People For the American Way Voters Alliance PAC Announces Endorsements for Federal Office

People For the American Way Voters Alliance PAC is proud to announce the endorsement of 10 progressive champions for federal office. Running in Maine, Iowa, Minnesota, Oregon, Michigan, South Dakota, Colorado, Hawaii, and Wisconsin, these candidates and officials are some of the best and brightest progressive champions in the country.

Read the full list of endorsements now.


Where is Speaker Boehner hiding all the good bills like ENDA?

At a press conference yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) posed a question that you might also be wondering about:

Where is the secret vault in the US House where Speaker Boehner is hiding all the good bills?

Leader Reid makes a good point. Why "lock away" the Employment Non-Discrimination Act when 68 percent of voters, including 56 percent of Republicans, believe that the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees should be protected by federal law? Why keep the House from voting on ENDA when 8 out of 10 voters already think such a law exists?

Is Speaker Boehner afraid it will pass?


Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA):

The message from all the senators was clear:

It's our message, too.

Speaker Boehner needs to decide whether he will cave to that kind of bigotry or stand with the vast majority of voters who support this legislation.

Here are a few other highlights from the final day of Senate debate on ENDA.

Again from Leader Reid:

Senator Al Franken (D-MN):

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH):

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME):

Senators who stood on the right side of history and voted for passage should be thanked. Senators who stood with anti-gay extremists should hear your disappointment. There are more instructions here and here, and you can always reach them by dialing 202-224-3121.

As we move on to the House, if you have not added your name already, sign our petition now to keep the pressure on all of Congress to pass ENDA.

The time is now!


Senate hears testimony on government surveillance

The Senate held a hearing Wednesday to discuss government surveillance programs, with particular emphasis on Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and Section 702 of FISA, which have respectively served as NSA’s justifications for bulk phone records collection and online communications surveillance, and have recently been the subject of some disturbing disclosures about the extent of government intrusion into Americans’ personal lives.

Pressed on these disclosures, representatives from the DOJ, NSA, DNI, and FBI sought to defend the programs as legitimate, arguing that such intelligence-gathering is necessary to prevent terrorism; is not as novel and broad as has been reported; and is checked by the FISA Court, congressional reauthorization, and executive compliance audits.

Critics, however, contested each claim.

When FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce argued that “[e]ach and every tool is valuable [for counterterrorism],” Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) noted:

Contrary to the administration’s public claim of 54 foiled plots, for example, my own recent review of the classified list found nothing close to that number ... after receiving the classified document on plots foiled by 215, I’m far from convinced that it’s been necessary.

Further, after DOJ Deputy Attorney General James Cole pointed to the limited nature of phone database queries in 2012, ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer contended:

Even if the government ran queries on only 300 unique identifiers in 2012, those searches implicated the privacy of millions of Americans … analysts are permitted to examine the call records of all individuals within three “hops” of a specific target. As a result, a query yields information not only about the individual … but about all of those separated from that individual by one, two, or three degrees. Even if one assumes, conservatively, that each person has an average of 40 unique contacts, an analyst who accessed the records of everyone within three hops of an initial target would have accessed records concerning more than two million people.

Finally, in responding to the claim that the public, through Congress, had granted authority for the surveillance through the PATRIOT Act and FISA, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) reasoned:

There’s a balancing act between security and privacy, but when almost everything is done in secret, the public has no way of knowing whether we’re getting the balance right.

And today, the balance has tipped much too far away from our fundamental freedoms. Urge Congress to repeal the PATRIOT Act.


Anti-Bullying Protections Headed to Senate Floor

Harassment and bullying in schools based on sexual orientation and gender identity are pervasive national problems. They can have drastic effects on students’ grades and attendance levels and are linked to depression, violence, and self-harm.

Senator Tom Harkin’s (D-IA) bill updating the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) came before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee last Tuesday, with debate continuing into the next day. The version that ultimately passed included Senator Franken’s (D-MN) Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) and Senator Casey’s (D-PA) Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), both of which address the widespread bullying of LGBT students in America’s schools. Neither SNDA nor SSIA were altered during the Senate markup and will now go before the full Senate with ESEA.

In anticipation of the markup, People For the American Way sent a letter to Chairman Harkin thanking him for including this critical anti-bullying language and urging continued support for anti-bullying protections for LGBT students:

With S. 1094, you have recognized the need to reverse this trend [of discrimination, bullying, and harassment]. You have included provisions from the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), which supports the creation of comprehensive anti-bullying policies that enumerate specific categories of victims, including incidents based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as data collection, public education, and grievance procedures. S. 1094 also contains Student non-Discrimination ACT (SNDA) provisions, which protects students from school-based sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, much like Title IX does for gender discrimination. … Ultimately, this is about stopping abhorrent behavior that prevents victimized students from accessing quality education. All children deserve far better than that.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is expected to bring the bill to the floor but has not released a date. People for the American Way will continue to monitor ESEA’s progress and the anti-bullying provisions it contains.


President listens, supports anti-bullying legislation

Back in March, PFAW and AAMIA joined 70 national and state organizations in calling on President Obama to publicly support and endorse the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

We view an endorsement of the Student Non-Discrimination Act as the next important step the administration should take in the ongoing federal effort to ensure that all students have access to an education unhindered by discrimination and harassment.

He listened.

On April 20, the President threw his support behind SNDA and another bill, the Safe Schools Improvement Act. Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett:

All of our students have the same right to go to school in an environment free of discrimination and harassment, and that’s why the President supports these two important pieces of legislation and wants to work with Congress as they move forward in the process.

Every day, we are striving to do our part to make progress. And I believe that day by day, step by step, we will change not just our laws and policies, but behavior, so that every young person is able to thrive in our schools and communities, without worrying about being bullied.

Senator Franken and Representative Polis, SNDA’s sponsors, and Senator Casey and Representative Sánchez, SSIA’s sponsors, celebrated the announcement with similar calls to action.

Speaking on April 28 at the White House LGBT Conference on Families in Minneapolis, Senator Franken continued:

We’re going to pass this thing. It may take a year, it may take a few years, but we’re going to do it, vote-by-vote, we’re going to get there.

[ . . . ]

[W]hat we’re seeing in our schools today isn’t just teasing. It’s not just playground behavior. What we’re seeing is more than just bullying. We’re seeing discrimination.

Click here and here for more from Senator Franken.

In other news, PFAW has just released its latest Right Wing Watch: In Focus report, Big Bullies: The Right Wing’s Anti-Anti-Bullying Strategies, which details the efforts of right-wing activists and organizations to prevent school districts from implementing strong anti-bullying policies that protect LGBT and LGBT-perceived students. This is an update to our April 2011 edition.


Lifting the veil on bullying

The R rating felt ridiculous. It was like R for Ridiculous.

That was what director Lee Hirsch had to say at last night’s Bully screening in DC regarding the ratings controversy that ended last week when an editing agreement was reached to get a PG-13 rating. (Shout out to Katy Butler for her successful petition that attracted more than 500,000 signers, including 35 Members of Congress and celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and Meryl Streep.)

Hirsch is right. Rules are rules, but in this case, the R rating would have severely limited Bully's audience. These aren’t the “f” words that fly freely in other films. This is reality. This is what kids in schools are really saying to each other.

Indeed, Bully is a movie that should be shown as widely as possible. To teachers, administrators, and other school personnel. To the parents who are trying to get through to their children. To the kids who are bullied, the ones who do the bullying, and the adults who endure one or both scenarios and carry it with them for the rest of their lives.

As Dennis Van Roekel, President of the National Education Association, puts it:

The power of this movie is not just the movie but the conversation after.

There’s so much I could say after seeing Bully, and I can’t capture all of it here, but I’ll share a few key points.

Something that Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, said struck a chord.

[the] importance of everyone telling their stories. I think we have to actually make these kinds of issues real for people.

I think it’s incumbent upon me to tell my own story. I was no exception to the rule that middle school is bad. Kicking my calculator down the hall. Reaching into my locker for lunch money. You get the picture. But there’s one incident that really stands out. I was on the bus and someone asked me if I was gay. I wasn’t then, and am not now, but felt the need to respond with a defensively sarcastic yes. In essence I bullied something I didn’t understand and became the victim all at the same time. Certain people never let me forget. One of them called me “Ellen” during freshman Spanish class. What can you do but laugh it off?

As Alex Libby and I can tell you, laughing it off doesn’t make the problem go away. There’s a scene in Bully where one of Alex’s assistant principals calls a parade of students into her office as part of an investigation into the violence he regularly suffers on the school bus. One of the kids admits that he’s witnessed bullying but says that Alex laughs it off.

Just because the victims laugh it off doesn’t mean that bullying isn’t a problem. Just because Ja’Meya Jackson takes the drastic step of bring a gun to school doesn’t mean that bullying isn’t a problem. Just because we’ve latched on to the “kids will be kids” myth doesn’t mean that bullying isn’t a problem. Violence is not just “messing around,” and bullying is a problem. Even if you can’t make it stop, bullying is a problem. The list goes on for those whose stories are told in Bully.

So what do we do about it?

Kelby Johnson says:

I just keep thinking that I’m the one in this town who can make a change.

Kelby's struggle doesn’t stop there, but we should learn a lesson from her. Change starts with one person standing up and speaking out.

Kirk and Laura Smalley agree.

Out of the power of the individual grows something extraordinary. I believe it's David Long who says in Bully:

Everything starts with one and builds up. Eventually we have an army.

The anti-bullying coalition here in DC continues to grow. Senator Franken is speaking out. 46 civil rights, education, labor, faith, LGBT, and other groups have written to the Senate. 70 wrote to President Obama. But none of us have said it better than Ty Smalley's friend.

If I was the king of the US, I’d make it where everyone was equal, because that’s the way it should be.

Lee Hirsch continues.

This is the dream, and I know people in this room could make that happen.

And what can you do right now?

Join the Bully movement. Heed PFAW’s call to action. Check out AFT and NEA.


Stop School Bullying Today

Following the increased media attention paid to bullying-related suicides in 2010, Senator Al Franken took a strong stand on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and those who are perceived to be LGBT. His Student Non-Discrimination Act (S. 555) protects them from school-based discrimination, much like Title IX does for gender discrimination, and much like other areas of law do for various protected classes. It recognizes bullying and harassment as discrimination, and it provides both for remedies against discrimination and incentives for schools to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Today, Senator Franken has an important video announcement for you regarding S. 555.

On the occasion of this second national call-in day, when we mark the anniversary of SNDA’s introduction this session, and the anniversary of the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention, PFAW has called on you to be part of the solution.

Below are some quick talking points (more detailed talking points here) you can use in your call and to help promote awareness about the bill.
  • Support and cosponsor the Student Non-Discrimination Act.
  • Bullying and harassment are forms of discrimination, but federal civil rights statutes leave LGBT students, and those who are perceived to be LGBT, unprotected.
  • Bullying and harassment in schools is a pervasive national problem.
  • Both Americans overall and education professionals in particular recognize the problem and support congressional action.
  • When students lose their sense of safety, they lose their access to quality education.
  • As Congress works to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, it should address the bullying and harassment problem.
  • This isn’t just a question of education. It’s a matter of life and death.
Please call your senators now: Capitol Switchboard - (202) 224-3121

You can let us know how your call went with our online call report form.

More than one third of the Senate already supports the Student Non-Discrimination Act. Check the sponsor list to see if your Senators have signed on since last time. If they have, thank them. If they haven’t, it’s time to make another call.

PFAW and AAMIA have also joined 70 national and state organizations in calling on President Obama to publicly support and endorse SNDA.

We recognize and appreciate the leadership that your administration, particularly the Departments of Education and Justice, has demonstrated in efforts to protect students from harassment in schools. The White House Conference on Bullying Prevention in March and the first-ever Federal LGBT Youth Summit in June helped bring critically important attention to the devastating discrimination and harassment that LGBT students often experience in our nation’s public schools. We view an endorsement of the Student Non-Discrimination Act as the next important step the administration should take in the ongoing federal effort to ensure that all students have access to an education unhindered by discrimination and harassment.

[ . . . ]

The Student Non-Discrimination Act presents us with a historic opportunity to offer critical protections to current and future generations of LGBT youth and their student allies by ensuring that discrimination and harassment of students on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity will have no place in our country’s public elementary and secondary schools.

You can contact the President here.

Thank you!


DOJ and DOE Resolve Harassment Allegations in Minnesota School District, Plus Call to Action on Bullying

In October 2010, the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights issued guidance to address bullying in schools, especially as it relates to federal education anti-discrimination laws. One of those laws, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. While the language does not specify sexual orientation and gender identity, DOE has made clear that harassment on these grounds, under certain circumstances, violates Title IX.

Although Title IX does not prohibit discrimination based solely on sexual orientation, Title IX does protect all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, from sex discrimination. When students are subjected to harassment on the basis of their LGBT status, they may also [. . .] be subjected to forms of sex discrimination prohibited under Title IX. The fact that the harassment includes anti-LGBT comments or is partly based on the target’s actual or perceived sexual orientation does not relieve a school of its obligation under Title IX to investigate and remedy overlapping sexual harassment or gender-based harassment. [. . .] Had the school recognized the conduct as a form of sex discrimination, it could have employed the full range of sanctions (including progressive discipline) and remedies designed to eliminate the hostile environment.

This past Monday, DOE and the Department of Justice joined with six students and the Anoka-Hennepin School District to file a proposed consent decree (legal agreement) in the US District Court in Minnesota that would resolve complaints of sex-based harassment of middle and high school students in the school district.

In November 2010, the Department of Justice received a complaint alleging that students in the school district were being harassed by other students because they didn’t dress or act in ways that conform to gender stereotypes. The Departments of Justice and Education conducted an extensive investigation into sex-based harassment in the district’s middle and high schools. Many students reported that the unsafe and unwelcoming school climate inhibited their ability to learn. The parties worked collaboratively to draft a consent decree addressing and resolving the allegations in the complaints.

If approved by the court, the consent decree will ensure that the school district:
  • Retains an expert consultant in the area of sex-based harassment to review the district’s policies and procedures concerning harassment;
  • Develops and implements a comprehensive plan for preventing and addressing student-on-student sex-based harassment at the middle and high schools;
  • Enhances and improves its training of faculty, staff and students on sex-based harassment;
  • Hires or appoints a Title IX coordinator to ensure proper implementation of the district’s sex-based harassment policies and procedures and district compliance with Title IX;
  • Retains an expert consultant in the area of mental health to address the needs of students who are victims of harassment;
  • Provides for other opportunities for student involvement and input into the district’s ongoing anti-harassment efforts;
  • Improves its system for maintaining records of investigations and responding to allegations of harassment;
  • Conducts ongoing monitoring and evaluations of its anti-harassment efforts; and
  • Submits annual compliance reports to the departments.

Tom Perez, DOJ’s Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights:

Education is a great equalizer. Yet, students cannot learn if they are afraid to go to school. Students cannot learn if they are being harassed and threatened. Students cannot learn if they are not free to be themselves. Students cannot learn if they feel that school administrators can’t and don’t protect them.

Bullying cannot be a rite of passage in our nation’s schools. Instead, our schools must be safe and nurturing environments that promote learning and full participation by all students. As a parent of three students in public school, I realize how important it is for children to be free from fear so that they can learn and thrive in school every day.

[ . . . ]

This administration is committed to combating harassment and bullying. Where we see barriers to educational opportunities, we work aggressively to break down those barriers. In Tehachapi, Calif., following the death of Seth Walsh, a gay student who took his own life, we worked with Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights on an agreement with the school district to amend its policies and provide training to address and prevent sex-based harassment. At South Philadelphia High School, we engaged in a comprehensive consent decree to address the severe and pervasive harassment of Asian American students. And in Owatonna, Minn., we entered a settlement agreement to resolve an investigation into the racial and national origin harassment and disproportionate discipline of Somali-American students at Owatonna High School. Last year, the Department of Education produced a comprehensive guidance on bullying. We will use every tool in our law enforcement arsenal to ensure that all students have access to equal educational opportunity.

The consent decree comes on the eve of another important anti-bullying action, and we need your help.

March 8 marks the second national call-in day supporting Senator Franken’s Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) (S. 555).

Check the sponsor list to see if your Senators have signed on since last time. If they have, thank them. If they haven’t, it’s time to make another call. Thank you!


Senate Hearing Examines Indefinite Detention of Americans

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled, “The Due Process Guarantee Act: Banning Indefinite Detention of Americans,” which shed light on controversial provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (NDAA).

That act, signed into law on December 31, 2011, codified some of the most extreme abuses of civil liberties that have been pursued following the initiation of the ‘War on Terror,’ the actions of which, under the current administration, are now engaged under the title, ‘Overseas Contingency Operations.’ The most striking provision of the NDAA affirmed a broad interpretation of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (2001) and stated that the executive has the power to detain anyone “who was part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities … without trial, until the end of the hostilities authorized by the [AUMF 2001],” which many interpret would permit even the indefinite detention of American citizens.

Although the current executive branch has pledged to not act upon these powers with respect to American citizens – President Obama signed the law with an adjoining statement, declaring, “my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens” – the potential for future administrations to engage in such clearly unconstitutional behavior, or for the Obama Administration to simply change its mind, is a danger that all Americans should be wary of.

Troubled by these possibilities, Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced the ‘Due Process Guarantee Act of 2011’ just hours after the final version of the NDAA was approved by the Senate. The bill seeks to amend the United States Code affected by the NDAA, effectively barring the executive from utilizing indefinite detention on American citizens without express approval from Congress to do so.

The hearing today regarded this remedial act; and there were fireworks to say the least.

Senator Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and is the author of the bill, repeatedly called into question the effectiveness of the provisions in question. Alluding to her past experiences on the Intelligence Committee, Feinstein echoed the concerns of leaders of intelligence and domestic crime fighting agencies who have expressed their disagreement with the infringement of the Armed Forces into domestic security concerns.

Senator Patrick Leahy, before passing the gavel to Senator Feinstein to chair the session, spoke more broadly about the practice of indefinite detention in his opening statement, stating, “A regime of indefinite detention degrades the credibility of this great Nation around the globe, particularly when we criticize other governments for engaging in such conduct.”

The most heated portion of the hearing arose when Senator Al Franken objected to the testimony of Steven G. Bradbury, a former Bush Administration appointee invited by Senate Republicans to testify in favor of the indefinite detention provisions. Franken alluded to the ‘enhanced interrogation’ memos (more accurately called torture memos) that Bradbury authored – which were the subject of a Justice Department probe that concluded by seriously questioning the legal work of Bradbury and others - and stated, “it’s very difficult for me, frankly, to rely on your legal opinion today.”

To ensure that future generations of Americans are not subject to indefinite detention without charge or trial, which was deemed unconstitutional by the Hamdi Supreme Court decision in 2004, please contact your local Representative and Senators to express your opposition to the NDAA, and encourage them to co-sponsor legislation to make sure the law reflects our Constitution’s most essential values. ( H.R. 36702 in the House; S. 2003 in the Senate).