Editor's Note: Ryan Terrell is a Senior at Cypress Bay High School where he serves as the President of the Cypress Bay Gay/Straight Alliance. He is also the incoming President of the Broward County GSA Advisory Council.
While still more than 12 months away, candidates for local and state offices are already gearing up for potentially grueling contests. Many party insiders have remained focused on the state level since a rare set of circumstances have set off a massive game of musical chairs, resulting in five out of six statewide offices being left with no incumbent and more than 30 legislative seats being vacated.
However, with the likelihood of the Democratic Party taking back either chamber of the Florida State legislature dismal, many local politicos and insiders have been urging party leaders to look to local races and assist in raising funds during this sour economy.
One such race is a low key Broward County School Board Race in the western areas of the county. District 6, which includes all of the Cities of Weston and Sunrise, and parts of Davie, Cooper City, Lauderhill, and Lauderdale Lakes, is currently represented by School Board member Phyllis Hope, who is running for re-election.
While Ms. Hope did receive substantial backing from the LGBT community during her first campaign in 2006, when she defeated the incumbent School Board Member Marty Rubinstein, she has a lukewarm record of support for the gay community during her tenure. A look at a few of the significant votes on gay rights shows that she did not vote on a resolution protecting GLSEN's Day of Silence even though she was present during the presentation, was silent when the school board took a stand against Amendment 2, and has repeatedly refused to attend LGBT events in her districts and meet with student run Gay-Straight Alliance groups in her district who have been encountering rising rates of violence and harassment by fellow students, teachers and staff in the past three years.
In fact, according to a CBS-4 news report conducted on Cypress Bay High School (the largest school in her district) there were 1702 cases of violence reported last year, 2 more cases than Dillard High School, where a gay-related shooting took place last year and prompted the school board to call for greater action to prevent bullying and violence in Broward schools. When the Student Government and the Cypress Bay Gay-Straight Alliance conducted a private study after this report, we found that approximately 35 percent of all cases of violence that occurred in our school involved bullying or harassment of a person's sexual orientation.
In steps her opponent, Laurie Rich Levinson, a City of Weston parent activist and Central-Area Advisory Chairwoman. She has spoken with the Presidents of all three Gay-Straight Alliances in the district including: Cypress Bay High School, Western High School, and Piper High School and has received the endorsement of the Broward County GSA Advisory Council, an independent student-run entity that consists of the Presidents of every GSA in Broward County. She has worked behind the scenes with the Council to reduce incidents of violence in her district and the county as well. She is a proactive leader in the protection of all Broward County students.
An interesting side note, Laurie Rich Levinson is the daughter of State Senator Nan Rich (D-Weston), a powerful advocate on behalf of children's rights and gay rights in her own right. Senator Rich has repeatedly sponsored a bill in the senate that would remove the ban on gay adoption in the state of Florida. Sen. Rich is also the incoming Democratic Leader of the State Senate (2010-2012) and holds considerable power over the status of many bills that could affect the LGBT community.
This race will surely be one of extreme importance to the younger members of the LGBT community and will certainly be one to follow in the upcoming months.