[T]he board has passed several policies in an attempt to target LGBTQIA students. Anti-LGBTQIA bullying has increased. That being said, I believe the biggest priority is to ensure that all students feel welcome in their respective schools and the first order of business to ensure that this comes to fruition is to repeal those policies immediately.
Our next post of our 2023 primary election season series ‘Political Q&A’ with progressive candidates throughout Pennsylvania. Candidates can be anywhere in Pennsylvania running for any level of office. Please note that these are not necessarily endorsements, more of an opportunity for candidates to connect with the LGBTQ community, progressives neighbors, and others with an interest in Western Pennsylvania. If your candidate would like to participate, please contact us pghlesbian at gmail dot com. We welcome candidates at all levels of government across the entire Commonwealth.
By participating, candidates are saying that they
- must be an LGBTQIA+ ally, specifically supporting equality and dignity for transgender persons
- identify as pro-choice
- must affirm that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election and that they accept the certified Pennsylvania’s election results
I bumped into Nerissa on a local Facebook advocacy group. When I posted about this Q&A series, she reached out to me, introduced herself, and promptly followed the process I laid out – I was thrilled! Nerissa lives in Crawford County near Meadville. The school district serves several rural communities of about 24,000 people with a small service area in nearby Venango County. It has three elementary schools and three middle/highschools. And this district is truly struggling against anti-LGBTQ forces. What strikes me about Nerissa is the recurring theme of showing up – to school board meetings, to school events, to meetings, to take on leadership roles, and to show up for hard conversations with people who need good accurate information. We must pay attention to all the (501) school districts in Pennsylvania. Tall order, I know. Good thing you have a handy Q&A series …
Your Name: Nerissa Galt
Your Pronouns: she/her/hers
The Office You Seek: PENNCREST School Board Director
How do you describe your identity? I am a woman, a mother to 8 kids, at least two of which are members of the LGBTQIA. Some have described me as unflappable, a force of nature, a badass, but I’m just doing what I feel is right to do.
Tell us about your district. What is a hidden gem most people might not know about? There are so many hidden gems, but I think the best thing about our district is the Woodcock Dam and the surrounding parks. There is so much natural beauty that it’s impossible not to appreciate nature when you’re out there.
How has redistricting impacted your district? The school district remains the same.
Nothing is ever hopeless if we keep working at it.
Tell us about the first LGBTQ person you met and what impact they had on your life? Using initials or pseudonyms is fine. The first LGBTQIA person who was out at the time of our meeting was a boy I had a very close friendship with for a period of time in high school. He was unabashedly himself, regardless of the bullying he received as one of the few people who were out in my high school in the 90s. He was troubled and later met a tragic end when someone took his life. I think of him often and wish things had been so different for him. He was full of snarky humor. He was sensitive with those he cared for, with that tough outer shell to ensure only a few could get in.
Based on this, what do you understand to be our top LGBTQ concerns and priorities for the Penncrest School Board? How will you respond to those priorities?
The current board consists of a majority of directors who are brazenly anti-LGBTQIA. In May of 2021, one of the directors posted a Pride library book display referring to it as evil and inferring that children are being taught to become gay. This caused an outpouring of support for those in the LGBTQIA community. However, this also caused an outpouring of support for this director and the other homophobic directors on the board. The story even attracted support from an SPLC-recognized anti-LGBTQ hate group, At the first board meeting after this post, several people spoke in support of him and against the LGBTQIA community. Two of these speakers have since been appointed to the board after the resignation of other directors. Also since that incident, the board has passed several policies in an attempt to target LGBTQIA students. Anti-LGBTQIA bullying has increased. That being said, I believe the biggest priority is to ensure that all students feel welcome in their respective schools and the first order of business to ensure that this comes to fruition is to repeal those policies immediately.
Please give an example of how intersectionality has informed your work. I realize that no one is equal until all are equal. Voices from underrepresented communities should always be heard. Representing those who don’t share my white privilege is an honor not to be taken lightly.
Get to know the people on your board and what they stand for. Get to know your candidates and what they stand for. Candidates who show substance and back up their opinions with factual information are our best chance to reinstate normalcy in the district.
Please give an example of when a coworker in your professional life has persuaded you to change or adjust your perspective on an issue. This is an everyday occurrence in my profession, as I work in quality assurance. I deal with auditors on a regular basis and will often negotiate interpretations of the verbiage of certain international standards and how my particular company applies processes and procedures to those standards. Often I can show the auditor that my company’s applications are within the requirements, but just as often, the auditor will persuade me to see things differently. It is my duty as a quality systems professional to accept these explanations as auditors are the experts on these international standards.
Do you have classroom or instruction experience? I do not have classroom experience, but I am an advisor to an athletic team.
Penncrest School District is in a rural, red part of Pennsylvania – Crawford County, a region that outsiders might write off as “hopeless” for progressive students and families. Help our readers understand why that is inaccurate.
Nothing is ever hopeless if we keep working at it. Many people in the district are fed up with the current board’s doings and are ready to move on. This is the perfect opportunity to introduce some progressive policies to the public, focusing on commonalities and how these policies can benefit everyone in our communities.
As of February 26, 2023, 367 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced across the United States compared with 315 total in 2022. While Pennsylvania has no active legislation on the State level, there is movement specifically targeting drag queens and drag performances. And we have seen activity at the school board policy levels stripping LGBTQ students of their rights. Tell us about the impact these numbers have on students and other youth. What outcomes can we expect as this legislative tsunami grows?
When those in charge are the biggest bullies, the student body sees it as acceptable. Bullying of LGBTQIA students has increased. Children are depressed, anxious, and sometimes self-harming. With the increased risk of suicide for LGBTQIA kids, this is a dire matter. PENNCREST’s board has attempted to silence queer voices in clubs, sports, and library books. Some of the books under fire are books that teenagers have credited with saving their lives, because once they read them, they finally felt understood and realized that they are normal. I fear an increase in suicide among LGBTQIA youth is imminent. Legislators and school board directors have a responsibility to protect their constituents and I don’t see that happening. Instead, they are stoking the flames of division, creating a higher sense of “otherness” between cis-hetero citizens and LGBTQIA citizens. These ideas are passed down to their children which are then passed down as bigotry and hatred toward other students.
What is the gold standard for LGBTQ affirming school district policies?
The Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network is likely the best resource for inclusive, affirming policies and what I would consider the gold standard.
It is a contentious time to serve on school boards – safety threats, intractable extremists, people clinging to inaccurate information, and letting irrational fears drive policy. What is necessary to bring reason and fairness back to school boards? The best thing that people can do is to inform voters. There is a level of cognitive dissonance that will prevent some voters from accepting facts and reason, but I believe most voters are reachable. People need to have difficult conversations with their friends and neighbors to discuss their fears and kindly fact check information for those who may be misinformed. Get to know the people on your board and what they stand for. Get to know your candidates and what they stand for. Candidates who show substance and back up their opinions with factual information are our best chance to reinstate normalcy in the district.
How do competitive primary elections benefit the residents of a community?
Choices are such an important part of Democracy. In my race for State House for District 6 last year, I was told many times that what I was attempting was impossible in our area, but people deserve a choice. People deserve to feel like there is someone out there who will represent them and stand for their values, not just go along with the majority. The more choices voters are presented with in a primary, the better their chances of finding that person that they truly feel can represent them.
What are three reasons people should vote for you/support your campaign?
Education first. This seems like an obvious answer, but in recent years, that hasn’t been the case. What does “education first” mean though? To me, it means to put the focus only on what is best for students and what will produce the best outcomes for them after their public school education is completed. We need to focus on smashing the status quo and elevate our students to do their best in every subject and every area of their lives. Promoting extracurricular activities like clubs, music, art, athletics, and more benefits their educational outcomes by promoting values like teamwork, perseverance, and self-confidence.
Education for all. There should be no marginalized groups in society, if we were all to value equity and equality. A public school is a microcosm of society in which there is no room for marginalization. Yet, it still occurs. Students from all walks of life should absolutely be given the same opportunities. Creating an inclusive environment and fostering acceptance will improve all student outcomes, not just those in marginalized groups.
Independence. I don’t believe in following the crowd. I will always vote with an informed opinion based on all of the available information.
Tell me about your other endorsements and supporters.
I do not have any current endorsements yet, though I am backed by our county Democratic party. My supporters tend to be progressives.
When those in charge are the biggest bullies, the student body sees it as acceptable.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I do not take my position lightly. There is a lot of pressure to appear in a certain way to attract voters, while also representing marginalized communities respectfully and accurately. I simply must do what I feel is right, but I am very open to a well-presented, fact-based, data-driven argument against what I may believe to be true. I thank you and your readers for allowing me the opportunity to express these things.
Where can readers find your campaign on social media?
Thank you, Nerissa.
Other Q&A’s in this election cycle series. You can read previous cycle Q&A’s here.
- Q&A with Rachael Heisler, Candidate for Pittsburgh City Controller
- Q&A with Abigail Salisbury, Candidate for PA State House District 34
- Q&A with Erica Rocchi Brusselars, Candidate for Allegheny County Treasurer
- Q&A with Bethany Hallam, Incumbent Candidate for Allegheny County Council, At-Large
- Q&A with Tracy Royston, Candidate for Pittsburgh City Controller
- Q&A with Lita Brillman, Candidate for City Council, District 5
- Q&A with Kate Lovelace, Candidate for Magisterial District Judge 05-2-31
- Q&A with Valerie Fleisher, Candidate for Mt. Lebanon School Board
- Q&A with Barb Warwick, Candidate for City Council, District 5
- Q&A with Nerissa Galt, Candidate for PENNCREST School Board
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