years I have worked to make sure each every child is valued, that every school environment is inclusive, and that every student is supported to be able to become his/her/their best selves.

Superintendent of Public Instruction is not simply another political office to occupy. It is the office that has the responsibility to invest in our children and empower them to be the next leaders of our world. I am the champion for our state's students and will work to ensure that each child gets a quality education regardless of age, race, zip code, orientation, expression, or identity.

Sincerely,

 

Erin Jones

Candidate Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction