I’m Here

I’m here. This is what I’ve been taking away after meeting with some of our immigrant students and students who are part of our LGBTQ+ community recently. In the current national political climate, our message to our children locally in Bellingham Public Schools stems from The Bellingham Promise that all children are loved. Their presence is an asset to our community. They are here, far from invisible, and we are taking steps to support them.

People in our community are hearing about these changes in policy coming from “the other Washington,” in D.C., and are asking what this means for our schools. My response will be echoed here again: The Bellingham Promise says in part that “we believe all children should be loved.” This love includes respect for the basic rights of our students, and an appreciation — a celebration, really — of how much better our community is because of its diversity.

Despite the flurry of changes coming from D.C., I want to let you know that we are focused locally on our Promise. Chris Reykdal, the state’s newly elected superintendent of public instruction reminded us of state laws on Feb. 23: Gender identity and sexual orientation were added as protected classes to our state’s anti-discrimination law in 2006. Another law was passed in 2010 specifically protecting our students against discrimination. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction issued guidelines in 2012 that included use of restrooms and locker rooms consistent with the students’ gender identity. The state superintendent said it was his job “to ensure every student in our state receives a high quality education. … We must not discriminate against our students, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation. Our state has a long and proud history of embracing differences, and I will not back down from that.” (Read the state superintendent’s full statement here.)

I stand by the words of our state superintendent, and I ask that you reassure any family or student who may express concern about what they’re hearing from the federal level. Bellingham will continue to be a nurturing place for all students, and a place that not only embraces differences but asserts the rights that have been written into state law for more than a decade now.

You can see my full statement to students, staff and our community here.

I look forward to your questions and comments.

Comments (51)

  1. K. Warner

    4 months ago

    It isn’t enough to just say we are unchanged. Last month, an education expert noted in The Economist that our immigrant populations – particularly children in schools – feel unwanted. Unwanted. There are children in our community who feel afraid, disconnected, and unwanted.

    I hope every admin in this town is vocally, publicly reassuring those kids that, papers or not, they are wanted and they belong – both in our schools and in our communities as a whole. It isn’t enough to keep on as before.

  2. Misty Rainwater

    4 months ago

    Thank you. I am truly grateful that my daughter attends Bellingham Schools.

  3. Annushka Cesan

    4 months ago

    I support you! Thank you for ensuring a safe community for all our children.

    A Mom

  4. Nicole

    4 months ago

    I am concerned will we lose state funding if we don’t abide by federal regulations. Also, I am worried when you say locker rooms and bathrooms are based on what people identify with. Are you saying that boys who want to be girls or feel like they are will be in the girls bathrooms/locker rooms or vice a versa or do they have their own?? I understand being kind and considerate to all people, that is a given, but it is also 2 different things you seem to be stating. You also need to accept there are those who don’t agree with that lifestyle choice and never will, yet we can still be respectful to everyone. However, your statement about bathrooms and lockers seems to be confusing or lacking in definition. It sounds like you are saying they will be mixed with all students, and we don’t feel like that is a good or respectful option to all. We are kind to all people, however facts are facts, you have certain body parts and you have middle schoolers who are hormonally going through a lot and putting them all together in a bathroom or locker room is an uncomfortable and unnaceptable idea for many families and this I know from speaking with others. Many children no matter what they identify with are also uncomfortable with this, yet still kind. I have no problem if you are speaking separate locker rooms and bathrooms for them but what are you going to do if you put a boy (feeling like he is a girl) in a locker room with a bunch of girls and they are all changing (facts are, body parts, are body parts). I just want to be sure you have thought through all of this and consider it when you make your agendas. Many parents understand the movement whether it is liked or not. Please consider also to be respectful of different opinions than yours that will never change please, whether it be religious beliefs, a morality that may be different from yours, or just modesty concerns, all sides should be fairly represented and be addressed and respected on all sides.
    Respectfully,
    Thank you for your time

    • Wanda

      4 months ago

      “Familes” (parents like you) may “feel” uncomfortable with it, but children are not, until their parents teach them to be. Your comment is anything BUT kind. If you believe so much that “facts are facts” then maybe you should actually do some research and find out what the facts actually are, because then you would see that your hateful “feelings” about trans students are all based on ridiculous propaganda, lies, and fear mongering. Trans students do not need to be singled out, humiliated and ostracized for no other reason than parents like you “feeling uncomfortable” with them. A trans girl is a girl, not “a boy who thinks he’s a girl.” So please, don’t say that again because it doesn’t sound like “kindness” but hate. It sounds like someone who refuses to have any respect for any trans person’s right to exist with dignity.

      • Jen Lois

        4 months ago

        Yes, what Wanda said.

      • A guy student

        4 months ago

        Actually Nicole was very kind with her thoughts. Your thoughts come across as militant and hateful and judgmental.
        What about my rights? I’ve had girls walk in on me in the bathroom because it’s now allowed. I don’t want them to see my privates.
        Guys bathrooms have urinals and stalls. Girls bathrooms only have stalls. If you don’t have male plumbing, why do you need to use the guys bathroom? I have friends who go into girls bathrooms just because it’s fun and now allowed.
        Let’s reason together. Is there actual science (real scientific facts) to prove your assertion that a trans person is not just a confused person or a person pretending? Where are your “facts”?

    • Greg

      4 months ago

      hi Nicole, thanks for your comment, and I appreciate your perspective.
      I hear your concern for student protection and privacy. As a school district, we work to keep all students safe and protected. State law protects our transgender students by giving them the right to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that are consistent with their gender identity. I assure you that only female-identified students use the girls facilities and only male-identified students use the boys facilities. Additionally, we offer single stall restrooms for students who prefer that privacy. It seems like you might be worried that we have co-ed locker rooms or restrooms. Let me reassure you that none of our schools have these.
      Thank you for your comments. I believe we are on the same page about protecting all of our students.

      • A guy student

        4 months ago

        Greg,
        Isn’t it discrimination that trans students cannot share locker rooms with the gender they identify with per your reasoning? Also, you said co-ed locker rooms. Doesn’t that term imply guys and girls? Your assurance doesn’t mean anything when girls are able to walk in and see my privates because I’m using a urinal. Just trying to understand your logic.

        • Greg

          4 months ago

          Hi “A guy student,” I was responding to Nicole’s questions and comments when I said we do not have co-ed locker rooms and bathrooms. If a student identifies as male, they use male locker rooms or bathrooms. If a student does not feel comfortable, for any reason, using a multi-stall facility or open locker room, then they can use a single stall restroom for privacy. Thanks for your comment.

          • James

            4 months ago

            Greg,
            Question 1: So you’re saying that if someone of the opposite sex walks into your bathroom or locker room and it makes you feel uncomfortable, you should use a private stall bathroom.
            Correct?
            (In order to clear up any confusion, a guy has guy parts and a girl has girl parts. So, by opposite sex I mean a guy walks into the girls bathroom or vice-versa).
            Question 2: What protocol are staff using as a “gender identity” test? Is it simply a student saying “I relate more to being a guy” or “I relate more to being a girl?
            Question 3: If a student identifies as the opposite gender, why can’t they use a single stall restroom instead of using the opposite gender’s restroom? It would seem like that would clean up the mess of students using the opposite gender’s restrooms or locker rooms just for fun (and it is happening).

          • Greg

            4 months ago

            Hi James,
            Thanks for taking the time to ask questions.
            1. We’re talking about transgender students using restrooms that are consistent with their gender identity, which is different than opposite sex. A student who’s gender identity is male would use the boys’ locker room.
            2. There is no gender identity test. And from listening and talking with transgender students, I don’t believe it’s “simple” to say “I relate more to the other gender identity.” For many people, the experience of transitioning is wrought with deep emotions, questions and fear, which can lead to depression, bullying and thoughts of suicide. We support and love all students, including those who are gay, straight, transgender, non-binary and all other designations related to gender or sexual orientation.
            3. All students, regardless of gender identity, have the option of using single stall all gender bathrooms.

            I hope these answers help.

  5. Amy Rydel

    4 months ago

    Thank you for your commitment to every child. Our community is stronger when we accept and embrace what makes us different. Keep up the great work – so proud to be part of Bellingham Public Schools!

  6. Wendy Fanello

    4 months ago

    Thank you, Dr. Baker, for your continued support of our students…right here and right now, no matter what.

  7. Karen

    4 months ago

    Thank you for this affirming message and stance. I was raised in D.C. but am now happy to call Bellingham, WA my home. It is a response like this that makes me especially grateful to be in a kind and inclusive community and to raise my kids here.

  8. Jennifer S.

    4 months ago

    Thank you for supporting those students who don’t fall neatly into the tidy little categories we’re used to.

  9. Christine Waddell

    4 months ago

    Thank you so much for making this public statement of the laws that protect all children! I love the Bellingham School district and it’s continued adherence to the promise. I have had conversations with students concerned that our transgender population does not have adequate access to restrooms through out the school and that for some a trip to the restroom might mean being late for class. I understand the challenge of providing more than one option however you elequent statements are encouraging that a solution might be found to this issue.

    • Greg

      4 months ago

      Thanks, Christine, for the taking time to comment. As we build new schools and facilities, we are purposeful about having both multi-stall and single use restrooms for our staff, students and visitors. But I understand your point that access to single use restrooms may not be not ideal for students, depending on their schedule and the location of those restrooms. We are continuing to problem-solve this issue. Thanks for your support!

  10. Lynne Skerry

    4 months ago

    Thank you, Dr. Baker, for standing by the words of the state superintendent, for supporting the differences within our community, and for welcoming all students with love and acceptance. Whether their differences are related to language, culture, sexual or gender identity, or “other”, their learning is dependent, at least in part, on our learning who they are, where they’ve been, and what is important to them. We grow stronger and are enriched as a community when all are welcome and valued as members. Yes, they are here, and from where I stand, that’s a very good thing.

  11. Rebecca

    4 months ago

    Thank you for your words in support of LGBTQ+ and immigrant families. This is a frightening time for vulnerable populations of all types, so your clarification that school policies will remain unchanged despite reversals at the federal level is important and welcome.

  12. Rebecca O.

    4 months ago

    Thank you Dr. Baker. All children deserve love and respect and I’m so grateful we attend a district that is supportive and inclusive.

  13. K. Webley

    4 months ago

    I love being a part of a team that supports ALL students and embraces differences. I’m glad to do my part in nurturing all students and especially helping minorities feel loved and wanted.

  14. The Rev. Josh Hosler

    4 months ago

    Thank you, Dr. Baker and Bellingham Public Schools! Love first, in all things.

  15. Robin

    4 months ago

    I find this interesting, to say the least. By making one group of kids feel comfortable and accepted, you then alienate another group making some uncomfortable and ignored. LGBTQ seems like such a perfect political perch to stand upon, whilst ignoring the other 99.97% of the population. I agree that everyone should feel comfortable despite our difference. However, giving into one narrative takes from another.

    • Greg

      4 months ago

      hi Robin, Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. I believe that we can make these kids feel comfortable and accepted without having to make others feel ignored. Whether some folks feel uncomfortable, that’s another story. I believe we have had many times in our country’s history where a marginalized group has made others feel uncomfortable. But with time, understanding and education, that changes. Thanks again for your thoughts.

      • Beth

        4 months ago

        This isn’t about making others feel comfortable or not. This is about forcing it. Your view doesn’t trump another’s just because you believe you are in the right. You are as guilty as those you are saying marginalize others. We all want everyone to be accepted and understood. That’s simple. However, allowing someone into a locker room or bathroom isn’t about acceptance. You are now ignoring the people that don’t feel comfortable on the other side of this. Your answer is to assume other children are fine with this. You are saying in time we can make them comfortable with it. Kids are easy to manipulate. I have a friend who grow up thinking the sexual abuse was normal because both her father and uncle did it. You manipulating your way to change and it is wrong.

    • Jen Lois

      4 months ago

      Including some doesn’t necessarily mean excluding others. Our community can be as inclusive as we want it to be–acceptance is not a finite commodity. We can expand our capacity for acceptance; we can expand our minds; we can expand our perspectives, horizons, love–these things are infinite if you let them be.

  16. A concerned parent

    4 months ago

    Greg,
    You are a public servant, how do you justify your salary of $300k/yr? Your salary is a matter of public record. You received a 75k signing bonus to stay in the Bellingham School district. How can you be given a salary that’s nearly twice as much as the governor of WA state? Who is paying for it?
    I sincerely look forward to your response and your transparency.

    • Greg

      4 months ago

      Hi concerned parent. My salary is definitely a matter of public record, and is funded by our taxpayers. If you’d like to talk about any aspect of it, please give me a call and I’d be more than happy to answer any question you have. Regarding how the governor is compensated, that might be something better answered by his office.

      • Beth

        4 months ago

        Great point. I’m suspect that his lack of a reply shows his true colors. Disappointing.

        • A concerned parent

          4 months ago

          Greg,
          The question is justification of your salary in a forum paid for by your employers, taxpayers. Can you justify, in a public forum, in writing, why you are paid this amount of money by your employers given the pay of other superintendents in WA state?

      • Wanda

        4 months ago

        You’re doing an excellent job.

  17. Amy McGregor

    4 months ago

    Thank you for sending a clear message to our most vulnerable kids. As a mother of 5 children in the BSD, a social worker, and an LGBTQ parent of an LGBTQ teen, I see the direct impact this administration has our marginalized community members, adults and children, every day. On days when everything feels hopeless, words and actions of solidarity can make all of the difference.

    If you ever decide to establish a more specific role in the school district for an LGBTQ education and direct support social worker, I’d be overjoyed to take it on. It’s my dream job and I tell everyone who will listen what could be done with that position.

    Thank you for prioritizing safety and support for our children.

  18. Sarah Ferris

    4 months ago

    Thank you, Dr. Baker. I appreciate your words. There is always more work to do, and I’m very proud to be part of this district! As an English Language Learner Specialist, our Bellingham Promise to students, families, and our community guides my work each day.

  19. Jen

    4 months ago

    Dr. Baker, Thank you for your words and the positive community culture you are creating, supporting and leading. I’m grateful I live in this school district and my children and all children will feel safe, valued and therefore, able to learn!

  20. Jamine

    4 months ago

    Thank you for standing up for loving, including, and accepting ALL children. So proud to be a part of Bellingham Schools!

  21. Lisa Conlon

    4 months ago

    As an educator for more than thirty years, I embrace lifelong learning. This blog continues to educate me and others on the important issues and perspectives that exist within our learning community. Thank you all for the time spent to thoughtfully express your views and I encourage the open-minded approach that seems to permeate this discussion. There’s so much to learn about how to support ALL our children. I appreciate understanding the specific laws of our state and pledge my efforts to protecting our children’s rights.

  22. Meagan Dawson

    4 months ago

    I’m proud to work in a district that sees every student, listens to their story, seeks to understand, and provides support. And I’m proud that we then wake up the next day to reflect on our work and be even better, more supportive, more thoughtful, and more understanding. It’s never ending work. And it’s hard work. But it’s the right work. Thank you to our district leadership, our school leaders, and every teacher and staff member who do this work on a daily basis, one student at a time. It matters.

  23. Mike Vitt

    4 months ago

    Thank you – this is the leadership and support we need to help teach and show our kids inclusion, acceptance, and empathy. Kids don’t see different until we show it to them, and then they react based on how those in their world act. School is a huge part of their world. I’m glad this district supports ALL kids and proactively walks the talk. My comment is simply to add my support, and I hope you will continue this approach regardless of policy and commentary out of DC or elsewhere – even if there are costs to it. Keep up the good work.

  24. Andrea

    4 months ago

    Thank you Dr Baker for sending a clear message of iclusion to our children and our community.

  25. Andrea

    4 months ago

    Inclusion!

  26. Jen

    4 months ago

    Thank you, Dr. Baker. To those students and community members whose well-being is being debated and threatened, and to all those who are standing up to protect them, I want you to know, I do and will stand with you.

    *********

    Because there has been a public comment here specifically talking about this, and I will not leave those families and children who will read that and be personally impacted by that, without also being able to read my firm support of them specifically and know that they will be defended in our community, I also feel the need to add the following. (In the time it took me to write this response, Dr. Baker and others have also responded, I now see. Thank you.)

    It is absolutely not o.k. to single out already vulnerable and at risk transgender children in ways that put them at greater risk, due to misinformed fears. Or to spread the damaging view that transgender (or intersex) bodies are, as a class, a threat or danger or indecent in public spaces, including bathrooms and locker rooms. I can not and will not stand silent when people publicly argue for policies that threaten the well being of our transgender and intersex beloved members of our community. I include intersex, because I personally know an amazing young intersex child, who is a student in our schools, that would be personally harmed by policies that would not honor gender identity and their right to use the facilities that best suit their identity. While this may seem like a new and dangerous thing on some people’s radar, intersex and transgender people are not new, nor as a class a dangerous threat. I am not young, and while going to a religious, conservative university, one of my roommates back then was an intersex woman, who went through all her public school years (and college years) integrated, without harm to anyone. Her body wasn’t something to be demonized as a threat, or used as a reason to exclude her or push her from integrated spaces, and they honored her gender identity. Even my religious, conservative university and community seemed to understand that even then…perhaps because she was seen and treated as a real person, not a public symbol of something dangerous or indecent. She wasn’t just a face or body behind a constructed scary threat, to them. I also have transgender friends older than I, who have been using gender segregated facilities for years. In schools where gender identity has been respected, the safety of students is benefited, not harmed.

    I *do* fully support kindess and permission for any student that desires of their own will, to change in, or use single stall/individually-private facilities if they do not feel comfortable in shared bathroom or locker room spaces, as an option they may choose. In my days as a student, I did not feel comfortable changing next to my classmates, (not for any reason of misconduct by my classmates, just my own discomfort), and was grateful to be able to use private bathroom stalls to change instead. That is an appropriate option for any student (as long as they are not using it to publicly single out other students’ bodies as offensive or verbally bullying any other students that way), and should suffice for the families asking about keeping in mind the discomfort of their own student. What is not appropriate is advocating for forced exclusion of already vulnerable members of our community in ways that put their well being at measured, serious risk.

    To all those who bear the weight of being targeted and having their well being put in danger, I offer you my love & support, and promise to work with others to build a safer community for you. You are loved and wanted. I am listening and ready to stand for you.

    • Jen

      4 months ago

      I want to clarify, that when I talked about “in my days as a student” not feeling comfortable changing next to my classmates, that I am referring to my junior & senior high years in public school in girls’ locker rooms, in which I was completely unaware of any transgender or intersex classmates being so. I was just uncomfortable changing next to anyone. I was not referring to my time in college.

  27. A conservative student

    4 months ago

    Greg,
    You opened with the topic of immigrants and LGBTQ students. First off, the “other Washington” is attempting to handle the issue of “illegal” immigration. Are you addressing students who are in the country illegally or legally? They are two totally different situations. Can you please clarify? The left does use this tactic of saying “immigrants” when Pesident Trump is focusing on “illegal immigrants”. In your position, I am certain that selection of words is purposeful.
    Secondly, the topic of LGBTQ “bathroom rights” was handed over to the states by President Trump. Logically, isn’t that a good thing? Shouldn’t issues like that be handled by individual states and school districts? Yet, you state that it’s a bad thing that federal “guidance” is no longer being provided.
    Also, are you telling students and blogging about any of the good things our new POTUS is doing or is it all bad? Your political leanings are clear and we all have the right to our own views. Please remember that there are also students who are conservative. It would be nice to hear from you about some of the good President Trump is doing.

    • Mom of a student

      4 months ago

      Conservative Student,
      I didn’t get a political feeling from Dr. Baker’s blog. He is commenting on specific policies that affect our schools and students. Clarifying what our laws are and how they are implemented is a service I appreciate. I think you may be reading into this blog content that is not there.

      • A conservative student

        4 months ago

        Mom of a student,
        You state that you don’t “get a political feeling from” Greg’s blog and then go on to say that he’s just clarifying laws. Do you think laws and politics are mutually exclusive?
        I’m a guy. I have male body parts. I use the guys restroom. Girls have girl body parts. They should use the girls restroom. It’s not a matter of confusion. It’s simple. Using a bathroom shouldn’t be confusing. But, Greg makes it a big politicized deal.
        Since you’re a mom, don’t you care about a girl walking in on your son or a guy walking in on your daughter? Ask them how they feel when somebody walks in and sees their privates? What about my rights? Do you realize that guys are walking into the girls bathrooms for kicks. What is Greg doing about that? He says it doesn’t happen but that’s a lie. Why doesn’t Greg talk about this stuff that’s happening? I talked with a teacher who told me there’s nothing he can do because it would be “going against the grain and that it sucks”. Nice going Greg.

    • Greg

      4 months ago

      Hi “A conservative student,”
      Thanks for taking the time to add your perspective to this discussion. We support all students who are in our schools. There is a relevant U.S. Supreme Court case (Plyer v. Doe) which rules that undocumented students have the same right to attend public schools as U.S. citizens and permanent residents. As a result of this ruling, public schools may not deny admission to a student during initial enrollment or at any other time on a basis of immigration. So, the answer to your question is it doesn’t matter if what the legal status is of our students. As part of this ruling, schools may not require students or parents to disclose or document their immigration status. Our state’s public education system exists to help our students learn. It does not function, nor will it function, as an arm of federal immigration services. Bellingham Public Schools (and OSPI) are committed to our state’s constitutional requirement that students are to be educated “without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.” I hope that context helps.
      And regarding LGBTQ+ students, you are right, it is a state issue and can be handled at the state and local level. In my message, I was reassuring families and students who are concerned the federal government rescinded their guidance about bathrooms and preferred pronouns. (I didn’t say anything was “bad” or “good.”) The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction issued guidelines in 2012 that included use of restrooms and locker rooms consistent with the students’ gender identity. I appreciate and respect that our students, staff and families have varying political leanings and beliefs. And if/when there are people in power who make announcements or decisions that may cause significant concern or stress for our students and families, it may move me to make a statement. I do not believe showing support or acceptance of a marginalized group means I am ignoring or disregarding other groups of people. Thanks again for your comment!

  28. JodyB

    4 months ago

    I feel proud and hopeful when I see leaders in our great Washington State taking a firm and courageous stand against oppression. We do have a long history in this state of acceptance, tolerance, independence and inclusion. Thankful.

  29. L.K. Langley

    4 months ago

    It is powerful when a vulnerable student says: “I am here.” So, too, is it powerful when a leader says: “I see you. I welcome you. I am glad you’re here.” Thank you, Dr. Baker, for this thoughtful and caring statement. Thank you to the teachers who actively support all students in our community; who show our LGBTQ+ students and undocumented students that at school they can be their whole selves, be safe, and be loved. And thank you to the young people who are leading us towards a more just world.

  30. Colleen Semple

    4 months ago

    Thank you Dr Baker for walking the talk of the Bellingham Promise! I appreciate your commitment to training for staff and students regarding all vulnerable populations in our community. Perhaps those trainings could be extended to parents as well.
    This is not a time to waver on our commitment to community and inclusion. I appreciate your direction and leadership for our schools and community.

  31. Nichole

    4 months ago

    With all that’s going on in this world, I’m amazed that people are so hung up on what bathrooms people use. There are places in our world that don’t have bathrooms, let alone clean drinking water, or food. Worried about your kid being uncomfortable in a locker room because of another person? How about being grateful that your child has shelter, clothing, medical care, and the opportunity to go to school. It’s a luxury not every child has.

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