Friday, February 5, 2021

Palm Beach County School District To Require Gender-Neutral Graduation Attire

Graduating seniors at Palm Beach County's public high schools will no longer don traditional gender-specific graduation caps and gowns.
The change in policy came about after the issue was raised School Board Member Erica Whitfield following a request by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC), Florida's oldest, independent, non-partisan, political organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

Over the years, PBCHRC has been responsible for the implementation of more than 150 laws and policies providing equal protections, rights, and benefits for the LGBTQ community. 
"This is a great day for all children in Palm Beach County," said Whitfield. "I am grateful to the School District for prioritizing equity and continuing to support the needs of all our children."
"While some gender-nonconforming students have come out to their families and friends, others have not," said PBCHRC President and Founder Rand Hoch. "By doing away with the requirement for students to choose graduation colors based on their sex assigned at birth, the School District has taken a signifcant step forward in alleviating potential awkwardness at graduation time."
"When we eliminate the focus on gender by different colored caps and gowns, we put more focus back on the students' accomplishments," said PBCHRC Board Member Carley Cass.

In 2015, gender-nonconforming seniors objecting to their schools' graduation attire rules contacted Cass about their concerns. In the years that followed, PBCHRC persuaded a few principals to update graduation rules at their schools to conform with the School District's longstanding LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policies.
As more and more gender-nonconforming students expressed their concerns, additional school administrators adopted rules requiring single color caps and gowns for all students.

However, principals at thee high schools --- Lake Worth, Jupiter, and Pahokee -- still refused to abandon the traditional separate colors based on gender.  A fourth, Royal Palm Beach High School intended to use two gown colors but let students choose either color regardless of gender.

"Apparently, the principal at Royal Palm Beach High School still doesn't get it," said Hoch.  "Sexuality is not binary."

Since there was no uniformity across the School District, Whitfield asked her colleagues to consider a gender-neutral approach by having a single color for each high school's caps and gowns in lieu of separate colors for each gender. The matter was placed on the School Board agenda for the February 3 meeting.
School District General Counsel Shawntoyia Bernard advised School Board Members that the practice of two color, gender-based graduation gowns violated not only eight School District policies, but also federal and state laws.

Following the meeting, Deputy Superintendent of Schools Keith Oswald sent an email to all principals directing them to end the use of gender-specific graduation caps and gowns.
For more than 25 years, Compass LGBTQ Community Center has provided progams and services for LGBTQ youth in Palm Beach County..Compass staff and Board Members were elated with the School District's directive..
"Compass is thrilled the School District continues to support LGBTQ students by making the milestone of graduation inclusive of all gender identities and expressions," said Amanda Canete, the organization's Youth Program Director. "Every day, the staff at Compass sees how enforcing gender expectations on children creates health inequities for our very impressionable youth, especially transgender and non-binary students."

"Since graduation is a time to celebrate achievements, this policy change means no student will have to represent themself as anything other than their own unique self on one of the most important days of a young person's life,” Canete added.
For a copy of Oswald's directive, click here.

Lake Park Finally Restores LGBTQ Civil Rights

Lake Park Mayor and Town Commissioners
February 5, 2021 

For years, the Town of Lake Park (population 8,508) was the only municipality in South Florida that prevented LGBTQ people from pursuing claims of discrimination in housing and public accommodations. 

That ended Wednesday night.

Following a contentious campaign by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC), which lasted more than two years, the Lake Park Town Commission finally voted to restore the civil rights of LGBTQ people. The vote was 4-1, with Commissioner John Linden casting the sole vote against the civil rights ordinance.

“It took two years to get the Town of Lake Park reinstate laws to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination,” said PBCHRC President and Founder Rand Hoch. “There is no reason it should have taken this long.”
In Florida, only a handful of counties and cities have ordinances prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Since 1974, numerous bills have been filed in the U.S. Congress to prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people nationwide. Similar bills have been filed in the Florida Legislature since 2007. Unfortunately, not a single one has been enacted into law.

Fortunately, gay men, lesbians and bisexuals throughout Palm Beach County have been protected against discrimination for more than three decades. Trans people have been protected since 2007.

In deference to home rule, Palm Beach County Commissioners included a provision in the Palm Beach County Ordinance for Equal Opportunity to Housing and Places of Public Accommodation permitting any municipality to opt out of the ordinance by simply adopting a resolution.

And that is what Lake Park Town Commissioners did in 2018.

Ostensibly because of a dispute with the county over sober homes, Town Manager John D’Agostino urged Town Commissioners to opt out of the county’s LGBTQ-inclusive civil rights law. Town Attorney Thomas J. Baird of the Jones Foster law firm drafted the municipal resolution allowing Lake Park to opt out.

The resolution was introduced on August 10, 2018, by Commissioner Roger Michaud, the Town’s only Black commissioner. Interestingly, more than half of the Town’s population is Black. With the votes of just two additional commissioners, the resolution passed and the civil rights of LGBTQ people were immediately stripped away. The resolution also made it more difficult for women and minorities in Lake Park to pursue discrimination claims.

At no time prior to the adoption of the resolution did Town Attorney Baird advise the Town’s elected officials about the adverse impact his resolution would have on minorities. It is unclear whether Baird even realized at the time that adopting the resolution he drafted would result in removing the only legal recourse LGBTQ people in Lake Park had if they faced discrimination in housing and public accommodations.

In March 2019, after PBCHRC discovered what Lake Park had done, Hoch advised Baird “there was collateral damage unrelated to the Town’s purpose for opting out. As a result of the opt out, LGBTQ people in Lake Park are no longer protected against discrimination in housing.” 

Hoch asked Baird to bring this matter to the attention of the Town Commission.

Over the years that followed, PBCHRC repeatedly asked Baird and Town Commissioners to come up with a solution that would balance the Town’s desire to regulate sober homes with the rights of LGBTQ people whose civil rights had been taken away.

It took until last Wednesday for that to occur.

“PBCHRC is pleased the civil rights of LGBTQ people in Lake Park finally have been fully restored,” said Hoch. 


Do you know any college bound LGBTQ+ high school seniors?


G. Joseph Garcia, , Foundation Chair

Jasmin Lewis, Daniel S. Hall Social Justice Awards Committee Chair

Please forward this to graduating LGBTQ+ high school seniors who will be heading to college 

Daniel S. Hall Social Justice Awards Scholarships

Victor Espidol and Daniel S. Hall
The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council Charitable Foundation is accepting applications for the 2021 Daniel S. Hall Social Justice Awards – college scholarships available to graduating LGBTQ+ high school seniors from Palm Beach County.

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council (PBCHRC) is a local nonprofit organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Each year our Charitable Foundation awards these scholarship to local college bound high school seniors who have demonstrated an interest in advocacy on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community.  

PBCHRC's Social Justice Award is named after Daniel S. Hall, a local attorney who manages a financial counseling company. Hall has served as the Treasurer of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council since 1990 and is its longest serving board member. As a father of three, an activist, and a mentor of gay youth, Hall has always had a strong interest in education.

For further information, contact Jasmin Lewis at

For an application form, click here

For recommendation forms (two are required), click here

Applications and recommendations are due no later than midnight April 23, 2021