By Tim Cwiek
Dismissing what they’re calling a half-hearted apology, LGBTQ rights advocates are are calling for the resignation of a Pennsylvania school board member who requested the removal of an LGBT-pride exhibit, comparing it to a pride exhibit for white supremacy or the Klu Klux Klan.
On Nov. 10, Timothy S. Nitcznski, a member of the Sullivan County School Board, blasted the exhibit — which is displayed in the Sullivan County High School’s library. Sullivan County is located in northeastern Pennsylvania ,about 165 miles north of Philadelphia. Its public high school, located in Laporte, Pa., has about 300 students in grades 7-12.
In remarks delivered during a board meeting, Nitcznski said: “If you’re going to go down that road [of LGBT Pride], I feel that we should have KKK Month, or I feel that we should have White Supremacy Month.” He also said: “Don’t tread on me; don’t force it down my throat. That’s how I feel about it.” Moreover, Nitcznski expressed gratitude that he didn’t have any children or grandchildren exposed to the LGBT display.
The exhibit features books, quotes, definitions and portraits of well-known LGBT individuals. It was still displayed in the school library and was expected to remain up until the end of the month. Thereafter, a rainbow flag will remain on display in the library indefinitely.
Criticism of Nitcznski was swift on social media. Several commenters noted that LGBT families exist within the school district and should be treated more respectfully.
An online petition calling for Nitcznski’s resignation gathered 1,036 signatures as of presstime. The petition states that “the community which [Nitcznski] is representing has lost faith in him as a public servant and he cannot, in good conscience, continue to be responsible, in any way, for fostering a safe and inclusive educational experience for Sullivan County youth.”
At the school board’s Nov. 17 meeting, Nitcznski apologized for his remarks, stating that he didn’t intend to offend anyone.
“My name’s Tim Nitcznski, and I’d like to say that I’m sorry for the comments that I made at the committee meeting on November 10th,” Nitcznski said. “I did not mean to offend anyone or any group with my comments. Thank you.”
Nitcznski hung up on a Philadelphia Gay News reporter who reached out to him, seeking an interview. School board President Kimberly A. Phillips told the Philadelphia Gay News the nine-member board will participate in LGBT-inclusive diversity training in the near future. She said the training will be a requirement for all future school board members in Sullivan County.
“That will be my legacy,” Phillips said.
Other board members had no comment for this story. The board’s operating procedures contain a provision allowing for the dismissal of a board member for improper conduct.
Despite Nitcznski’s apology, numerous LGBT advocates remained steadfast in their demand for Nitcznski’s resignation or removal from the board.
Pennsylvania Youth Congress, an LGBT advocacy organization, issued the following statement: “A true apology acknowledges an individual’s responsibility and commits them to repairing the damage done. Mr. Nitcznski’s backpedaling on his revolting words [Nov. 17] did neither. Stating unconvincingly that he did not mean to cause offense does absolutely nothing for the children and community members he has harmed. The complete lack of admitted wrongdoing — or desired action to make things right — cements his lack of care for those he is meant to serve. One who holds such blatant disregard for LGBTQ+ children should not be allowed to hold a seat on a school board in Pennsylvania. We continue our call for him to resign.”
Deja Lynn Alvarez, a transgender leader, echoed PYC’s sentiments. “I am tired of these meaningless apologies,” Alvarez said, in an email. “Your personal/religious beliefs do not belong in your professional settings. Just as you cannot show racist or anti-Semitic or anti-woman views, you should not be able to express anti-LGBTQ views in your professional capacity. If you feel this way sir — and you obviously do — you should be forced to resign from your position as you are not fit to hold any public office/position, period. You are in a position of power over students, many of whom are part of the LGBTQ community. And people like Mr. Nitcznski do great harm to our children. This is why Pennsylvania must pass sweeping anti-LGBTQ legislation. And we must push the new [presidential] administration to finally make LGBTQ a protected class in this country.”
Justin F. Robinette, a local civil-rights attorney, said he was “repulsed” by Nitcznski’s comments.
“Given this level of pure ignorance, I definitely question what century this school board thinks we’re living in,” Robinette said, in an email. “A school board cannot discriminate against — or create a hostile environment for — its own students based on sexual orientation, sex, or race. And a school board [member], seeking the removal of an LGBTQ+ display in a public school library, implicates core First Amendment freedoms of constitutionally-protected speech and the right to receive information — which have been established law for decades. [Nitcznski’s] conduct also directly contributes to the problem of LGBTQ+ bullying and harassment, which remain a major problem in schools today. Therefore, Mr. Nitcznski has no place continuing to serve on the school board for a school district in this Commonwealth.”
Chad D. Lassiter, executive director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, condemned Nitcznski’s conduct but stopped short of calling for his resignation or removal.
“The KKK historically was engaged in White Racism, White Violence, White Terror. And their reign of terror fractured the very fabric of our democracy,” Lassiter said, in an email. “Thought processes like the one displayed by Mr. Nitcznski prove to us that we must stay vigilant to the shadow of hate that continues to target the LGBTQ community. Supporting and ultimately advocating for the rights of the LGBTQ community is essential, given the current context of the recruitment and resurgence of White Supremacists groups in Pennsylvania that many times target the LGBTQ community. The PHRC condemns these comments. And we stand readily available to provide trainings and expertise, if the school would like that.”
Tim Cwiek is a reporter for the Philadelphia Gay News, where this story first appeared.