Photo: The third Belmont Pride Parade in Belmont Center
Ziza Soares would likely be fired from her job if she was working in Florida. And in some states, what the Chenery Middle School six grade teacher did on Saturday would have been seen as worthy of prosecution.
In Florida under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, which becomes law on July 1, Soares would find her teaching position in jeopardy just by being an openly gay educator. While the Florida law prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity to kindergarten and elementary students up to third grade, critics contend the ultimate goal of the legislation is to “muzzle any discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity” by all public educators.
“I am out in school … and I’m pretty confident that I would, at least at the end of the school year, not be invited back if I taught there,” said Soares, who is in her second year as an English Arts educator.
And as co-advisor with Crystal Waters of the school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance, Soares came to the Town Green on Saturday, June 11 with approximately 40 Chenery 5th to 8th grade students – between 10 and 14 years old – to march in Belmont’s third Pride Parade, the town’s celebration promoting awareness, inclusion and equity. In states in the US South and Midwest, Soares’ action would be viewed as promoting the gay lifestyle onto children which would bring her to the attention of state officials.
”I feel so bad for the students but also I feel so bad for the teachers who are put in impossible positions that no one should be put in,” she said.
Countering anti-gay laws spreading throughout the country, more than 300 residents, supporters, students and parents took to the streets on a warm Saturday for a boisterous trek through Belmont to support pride and the progress made in gender and sexual equality. With speeches and a town proclamation read by Adam Dash to start the day, the parade got underway with a Belmont Police detail as Soares’ middle schoolers demonstrated a non-stop energy that was evident from start to finish.
Marchers were greeted by honking horns along with cheers and waves as the event was the largest and most successful in its history.
”This is a great day to come together and celebrate each other and our allies and recognize the progress that we’ve made in the community over the past years,” said Dr. John Davis, a member of the Belmont LGBTQ+ Alliance leadership team which co-sponsors the annual march.
While Belmont and Massachusetts are viewed as progressive on the subject of equality, the same can not be said for nearly half the states in the US, according to Davis.
“Anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ legislation is occurring at an unprecedented level across the country. And this includes 25 bills in more than 20 states.” While laws and measures taking place around the country “may not affect us directly here in Belmont or in Massachusetts, it does have an effect particularly on our youth who hear these discriminatory bills and feel threatened and powerless,” said Davis.
“So we cannot give up the fight. That’s why participating in this march in Belmont, to support LGBTQ+ individuals and groups as they fight discrimination anywhere in the country is so important.”
At the Chenery, that advocacy is provided by the Alliance which provides a safe space for LGBTQ students and allies as well as an opportunity to community build, said Soares.
“We have kids connect with each other. It’s a really important space for them to make sure that they know that there are people in the school that support them, and that want to advocate for them,” she said.
“I just think it’s a great that there’s a community to feel supported by,” said Maia Readi, an eighth grader who came with Alliance.