GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard, who has a PhD in United States History from Columbia University, gave her initial reaction yesterday to Judge Vaughn Walker's decision to overturn California's Proposition 8. Today, Dr. Byard takes a deeper look at the decision and what it means beyond ruling that same-sex couples have a Constitutional right to marry. Check back Monday for Dr. Byard's look at how schools factored into Judge Walker's decision and the Prop 8 proponents' flawed arguments.
Proponents of California's Proposition 8 argued that allowing same-sex couples to marry would lead to public schools teaching that same-sex marriages are equal to heterosexual marriages – an outcome that they saw as disastrous. By failing to offer a single scrap of credible evidence at trial in support of Proposition 8, they have ensured that generations of students will learn just that, in studying Judge Vaughn Walker's landmark decision in Perry v. Schwartzenegger. Above and beyond the decision’s clarity on the equal status of same-sex and heterosexual relationships, however, Judge Walker has made another crucial contribution to a vision of a better America with his opinion in this case. Hopefully this additional lesson will make its way into our schools as well.
At an event in New York City in June, David Boies was quite clear about his goal for the initial trial in this case: establish a factual record of great clarity on the central issues for the rounds of appeal to come. A trial attorney of unparalleled skill and experience, Boies spoke movingly of his love for the American system of justice, and particularly for the practice of cross-examination, which requires the witness on the stand to respond substantively to direct questions posed by their opponents. By taking the key questions on head on, and confronting opponents in the courtroom, far from the media echo chamber, Boies felt that our court system would allow the discussion to cut through the noise to the facts. David Blankenhorn, you're not on Hannity anymore.
Boies was right. Brietbart beware. Tea Partiers take note. Propagandists of all stripes, you are on notice. Amidst Judge Walker's many bold statements and findings of fact is a simple citation of Federal Rule of Evidence 702 that is in its own right no less bold an assertion. Rule 702 holds that in order to be considered an “expert” by the federal courts, and to have your opinions and statements be given legal weight, you must be qualified by “knowledge, skill, experience, training or education,” and your testimony may only be admitted if it “is based upon sufficient facts or data” and “is the product of reliable principles and methods.” In simpler terms, you have to know what you’re talking about. In a society inundated with undifferentiated "content" and opinions often bolstered by nothing more than sheer volume, Judge Walker has reminded us of the standard by which information should be evaluated and categorized.
Whatever the impact of this ruling on the content of the curriculum vis-a-vis same-sex marriage, one can only hope that it will contribute to a fundamental renaissance of knowledge, expertise and respectful debate. If there is one thing that students in this diverse society should learn about in public schools, it is how to articulate and defend their points of view in a respectful, relevant and cogent way in the public square. Should Judge Walker's opinion prevail through many rounds of appeal, he will have left a truly monumental legacy. One element of that legacy will be his reassertion of the difference in standing between opinion and fact in a Constitutional system, and the grounding in reality required to give either credence and meaning in public discourse.
>We're still reading through the Prop 8 decision and hope to have deeper analysis tomorrow, but here's a quick take from GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard, who has a PhD in United States History from Columbia University.
This historic decision will one day be part of every student's curriculum. It represents a remarkably clear and unequivocal statement about the reach and meaning of constitutional protections heretofore not applied to the issue of marriage or to the standing of lesbian and gay people before the courts.
>Entertainment Tonight stopped by the GLSEN Respect Awards - Los Angeles kickoff party and BBQ on Sunday at Evo Couture Residences in LA. ET talked to Bill Paxton of "Big Love," Louis Van Amstel of "Dancing with the Stars" and GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard about the importance of valuing what makes us different and teaching respect for all people in schools.
"Whether you're gay or straight you deserve respect," Paxton said. "As we evolve as a society, that's the thing. We might not agree politically, philosophically or whatever our sexual orientation is, but everything has to have respect. To me, that's what it's about. It's a great cause and I'm glad to support it."
>GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network is the organization that sponsors and supports the National Day of Silence. This year GLSEN turned 20 years old! Check out this inspiring video that highlights some of the great achievements of GLSEN over the past two decades.
>Several student and community leaders represented GLSEN at the White House LGBT Pride Reception on Tuesday. Check out what they had to say about it here.
My mom and I were fortunate to have a private photo opportunity with the President prior to the reception. We were both very nervous as we stood there waiting to meet him. As the military personnel escorted us to have our picture taken, my mom told the President about my brother Carl, the anti-gay bullying he faced and how he took his life. We had a photo of Carl, which we showed to the President. I also told him about our work to raise awareness about the issue and our advocacy work with GLSEN to pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act. I was so surprised and honored when the President said that he had heard about my brother's story and offered his condolences. He also said that he wants to do what he can to help and is on board with the Safe Schools Improvement Act. The past year has been such a journey for me and my Mom. This was definitely a highlight in that journey - and I feel like the sky's the limit. Thank you so much to GLSEN for all of the support this past year and for this incredible opportunity.
This afternoon, a remarkable GLSEN delegation will attend an LGBT Pride Month reception at the White House to press for the federal action most critically needed on LGBT issues in K-12 education in this country. The five student advocates and their guests will call for President Obama’s support of the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act, as well as for continued progress on a range of initiatives currently underway in federal agencies, including the Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, and Justice. Dominique and Sirdeaner Walker will have the opportunity to make our case to the President himself, in a short meeting before the President’s remarks.
I am so proud of the fact that GLSEN has built such a strong partnership with such effective leaders. Because of the work that we do at the national and Chapter level, GLSEN will be ably represented at the highest level of federal advocacy by a diverse group of people who are at the front lines of this effort every day. This delegation is uniquely positioned to carry the message to the President, members of the Administration, and elected officials attending this afternoon’s event.
Over the past 18 months, many Executive Branch agencies have engaged with GLSEN in crucial new initiatives, but we still need clear and unequivocal support from the President himself, particularly in the legislative arena, where the provisions of the Safe Schools Improvement Act must become law as part of this Administration’s version of No Child Left Behind. I look forward to reporting back on the experience of our group at the White House today. Here’s a little more information about them:
Austin Laufersweiler, who just graduated from Lassiter High School in Marietta, GA, was GLSEN’s 2009 Student Advocate of the Year, and will attend the reception with his mentor and ally, Maru Gonzalez. After experiencing severe anti-LGBT bullying in school, Austin went on to found his school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), provide training for his former middle school on LGBT issues, and advocate for the implementation of comprehensive anti-bullying policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity/expression at his own school and throughout Georgia.
Danielle Smith, a recent graduate of Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham, ME, and GLSEN’s 2010 Student Advocate of the Year, will be accompanied by her parents, Richard and Victoria Smith. Danielle led the Jump- Start Student Leadership Team coordinated by GLSEN Southern Maine, was the president of her school’s GSA, and was the valedictorian of her class.
Dominique Walker, a rising senior at the MacDuffie School in Springfield, MA, will attend the reception with her mother, Sirdeaner Walker, a member of GLSEN’s National Board of Directors, and her aunt, Tonda Walker. Since the suicide of her younger brother, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, one year ago, Dominique has become a leader in the effort to end anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools, a member of GLSEN’s National Ambassadors Team, and the co-president of MacDuffie’s GSA.
Loan Tran, a rising junior at the Phillip O Berry Academy of Technology in Charlotte, North Carolina, is a member of GLSEN’s National Ambassadors Team. Loan has been a leading advocate for federal legislative action on LGBT issues in K-12 education as well as for positive change in her own school and local community.
Mary Susman, a recent graduate of Westside High School in Omaha, NE, will attend with her mother, Kathleen Susman. Mary is on the board of GLSEN Omaha and leads the chapter’s Jump-Start Student Leadership Team. She is a leading advocate for LGBT equality and LGBT issues in schools in her community and nationally, who has persevered in her work despite the bullying she has experienced in school and on-line.
Happy Pride, and thank you for all that you do to advance our mission!
Eliza Byard, PhD
Here is a glimpse of his cute new website (take note at that big ol’ GLSEN logo):
That's all I have for now, but I promise you I'll keep on the lookout for more articles about students out there working to help end bullying and harassment. If that is our common goal, than we'll be able to reach it together. Stay connected and get involved with GLSEN on Facebook and Twitter.
Your friend in the movement,
>I have been asked to introduce myself to all of you who may not know me. My name is Christian Fuscarino and I am the new communication intern here at GLSEN. It’s odd for me to use “new” and “at GLSEN” in the same sentence as I’ve been working with the organization for over seven years now. I first heard of GLSEN in my very first GSA meeting at high school. I taught myself at a very young age that it is important to be proud of who you are regardless of what society thinks. In fact, a few months after I came out I started to sport a rainbow wristband, but I didn’t know quite how important that was until later in my life. After learning about GLSEN I knew immediately that in order to live fully in my life and be true to myself, I needed to get involved. Since then, I have been a “Jump-Start Student Organizer,” a volunteer at National, a chapter chair for GLSEN Northern New Jersey, and now the communications intern.
A lot has changed at GLSEN since I first started back in 2004, but one thing has always stayed the same; GLSEN’s mission to ensure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
Over the next few months of working here I hope to bring you the very spirit that keeps our mission alive with inspiring stories, pressing news and important discussions. I have been committed to social networking since my 2007 award-winning independent PSA release (see below) to raise awareness about GLSEN’s National Day of Silence (http://www.dayofsilence.org/). Since that project, I promise you I have improved my skills and knowledge about the GLBT movement and will share all I can with you via the power of internet.
I’m looking forward to hearing from you, reading your opinions and responses and answering any questions you may have about the work that we do. I encourage you to get involved, stay informed and educate many.
If you’re ready to get started, below I’ve included all of GLSEN’s links that you’ll need to get connected:
Your friend in the movement,
>Hi everyone! My name is Alvina and I just graduated from high school in Baltimore. I have attended several GLSEN conferences in the past, and this year, I decided to do a short internship at GLSEN's national headquarters. On the first day of my 2-week internship at GLSEN, Anthony Ramos, Director of Communications, summoned me to his office. As I nervously pattered down the hallway to his desk, I wondered what we could possibly discuss.
Was I already fired? Did I make a mess in the lunchroom?
After I entered, Anthony informed me that I would be the "Voice of God" during GLSEN's New York Respect Awards! Instantly, I pictured Morgan Freeman in Bruce Almighty and envisioned myself prancing around a stage in a white suit. Anthony reassured me that "Voice of God"- or, "Voice of Goddess" as he now called it - meant that I would be sitting off stage and announcing the show, no white suit required.
After lunch that Monday, I headed up to Gotham Hall with my outfit nestled in an orange plastic bag. As I pulled open the door of the venue, I was greeted with an expanse of white tablecloths and gleaming silverware. I felt a knot of anxiety forming in my shoulder; I hadn't realized how important this event was going to be!
After reviewing my lines, I understood that this dinner would be a celebration of GLSEN's recent achievements and recognition of all of the amazing and generous advocates who have helped GLSEN throughout the year. While the New York City's Youth Pride Chorus serenaded us with "True Colors," I felt as if the event really captured all of the triumphs and strides that various GLSEN organizers have taken throughout the years. After listening to Sirdeaner Walker retell her experience losing her son, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover to bullying, I felt re-energized to keep working towards having safe and inclusive schools for all students.
Not only was it an honor to attend the Respect Awards, but it was also a privilege to be in the company of such stars as Cyndi Lauper and Reichen Lehmkuhl. Also, Will Phillips, the fifth-grader who refused to stand for the pledge of allegiance until the LGBT community has full equality, completely blew my mind. He is among the most brilliant people I have ever encountered. I am amazed by his courage and his ability to critically analyze rituals and policies in place today. Hearing him speak was completely humbling and he will definitely do even greater things in the future.
Overall, one of my best experiences during the Respect Awards would have to be a conversation I had with a man towards the end of the night. At the end of the program, I went up onstage and spoke about LGBT communities of color and about why I organize within communities of color, and especially within my own South Asian community, for LGBT youth. Afterwards, a person of Filipino descent approached me and spoke with me about how he loved listening to what I had to say and about how important he thinks that organizing within these communities is. I was really touched by his candidness and having my work reaffirmed made me feel like what I am doing is necessary.
I am glad to say that the rest of my two-week internship ran smoothly. I wasn’t reprimanded for playing music too loudly, and I didn’t completely trash the lunchroom. Furthermore, my feelings of apprehension before the Respect Awards were replaced with new energy to continue advocacy work throughout, and after, college.
The Walker family, who lost 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover to suicide a year ago after enduring anti-gay bullying at school, and GLSEN Communications Director Anthony Ramos also had a private meeting with Gov. Patrick, during which he expressed interest in exploring ways to add enumeration to the regulation.
Sirdeaner Walker also gave the following speech at the ceremony about the importance of the federal Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would require schools that receive federal funding to implement enumerated anti-bullying policies. You can view the speech on Facebook here.
I am very thankful to Governor Patrick and the Massachusetts Legislature for bringing attention to the crisis of bullying and harassment in our commonwealth schools.
Passing this bill is a watershed moment, but the work does not end here - indeed, it's just the beginning.
Next, and perhaps even more important, is implementation of the provisions in the bill. In that work we must ensure that we protect those youth most victimized by bullying-that means specifically naming the classes of persons who have historically and disproportionately been the subjects of bullying and harassment.
My son Carl took his life just over one year ago. He was bullied with anti-gay remarks. And Phoebe Prince took her life just a few months ago after relentless sexist bullying.
The sexist and homophobic bullying that Phoebe and Carl faced is all too common. And evidence shows that school officials often do not recognize this kind of bullying and harassment as unacceptable.
I will continue my work with GLSEN to pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act, federal anti-bullying legislation that would ensure all of our students across the country are equally protected from the bullying crisis we are facing.
We need to teach our children the simple message of respect for all. This is not about criminalizing bullying, but about preventing bullying through education.
My son was denied a lifetime of opportunities. I continue this work to ensure that no other child has to endure what my son went through, and that no other family suffers as mine has.