With the resignation of Ventura Unified School District Superintendent Dave Creswell comes time for reflection. As he makes his exit plan, the board of trustees will soon begin recruiting a new superintendent, but the landscape that any potential candidate will have to accept is one in which the thought police are active.
Creswell resigned Nov. 30 over controversy after a 2016 sermon was made public, in which he made comments that some considered hurtful to the LGBTI+ community. The sermon took place at the Redeemer Baptist Church in Riverside, where Creswell is an elder. In the sermon, he talked about how a yearbook showed signs of changing times. In reference to the fact that the “best couple” were two girls, Creswell said, “Oh, boy. Here we go. Here’s our world.” The “most changed” student showed a picture of a female holding a picture of pre-transition as a male, eliciting this response: “This is the definition of most changed? This is the definition? There’s a growing sector of our culture, of our society, that says that’s good and that’s normal, and not only do they embrace it, we’re now celebrating it.”
When the audio came to light in the last month, Creswell began reaching out to the LGBTI+ community to bridge the divide and make up for his lack of understanding. He publicly apologized for comments that he said caused others pain. But that wasn’t enough. Former Ventura Unified Superintendent Trudy Arriaga and Trustee Mary Haffner took the opportunity to publicly chastise him for his comments, for his beliefs.
Unfortunately, while the LGBTI+ community has endured a great deal of intolerance for their sexuality and identity collectively over the span of many generations, so have religious people, which is why in this country, both groups are considered protected classes. The notion that there could have been potential for discrimination does not speak to any actual discriminatory practices. Creswell was forced out for his beliefs, not his actions.
The fact that Arriaga, Haffner and advocates for the LGBTI+ community could not see this situation as a great teaching moment for the students and staff of the district, forging new relationships built on understanding where it was lacking, they instead took the path often traveled, one based on fear as anger boiled over to the point that the advocates against bullying became the bullies. They demanded respect for the persecuted minority while failing to see they are persecuting the minority. Being rebuked in such a way speaks to the lengths local leaders will go to ensure that only those who demonstrate that their beliefs align just as they see fit for the students puts the district in a serious quandary. The question is, what kind of intense scrutiny will the next potential superintendent need to endure to make sure that he or she has proven to have no bias that would cause any student discomfort?
On the other end of the county, in the Conejo Valley Unified School District, in 2017 into 2018, the majority of the trustees on the school board began asserting their religious views upon students via censorship — first the attempt to exclude LGBTI+ historical contributions in curriculum, then a subtle book ban. This caused such a tremendous response from the community that two of the trustees leading the religious charge, Sandee Everett and Mike Dunn, were voted out in November, while John Anderson did not run again. This was democracy in action with the community taking back what they felt was being taken from their children.
The difference: actions mattered in Conejo Valley while it was the potential for actions in Ventura — that could and would have been checked by the trustees anyhow — that took over the community’s response. Lesson learned in Ventura: Religious beliefs are not as important as other minority issues.
At this point, when it comes to Ventura Unified, we can only hope that tolerance and respect is a two-way street for all and that seeking to understand is at the forefront of differing viewpoints for all involved. In this country, religious beliefs are just as fundamental to a person’s existence as sexuality and gender identity and meeting in the middle is a sign of great leadership.