Duval County schools axe contract for LGBT youth group JASMYN after social media controversy

Florida Times-Union | By Steve Patterson | December 1, 2022

Duval County’s school system has ended a longstanding contract with the LGBTQ nonprofit JASMYN following online publicity about the group’s social media use of a game involving cartoons of penises.

“The district simply cannot partner with the organization given their use of program materials that the district believes to be inappropriate for use with children,” Superintendent Diana Greene wrote in an email circulated this week to school principals.

“We must protect the continued good work of our schools and GSA [Gay-Straight Alliance] clubs and the work they do each day to ensure our schools remain safe spaces for all students,” Greene added.

The $45,000 contract was canceled after JASMYN (the Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network) contacted the school district about a conservative website reporting that the nonprofit’s Instagram account showed people playing a card-matching game that uses sketches of varied penises.

The website described the game as being “played at a program for 13-year-olds,” but JASMYN CEO Cindy Watson said that never happened.

“The truth of the matter is we never played the game except to post it [online],” said Watson, who said JASMYN has programming involving people ranging from ages 13 to 29 but handles different ages differently. “That game is an adult game. It was meant for adults and that is exactly how we were trying to offer it,” said Watson, who said it was part of an HIV-prevention outreach.

JASMYN CEO  Cindy Watson relaxes in the nonprofit's newly opened day services center for homeless youth in this 2020 photo..
JASMYN CEO Cindy Watson relaxes in the nonprofit’s newly opened day services center for homeless youth in this 2020 photo.. Provided By Sindy Gonzalez For JASMYN

The school contract was for JASMYN staff involvement in a range of events including meetings for supporting and developing gay-straight alliance clubs in Duval County schools.

Greene told principals that canceling the contract “in no way impairs our continued commitment to all students and employees, including those that identify as LGBTQ+.”

The district’s decision quickly became fodder for social media opining and was greeted with concern by some veterans of youth issues.

“@JASMYNJax has been a refuge for so many struggling LGBTQ youth. We need to be working together to move forward in the best interest of children and community, not severing relationships and sowing division,” former School Board member Elizabeth Andersen tweeted after a teacher and blogger tweeted “Shame on @DrDianaGreene the school board and DCPS.”

Greene “put a lot of thought into this decision. It was not a decision that was made lightly,” School Board member Lori Hershey said, adding that she supported the choice. “The district will work to continue to support students. The superintendent just thought this was the best decision for the district at this time.”

Watson said she regretted losing the contract, and said she thought the school district’s decision wrongly assumed minors had in fact been exposed to improper material.

The contract was a noticeable but not huge part of JASMYN’s roughly $2 million annual budget and Watson said making up for the loss would require some adjustment.

She said losing the contract could also mean some students who won’t be exposed to JASMYN through alliance meetings may not learn that the group can connect them to mental health services or other offerings that could have helped them.

But Watson said JASMYN will still be involved in youth outreach, whether through schools or not. 

“We’re not going to stop our work with students,” Watson said. “We’ve got 28 years of doing this work with young people in Jacksonville. We’re not going away.”

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