After a 20-year partnership, the Duval County, Florida school system has canceled its contract with local LGBTQ nonprofit JASMYN after alleging that the organization was playing a sexually explicit game with youth. JASMYN has denied the allegations.
According to the Florida Times-Union, it was JASMYN, in fact, who reached out to the school district to share that a right-wing website had run a story about the nonprofit’s Instagram account featuring a photo of people playing a card game featuring drawings of penises. The website claimed it was 13-year-olds playing the game, but JASMYN CEO Cindy Watson said that wasn’t true.
Watson said that the organization only posted about the game as part of its HIV-prevention outreach and that they never actually played it. And beyond that, Watson emphasized that the organization serves LGBTQ people all the way up to age 29 and that game was never meant to appeal to minors.
“That is an adult game. It was meant for adults and that is exactly how we were trying to offer it.”
But Duval County canceled the contract anyway.
“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,” said Superintendent Diana Greene in an email to principals, adding that “the termination of this agreement in no way impairs our continued commitment to all students and employees, including those that identify as LGBTQ+.”
Among other work, JASMYN’s contract with the school included providing support for gay-straight alliance clubs. After losing its $45,000 contract, JASMYN posted a lengthy statement to its website decrying the current right-wing anti-LGBTQ+ crusade that continues to accuse LGBTQ+ people of being pedophiles and groomers.
The organization said that when it opened in the 1990s, these stereotypes were also prominent and that JASMYN launched to “offer a non-exploitative safe space that would make a difference.”
“We have always promised and offered safe spaces where young people were free from sexual harassment, exploitation, and the undue influence of adults and others… At every JASMYN program we routinely segment activity for different age groups, including sex education programs.”
“While our social media posts may indicate that the overall services address the age range of 13-24 and sometimes up to age 29, we only engage in programs or education activities with teens that are age appropriate, and recent allegations that we conduct sex education programming using explicit card games with minors is simply not true.”
The organization also detailed the consequences of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.
“This misdirected and charged ‘groomer’ labeling today intentionally results in fewer safe places for LGBTQ+ young people by calling into question the safety measures and identity-affirming spaces that our young people need and can sometimes find in their schools, community organizations, and for some, their families.”
In another statement to First Coast News, Jasmyn called the school district’s decision “hasty” and “an overreaction to a far right extremist website spreading inflammatory misinformation about our HIV prevention work with young adults.”
“While it is regrettable that we posted something on social media in a way that could be so misunderstood, JASMYN has a long history in Northeast Florida of providing safe and affirming space for LGBTQ young people. Our work encompasses mental health programs, housing resources, HIV prevention and health services and teen programs, all essential to helping LGBTQ+ young people be whole and healthy.”
“It would be unfortunate for the good work JASMYN has done in the community over our 28-year history to be overshadowed by extremists with no context about how HIV prevention work happens, why it is so important in Jacksonville or how it’s a public health practice and not something worthy of alarm.”