Contemporary artwork. Female hand holding phone with many eyes around isolated over pink background. Talking about sex education. Awareness. Sexual education, gender, health, knowledge, safety concept

Unforced Error

Unforced Error

Diana Greene jumps the shark

Words by Shelton Hull

Quick history lesson: Jacksonville’s first Black mayor was Alvin Brown, whose political career was all but ruined with a single critical mistake: the role he played, behind the scenes, in helping to block passage of the city’s initial attempt to pass a Human Rights Ordinance designed to extend traditional anti-discrimination protections in housing, employment, etc. to the LGBTQIA+ community. It was a rare case of almost unanimous consent within the local power structure, something that usually only happens in matters related to football, turtles and, occasionally, public works. 

The HRO was supported by the Chamber of Commerce and all the living past mayors, a cadre that included a number of notable conservatives. Despite that, Brown bucked the trend and deferred to the wishes of certain key pastors; as a result, the HRO fell just short of the votes it needed in the City Council, and Brown lost the entire LGBTQIA+ community, a group whose support had carried him to victory in the closest mayor’s race ever, not even two years earlier. As expected, his ambitions were stomped into a moist putty by Lenny Curry in 2015, and Curry was savvy enough to sit back and let it pass on his watch.

Now, almost a decade after Brown sacrificed his career to appease a bunch of bigots and hatemongers, Dr. Diana L. Greene, who has  served ably as the Superintendent of Duval County Schools since 2018, has done basically the same thing to herself. They both made history, and soon they will both be history, maybe. Greene’s move to terminate the school district’s long-standing relationship with JASMYN sent shockwaves through local activist circles, as well as many people who don’t usually pay much attention to such things. 

The debacle began with an unfortunate post on JASMYN’s IG, promoting one of the many adult-themed novelty card games out there. This post included some cartoon renderings of male genitalia, and it was immediately deleted once that was noticed. Not fast enough, however, to stop those images from being screenshotted and disseminated through the same online forums one might consult to find out where the next drag show is, for the disruption-minded. 

(By the way, multiple drag shows have been subject to threat of violence, or even the reality of violence, just within the last few weeks. Most notably, an entire town of 40,000 people in North Carolina lost their electricity after the generators got shot up, allegedly by domestic terrorists hoping to ruin a local drag show–a local drag show that, it should be noted, still went on without issue, lit only by candles and cell-phone flashlights.)

The general public had no idea about any of this. Even the vast majority of JASMYN’s 1,671 IG followers would have never even seen the images in question before their deletion. It was the infamous Moms 4 Liberty who picked up the torch, then used it to burn down the long, proud, productive relationship between JASMYN and DCPS, which for some reason felt the need to move fast on this matter. By “DCPS”, of course, I mean Dr. Greene, who is normally not one to flex her authority in the imperious, impulsive manner of a Gov. DeSantis, whose own open disdain forFlorida’s LGBTQIA+ community is a matter of public record, and private speculation. Greene called JASMYN CEO Cindy Watson personally and gave her 30 days’ notice of the termination of the contract, which allowed for JASMYN to come into the schools to provide counseling and support services for teens who often have nowhere else to turn. There was no debate, no discussion, no recourse.

It was a lead-segment story on local news shows, and social media was suitably lit. If you thought otherwise, then you just don’t understand the love that Jacksonville has for JASMYN, a group that is about as apolitical as you can get. Founded in 1984, the Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network has played an indispensable role in providing counseling and services for a segment of the population that has been famously underserved. 

The organization has always simply tried to help LGBTQIA+ youth find acceptance and safety, which can sometimes be a matter of literal life and death, especially in an area like Northeast Florida, which sadly suffers from a disproportionate amount of anti-trans violence, up to and including murder. The folks giving them static currently are the types who have openly expressed approval of such violence, often using their own platforms to run interference for the truly dangerous among them. JASMYN is also an essential partner for the approximately 28 Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) currently serving Duval County Schools.

Clearly, Greene hadn’t paid much attention to the demographic makeup of the crowds gathered for protests and civil action related to public education in recent years, particularly in the pandemic era. She clearly didn’t look too closely at the people queued up to speak about the Confederate monuments, the sales tax increase for schools, or the changing of school names that she helped oversee. In all such cases, it has been precisely the LGBTQIA+ community that has stood up in support of parents, teachers and students, as well as Dr. Greene herself.

Greene’s decision sparked an instant backlash among a community that has known JASMYN much longer than they’ve known her. If she thought she had mainstream support for this move, she was wrong, as a dozen leading local organizations–including One JAX, City Year, the Dolores Barr Weaver Policy Center, the Jacksonville Public Education fund, 904ward, the LGBTQ Community Fund for Northeast Florida, the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida, Teach for America, Read USA, the Miller Families and the United Way–issued a joint statement in support of LGBTQIA+ youth. 

A week later, and DCPS had finally opened the situation up for public debate at their December 6 school board meeting, which is what they should have done from the start. Well, a little debate, anyway–about ten minutes. There wasn’t much to be done at that point, though. Greene’s mind was made up. While she did concede the value of the services they provided, and was gracious enough to express support for the students they serve, she made it clear that the formal relationship between DCPS and JASMYN, one that lasted through six superintendents and four mayors, is now officially over. 

It’s worth noting that one of the five people killed at Club Q in Colorado Springs was a trans woman who, according to loved ones, had only recently moved there from Florida. She was worried about the uptick in violence against trans women in our state. The official responses ranged from tepid disapproval to outright joy. So, she went to Colorado because she was afraid to live in Florida anymore, and she died on the floor of that club. She was hardly the first member of Florida’s LGBTQ community driven directly to their deaths by homegrown hate, and she will not be the last. For our superintendent to stand in solidarity with those who persecute them is, quite frankly, an utter disgrace. She is a lame duck now, one who crippled herself.

 

About Shelton Hull

Shelton Hull has been writing for Folio Weekly since 1997, but his resume goes back even further. He has written for almost every newspaper, magazine and zine in Northeast Florida, as well as publications like Orlando Weekly, Narrow GNV, Creative Loafing Tampa, Charleston City Paper, Ink19 and The Atlantic. He currently writes the "Folio Weed" column, which he created in 2018; he remains one of the widest-read and most influential cannabis writers in the world today. He also compiles material for "Weird Wild Stuff" column, and he previously wrote the legendary "Money Jungle" column for Folio Weekly from 1999 to 2009. He is a regular contributor to "First Coast Connect" on WJCT, as well as the Jacksonville Music Experience. He is a co-host of "The Contrast Project" and the "Bold City Civics" podcast. He is also a co-founder of the record label Bold City Music Productions. He can be reached at [email protected].