The Bethlehem Area School District Board of School Directors unanimously voted to add “gender identity and gender expression” as protected characteristics under the district’s nondiscrimination policies and unlawful harassment policies at a school board meeting on Monday, April 20. The district previously only provided protections for LGBT individuals based upon sexual orientation.
Bethlehem Area School District is now the seventh school district in Pennsylvania to adopt nondiscrimination protections for transgender students, joining Pittsburgh Public Schools, Allentown School District, State College Area School District, Abington School District, New Hope-Solebury School District and Lower Merion School District.
School Board Director Basilio A. Bonilla Jr. led efforts to protect transgender individuals within the district. Bonilla said that he was aware of several transgender students within the district, and upon reviewing the district’s policies, saw that these students had no protection from discrimination under current policy. After consulting with LGBT community leaders, Bonilla contacted the district’s superintendent to discuss amending the policy. Following two initial readings at previous Board of School Directors meetings, the policy was voted upon and passed by a 9-0 vote. “Last night Democrats, Republicans, and an Independent came together to protect the rights of all students, and that is something I am really proud of as a Board Member,” Bonilla told the Keystone Student Voice on Tuesday.
Bonilla said that he intends to continue to advocate for the district’s LGBT students. “We’re not done yet,” he stated. “We need be there to support our kids.” He hopes to establish training for the district’s sports coaching staff on working with LGBT students and to implement a transgender inclusive nondiscrimination policy in the Bethlehem Area Vocational Technical School, which serves Bethlehem Area, Saucon Valley, and Northampton Area School Districts.
Bonilla came out as bisexual in March of 2014. He is the first openly LGBT elected official in Bethlehem. In his first year as a School Board Director, he worked with the district’s health insurance provider to offer benefits to same-sex spouses of faculty and staff before marriage equality was legalized in Pennsylvania.