When Michael Martin won a seat on the Berkeley County, West Virginia school board this past June, the country was already in the grips of a pandemic. Preparing for the new school year would not be easy.

And as COVID-19 diagnoses spike throughout the country, it has proven to be every bit as challenging as he could have expected. As of last weekend, Berkeley County had one of the highest rates of infection in the state.

Michael Martin, left, with Jem at Jem’s homecoming dance in 2014.

For Martin, the former soccer goalie whose 2014 coming out story was our most popular piece that year, this meant that not only was he getting acclimated to the responsibilities of both a new job and holding public office, he was also doing so in the midst of this century’s biggest public health crisis.

In a conversation with Outsports, Martin revealed that even before considering how to handle the virus, “I had to learn an entire system altogether from the Board of Education. I had to figure out what a board member does, what their responsibilities are, and what goals need to be set for the board.”

This would’ve been a lot to handle in normal times. But with the specter of COVID-19 looming over the school year, Martin admitted that it “has become a big challenge.” He specified that his duties during this crisis center around “making sure our students, teachers, [and] service personnel have the services that are required and beyond.”

Michael Martin is sworn in as the newest member of the Berkeley County School Board.

Currently, Berkeley County is designated by the West Virginia Department of Education as an area of “Heightened Community Transmission” with a positivity rate between 5.0 and 7.9 percent. Due to this status, the county has suspended in-person instruction and is engaging in remote learning.

Complicating this matter, according to Martin, is that “even being the second biggest county [in West Virginia], we still have broadband issues.”

Unfortunately, while Martin had hoped to implement LGBTQ-focused training across the district upon joining the board, he admitted that navigating the pandemic has meant that this particular cause has yet to be addressed. He added, “I have also not talked about LGBTQ policy with our superintendent or board members as of yet.”

It’s only been four months since Martin won his election. Despite the current crisis, he remains committed to the cause that he ran on in the first place, vowing, “Being newly elected, I just have the expectation of changing a lot of things.”

Hopefully, whenever we emerge from this crisis, he’ll have the opportunity to do so.

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