Duval County Public Schools will no longer partner with a Jacksonville LGBTQ youth center after more than 20 years.
The district said it’s because of certain “inappropriate” games used by JASMYN, the Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network.
Internal emails that Action News Jax obtained from DCPS show that JASMYN had reached out to the district about what it described as a “right-wing” website that first brought attention to its games.
Action News Jax’s Ben Ryan spoke with the CEO of JASMYN, Cindy Watson, who believes DCPS’ decision is hasty and an overreaction to the posts on that website.
The website’s posts stem from JASMYN’s social posts for a JASMYN-sponsored event that had a card game featuring illustrations of men’s genitals. JASMYN leaders insist the game is only played with adults and that they’ve never used the game around young people.
DCPS Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene released a statement that reads in part: “The district simply cannot partner with the organization given their use of program materials. We must protect the continued good work of our schools to ensure all schools remain safe spaces for all students.”
Watson said JASMYN destigmatizes HIV prevention by helping young men feel good about their bodies and honest about who they are.
“A big part of our work is HIV testing and also helping young people just know how to stay safe from HIV, sex education is part of that, condom education is a part of that. That work is primarily adult-facing,” Watson said. “What was misconstrued was that we make it look like we’re doing an activity for young adults with 13-year-olds and that is simply not true. We have never played a card game or that kind of sexual education activity with real young people, especially in public schools.”
[SIGN UP: Action News Jax Daily Headlines Newsletter]
Watson told Action News Jax that losing DCPS funding isn’t easy as every dollar counts, but she said this won’t stop JASMYN from doing its work like it has done for years.
Watson said JASMYN regrets posting something on social media that she says is misunderstood.
“It’s social media, things get posted because we really try to reach out. I mean, I have regrets that we didn’t see how it could be misunderstood but we’re trying to do some really serious work with HIV prevention on one hand, and on another, we are trying to do work with students in schools so clearly this is a place where it all crashed together,” she said.
According to DCPS’ contract with JASMYN, the organization helped provide a plethora of services, including helping to create inclusive programs for LGBTQ students, helping teachers create a safe environment, and assisting with HIV and STI programs.
“Without us supporting GSA, students don’t have a solid LGBTQ-focused organization being in there, present, helping them connect with resources and being positive role models,” Watson said.
To fill that void, DCPS is looking at remaining district partnerships to determine if additional resources are needed. DCPS said in the meantime, staff from the office of equity and inclusion and health and physical education department will provide an additional layer of support to schools and families as needed.