>Michael Schwartz, Sen. Tom Coburn's chief of staff, got a lot of attention for controversial comments he made last week at the Values Voter Summit in Washington DC.
Somewhat lost in the hubbub about the remarks was how Schwartz's set them up: by saying that it's a good thing for 10-year-old boys to speak badly about LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people.
But it is my observation that boys at that age have less tolerance for homosexuality than just about any other class of people. They speak badly about homosexuality. And that’s because they don’t want to be that way. They don’t want to fall into it. And that’s a good instinct.
In one sense Schwartz is correct. Many students around that age do speak very badly about LGBT people. Children know how hurtful the names are to their peers. "Gay," "fag," "sissy" and "tomboy" are weapons of choice, and Smear the Queer is a favorite game on the playground.
But one has to wonder how anyone, especially when we're only a few months removed from two young boys taking their lives after experiencing such name-calling, would think it appropriate to encourage such behavior. It's irresponsible at the least and dangerous at the worst.
Shouldn't we instead be teaching our young people about respecting each other and, perhaps, loving your neighbor as yourself? If we're talking about values, isn't that one of the greatest value of all?
In the coming days, GLSEN will release a research brief that looks at the bullying and harassment middle school LGBT students experience in school. It's downright heartbreaking. But how do can we expect any better from our youth when our leaders still think talking badly about being gay is a "good instinct?"
>GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is pleased to announce that it has joined America’s Promise Alliance, the nation’s largest partnership alliance of more than 300 corporations, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and advocacy groups that are dedicated to improving lives and changing outcomes for children.
GLSEN is the first organization focused on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues to join America’s Promise Alliance, founded in 1997 with General Colin Powell as its Chair, and led by Alma Powell, its current Chairperson.
“By safeguarding against bullying and harassment – regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity – GLSEN continues to be a leader in helping young people stay in school,” said Marguerite Kondracke, President and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance. “Safe places and an effective education are among America’s Promise Alliance’s founding principles. We are thrilled to welcome GLSEN as an Alliance Partner, and applaud its efforts to provide a safe learning environment for all students.”
Read more here
>The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reached a settlement with Corona del Mar High School in Southern California, for failing to ensure the safety and well-being of its LGBT students. As the ACLU noted,
"Students are routinely referred to … with words such as 'dyke,' 'butch,' 'fairy,' 'gay,' 'homo' and 'queer' by other students at school in hallways and classrooms within earshot of teachers, but without repercussion."
It continued that school administrators were "permitting and sanctioning an atmosphere that is hostile to female, lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender students in general, and has led to despicable threats of violence against one student in particular."
>A recent article on CNN's website highlights the experiences and struggles of gay Latino communities in the U.S., noting that LGBT Latinos are "coming of age" in terms of their exposure and acceptance amongst both Latinos and the wider population.
>We have some exciting GLSEN news from the social media world. GLSEN has been nominated for a MySpace Impact Award, a monthly honor voted on by MySpace users. Out of a pool of nominations, MySpace selects three organizations or individuals “who are using their MySpace pages to make a difference” and asks users to decide which organization or individual will receive that month’s MySpace Impact Award and a $10,000 donation.
This month’s nominees are GLSEN, Solar Electric Light Fund and the Kanye West Foundation. Voting runs through Thursday, Sept. 3, at 8 p.m. Eastern. Help GLSEN get recognized for the amazing work we do. Please vote for GLSEN (you must have a MySpace account) and share this with your friends and networks.
>A judge ruled this week that an Oklahoma high school teacher, Joe Quigley, was wrongfully fired from his position and will be returning to the classroom in the fall.
The Oklahoma City school board dismissed Quigley in May, citing a poor job record and neglect for school policies. However, Quigley has countered that he was fired due to the district's hostility to his supporting LGBT students and his firm stance against homophobic bigotry. Fortunately, the judge ruled in his favor.
Unfortunately, many schools and teachers across the country have not taken the same initiative to discourage or reprimand discriminatory language and behavior targeting LGBT students. According to GLSEN's 2007 National School Climate Survey, fewer than one-fifth of LGBT middle and high school students reported that school staff regularly intervened when overhearing students make derogatory remarks about their peers' sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Even more troubling, nearly two-thirds of LGBT students reported ever hearing school faculty or staff themselves making homophobic statements.
In light of these disturbing trends, Quigley's reinstatement will hopefully help to send the message that teachers who defend the safety and dignity of their LGBT students should be honored, not punished. Quigley himself hopes that the school district will include information in its student-parent handbook about harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender idenity/expression.
>Kyle Giard-Chase, a transgender student at South Burlington High School in Vermont, has begun a campaign to place all-gender bathrooms in all of Vermont's public schools. He and his supporters hope to involve school administrators, policymakers and students from Gay-Straight Alliances in the effort to install at least one of these bathrooms--typically single-room facilities--in each of the state's middle and high schools.
While Kyle's high school does have all-gender facilities, he remembers feeling uncomfortable and unsafe with using his middle school's gender-specific bathrooms and deliberately "holding it" to avoid harassment and abuse from his peers. "This procedure of 'holding it' caused me to pay less attention in class, neglect my studies, and fear going to school in the morning," he said.
Recognizing that many other teenagers may face the same struggles with school bathrooms that do not accommodate their gender identity, Kyle approached the Vermont Human Rights Commission yesterday to launch his campaign--to make sure that all of the students in the state feel safe and secure when using public school restrooms.
>GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is saddened by the news of Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s passing. As Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Senator Kennedy was a leader in the effort to enact an enumerated federal anti-bullying policy that would include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.
If the Safe Schools Improvement Act, currently introduced in the House, becomes law, it would be a testament to Senator Kennedy’s insistence that all students must be protected in any federal anti-bullying policy.
"At a key moment for education reform, GLSEN Founder Kevin Jennings and I had the remarkable opportunity to have a private lunch with Senator Kennedy to discuss the need for action on safe schools issues," GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said. “Senator Kennedy showed a genuine passion for making America’s schools safe for every student, and as the Senate geared up for reauthorization of No Child Left Behind soon thereafter, he turned that passion into concrete commitment. We were so grateful for his leadership in including crucial safe schools language in all of his drafts of the bill."
"While Senator Kennedy left his mark on so many aspects of recent American history, his stewardship of education reform highlighted the importance of federal action to promote respect for all. He was a friend to GLSEN as well as students and educators in Massachusetts and across the country."
Among other things, the resolution proposes that the school district establish a procedure for recording, tracking, reporting, and responding to incidences of harassment and discrimination, and that the procedures include responsive measures.
The resolution also asks school board members to work with members of the Board of Supervisors and the mayor to create greater awareness of discrimination faced by youths who are perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning or who are LGBTQ.
Many people see the San Francisco Bay Area as one of the nation's more LGBT-friendly regions, but Castiang and others recognize that much more has to be done locally to prevent the discrimination of LGBT teens. Last year, the San Francisco Unified School District launched a web site for educators and students, offering LGBT-inclusive curricular tools, advice on how to respond to harassment and bullying, and pointers for middle and high school students who want to start Gay-Straight Alliances at their schools.
However, many parents and local LGBT rights advocates have raised concerns about bullying, even in supposedly inclusive school environments. A 2007 survey of San Francisco students revealed that 4 out of 5 students had heard classmates make disparaging remarks such as "fag," "dyke" and "that's so gay." GLSEN's research brief Inside California Schools: The Experiences of LGBT Students, which presents data compiled from the 2007 National School Climate Survey, suggests even higher numbers of anti-LGBT harassment statewide. The research brief demonstrates that 9 out of 10 LGBT middle and high school students in California heard homophobic remarks in school in the past year.
San Francisco's Youth Commission, Human Rights Commission, and Board of Education Youth Advisory Council have all voted in support of Castaing's resolution. The school board is expected to review and vote on the resolution within the next few months.