February 05, 2010

>Rep. Jared Polis introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act last week to protect students from discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

Chris Johnson from DC Agenda, whose staff comprises much of the former Washington Blade reporters and editors, wrote a nice article about the bill, including some good news from the White House.

The White House also expressed support for the legislation in response to a query from DC Agenda.

“The president believes that every child should learn in a safe and secure school environment,” said Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson.

February 05, 2010

>Kudos to The New York Times' blog, The Learning Network, for posting a lesson plan today on discussing 'Don't Ask Don't Tell,' the military policy toward LGBT people serving.

February 04, 2010

>GLSEN Public Policy Association Alison Gill takes a look at a positive development in the Department of Justice in terms of interpreting Title IX to include protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

After a decade of virtually no enforcement, the Department of Justice has once again taken an interest in issues of sex and gender discrimination in schools. The Department of Justice intervened in the case of Sullivan v. Mohawk Central School District et al., which was originally brought by the NY Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a 14-year-old gay boy named Jacob who attended the Mohawk Central School District in New York.

Jacob suffered a pattern of harassment and abuse by fellow students and even teachers, including verbal harassment, assault and physical harm, and destruction of his property. Although Jacob and his supportive family reported this abuse to his school principal and other school authorities promptly and regularly, no action was taken to protect Jacob. For a complete account of the harassment perpetuated on Jacob and the school administration’s refusal to act, you can read the affidavits of Jacob and his father.

The Department of Justice is pursuing this suit under Title 9 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which does not allow students “on the basis of sex, [to] be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a). While this law explicitly covers sex discrimination, DOJ lawyers argue that the law also covers discrimination based on gender stereotypes — that is to say, boys who are beaten up for being effeminate. While some courts have ruled that Title IX covers gender expression and sexual orientation, the law is uncertain in this area. This case may help to establish this principle more generally.

Of course all children are entitled to a safe and nurturing space in which to learn. Unfortunately, the type of bullying and harassment from which Jacob suffered is all too common for LGBT students in schools around the country. GLSEN’s research shows that 60.8% of LGBT students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and only about a third of students who reported incidents of victimization to school staff said that the problem was addressed effectively.

While the Department of Justice intervention shows a renewed interest in protecting the rights of LGBT students, Jacob’s case again demonstrates the need for anti-bullying policies and legislation so that schools can take steps to prevent this sort of harassment in the first place.

February 01, 2010

>Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church really don't like LGBT people. This isn't news to anyone who's heard of his "church." It's also not news to the many high schools WBC has protested for having a Gay-Straight Alliance, a favorite target of WBC.

Wanting to make the most of their protesting trips around the country, WBC also will protest anything American because, if you don't stand with WBC, you're against WBC. Sometimes it's military funerals (don't try to find logic in it). Last week it was Twitter.

And where WBC goes, counter-protesters usually follow. Take last week's clever counter-protest outside Twitter.

We get asked every so often about how best to respond to WBC protests. Attention is what WBC wants, so local organizers should think twice about whether a counter-protest is the best course of action. The Anti-Defamation League says "resist directly engaging."

The antidote to hate speech is good speech. Spread positive messages of tolerance and respect throughout the community. Discuss openly how hateful speech can poison a community. Notably, we do not recommend holding counter-protests or educational events at the same location as, or close to, the protest.

GLSEN also worries about student safety. While WBC seems to have remained peaceful in their protests, counter-protesters sometimes get agitated. WBC feeds off such reaction and frankly would love nothing more than to have a reason to sue someone. It's how WBC funds a lot of its hatred.

Deciding to ignore is always difficult but probably the correct approach. What do you all think?

January 29, 2010

>GLSEN's longstanding research has shown for nearly 10 years that LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students face pervasive bullying and harassment in school. Nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT youth experience harassment at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation, according to GLSEN's 2007 National School Climate Survey.

As we prepare to release findings from the 2009 National School Climate Survey later this year, a new study conducted by doctors at Nationwide Children's Hospital corroborates what GLSEN has found for years.

The act and victimization of bullying continues to be a problem among today's youth. While many children are experiencing this form of violence, it is more prevalent in children that are different from the social norm. As medical professionals continue to further their understanding of bullying, research shows a high rate of sexual minority youth who experience this harmful activity.

A new study conducted by doctors at Nationwide Children's Hospital found that sexual minority youth, or teens that identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual, are bullied two to three times more than heterosexuals.

According to the study that is now available online in the Journal of Adolescent Health, sexual minority youth are more vulnerable to a variety of physical and mental domains such as bullying or suicidal thoughts. Plus, the study found that many older adolescents reported being bullied.

For more of GLSEN's groundbreaking research, including reports on the experiences of transgender students in school and LGBT students of color in school, visit the research section on our website, www.glsen.org/research.

January 28, 2010

>A Wyoming school board last week upheld its superintendent's decision to remove No Place for Hate banners from the local high school and elementary school. What was so horrible that required their removal?

The banners, part of the Anti-Defamation League's No Place for Hate campaign, were cosponsored by an LGBT organization, the Gay and Lesbian Fund of Colorado.

As the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's editorial board put it, "what types of prejudice and bigotry are challenged apparently makes a big difference to the board."

As we celebrate No Name-Calling Week, it's sad to think about the kind of message this sends to the schools' students.

A petition has been started to ask the board to put the banners back. You can sign it here. You have to register for an account or use a Twitter account.

This will come as no surprise, but Wyoming is not one of the 12 states that has passed a law to protect students from bullying and harassment or discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression..
January 28, 2010

>A proposed law to prohibit discussion of any sexual orientation in Tennessee schools other than heterosexuality, sometimes called "No Promo Homo" laws, was essentially killed for another year yesterday. GLSEN Public Policy Associate Alison Gill talks about how GLSEN supporters like you can make a difference in defeating bad policies like this.

Last week the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition (TTPC) told us about a scary bill moving through the K-12 Education Subcommittee of the Tennessee House. HB0821, also called the "Don’t Say Gay" bill, would prevent Tennessee teachers and schools from discussing sexual orientation other than heterosexuality. A law like this can make LGBT students feel invisible and could cut them off from resources they need, such as supportive teachers.

When TTPC told us that the K-12 Subcommittee was to consider the bill this Wednesday, we emailed an Action Alert to our networks in Tennessee, warning them about the bill. Fortunately, we have very strong networks in Tennessee thanks to a lot of great local organizing by GLSEN supporters and student leaders such as Conrad Honicker.

Combined with local efforts such as TTPC's, we were able to apply significant pressure on the subcommittee to drop the bill. And we were successful! On Wednesday, the Tennessee K-12 Subcommittee decided not to take up the bill, which should kill the "Don’t Say Gay" bill for at least another year.

Sign up to receive GLSEN's Action Alerts here.

January 28, 2010

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From GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard:

Last night, President Obama spoke eloquently of the need to “expand the promise of education in America.” The massive investments he has directed toward our nation’s schools are essential, but the way in which those investments are structured leaves room for concern.
President Obama is rightly concerned about the fact that we lead the industrial world in high school dropout rates. He is right to call out the fact that the level of achievement currently reflected by a U.S. high school diploma lags far behind what’s necessary for true individual – and societal – success. But his prescriptions for change, to date, do not reflect a balanced approach to the root causes.
The President and Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, have been very clear about what states and districts must do to benefit from the buckets of cash currently allocated for education in various pieces of the federal budget. They will require from states what they have termed the “four assurances” –
  1. progress on raising standards,
  2. improving teacher effectiveness,
  3. tracking and assessing student and teacher performance,
  4. and turning around failing schools.
They favor a free-market approach to achieving those goals, with an emphasis on competition, choice (primarily through an expanded commitment to charter schools) and incentives. Whether or not one agrees with this approach, it clearly only describes one element of the thorough-going culture change required to truly transform education in the United States so that all children leave high school prepared for success in college and life.

Last night the President called for reform to ensure that every American student has “access to a complete and competitive education” that is the “pre-requisite” for success in today’s world. This vision will not be a reality until the President and the U.S. Department of Education do all in their power to ensure that schools across the country remove the barriers to learning created by societal inequities and bias. Students will have a true shot at that success only if schools are strong partners with parents in guiding the social and emotional development of young people through their school years. By and large, schools are not living up to this aspect of their responsibility to the young people in their care. We need the President’s leadership on this front as well.
January 25, 2010

Today is the first day of No Name-Calling Week. The following is a statement from Sirdeaner Walker, a mother from Springfield, Mass., about the importance of No Name-Calling Week and its message of respect.
Dear Educators:

My name is Sirdeaner Walker, and last spring, my eleven-year-old son, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, took his own life after enduring months of relentless name-calling and bullying at school.

As my family and I struggle to find peace, I have determined to do everything in my power to eliminate name-calling and bullying of all kinds from schools so that other boys and girls do not suffer as Carl did. I am writing now to ask you to join me in this effort by participating in No Name-Calling Week (January 25-29, 2010), an event designed to help K-12 schools engage their students in the important work of building respect for all.

My son was only in middle school, but he heard all the names that I’m sure you have all heard at some point in some hallway. This problem begins early, before students even understand the terms they use, or have any sense of their consequences. There are No Name-Calling Week resources tailored for all classroom levels from elementary through high school, to spark discussion and reflection appropriate for students of various ages.

There is more information about this event and the free lesson plans and resources available to you for use in your school on the No Name-Calling Week website, at http://www.nonamecallingweek.org/.

No Name-Calling Week has reached tens of thousands of classrooms since its inception seven years ago. I am very grateful for the No Name-Calling Week Coalition Members for their leadership, and hope that you will add to that legacy of leadership by being part of No Name-Calling Week 2010.I thank you for all of your efforts on behalf of your students.

Sincerely,
Sirdeaner Walker

P.S. Please register as a No Name-Calling Week participant when you visit the website, so that it is possible to continue measuring the nation-wide reach and impact of this important program. It means a lot to me to know that there are allies out there in this crucial work. Thank you.

January 24, 2010

>GLSEN's No Name-Calling Week officially has begun on the East Coast (and in other countries that participate).

Thanks to all of our partners who help make this week possible.

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