Put this toolkit to good use and call your Senators today, "pass ENDA now!"

Update: With meetings in DC and calls coming in from across the country, ENDA supporters are sending a clear message to the Senate: pass ENDA now! It's not too late to join them. Take a look at our just-released toolkit then call your Senators by looking up their contact information or by hitting up the capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. The government may be shut down, but Congress is still on the job, and we need to show them that they need to get back to work not only on the budget but on all of the urgent issues that we care about.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is civil rights legislation that would make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote employees because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Specifically, ENDA would expand current federal employment protections against discrimination – such as those based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age, and disability – to include sexual orientation and gender identity. ENDA would establish uniform protections for LGBT workers across the country, making it clear that employees cannot be mistreated because of who they are or who they love.

First introduced in 1994, ENDA has been introduced in every subsequent session of Congress except one, including its introduction this April by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate. Advocates in Congress and on the ground believe that the growing momentum surrounding LGBT equality should help ENDA move forward this year.

To that end, People For the American Way today released Judging Employees by Their Work Performance, Not by Who They Are or Who They Love, a new toolkit that contains talking points, training and materials for lobbying, media tools, and Right Wing Watch opposition research, all designed to help you in calling for Congress to stand on the side of equality.

Click here and here for information about critical allies and other resources. And be sure to check out this new poll about the strong support for ENDA across the country.

PFAW

New documentary revisits the climate change we all should want

Last spring, PFAW staff members and friends attended a screening of Lee Hirsch's documentary, Bully, which tells the stories of young people bullied in school, the challenges they faced, the actions they took, and the lessons they teach us all.

One such lesson was the idea that bullying is an environmental problem that requires climate change. Everyone has a stake. It’s not just bullies and the students they target. It’s students who witness incidents. It’s teachers and administrators with the power to intervene. It’s nurses and counselors dealing with the physical and emotional tolls taken. It’s parents trying to get through to their children. It’s community groups who simply want to help. It’s bus drivers. It’s also not about paying lip service to the problem. It’s about having a genuine interest in making it better now and sustaining those solutions in the future.

Now HBO is set to tell another story of the climate change we all should want.

It was February 12, 2008. 15-year-old Lawrence “Larry” King, who had begun openly exploring a female expression of his gender identity, and 14-year-old Brandon McInerney were in a computer lab at E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, California. With the flash of two gunshots, Larry was off to the hospital, fighting for his life in a battle that he would soon lose; and Brandon was under arrest, later tried as an adult and sentenced to 21 years. Never would their teacher and their classmates be the same.

Both boys had troubled family lives and were caught up in a system that never fully met their needs. They were students in a school where the administrators and most of the teachers and students didn’t understand Larry or what he was going through. Nobody adequately stepped up for Larry leading up to that fateful day. Even Larry's friends and allies could do little to make the situation better.

At the Valentine Road screening, Eliza Byard, GLSEN's Executive Director who recently spoke in commemoration of the March on Washington, said something to this effect:

Larry's legacy is more than our enduring sadness. There is more that we can do.

It's the same call to action that Dennis Van Roekel has made in his work as President of the National Education Association: (5:24)

Stories like Larry’s are the reason we must support climate change in schools nationwide. They’re the reason we must support federal legislation like the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

Let’s make sure we stand up for not only tolerance but also for understanding in our own communities and schools.

PFAW

PFAW Releases New Toolkit on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is civil rights legislation that would make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire, or refuse to promote employees because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Specifically, ENDA would expand current federal employment protections against discrimination – such as those based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age, and disability – to include sexual orientation and gender identity. ENDA would establish uniform protections for LGBT workers across the country, making it clear that employees cannot be mistreated because of who they are or who they love.

First introduced in 1994, ENDA has been introduced in every subsequent session of Congress except one, including its introduction this April by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate. Advocates in Congress and on the ground believe that the growing momentum surrounding LGBT equality should help ENDA move forward this year.

To that end, People For the American Way today released Judging Employees by Their Work Performance, Not by Who They Are or Who They Love, a new toolkit that contains talking points, lobbying training and materials, media tools, and Right Wing Watch opposition research, all designed to help you in calling for Congress to stand on the side of equality.

Click here and here for information about critical allies and other resources. And be sure to check out this new poll about the strong support for ENDA across the country.

PFAW

The climate change we all should want

David and Tina Long wanted answers following their son’s 2009 suicide so they held a townhall meeting to address the bullying suffered by Tyler and his classmates. Though well-attended by parents, students, and community leaders alike, Bully highlights a troubling absence – school officials. It’s a sign that climate change is needed.

You see, bullying is an environmental problem. As director Lee Hirsch puts it:

It’s the whole ecosystem of the schools.

Everyone has a stake. It’s not just bullies and the students they target. It’s students who witness incidents. It’s teachers and administrators with the power to intervene. It’s nurses and counselors dealing with the physical and emotional tolls taken. It’s parents trying to get through to their children. It’s community groups who simply want to help. It’s bus drivers:

To support [Bully], [First Student] is working with The Bully Project to help transport 1 million students across the country to see the movie in theaters. Following the film, a trained facilitator will lead a discussion about bullying and bullying prevention.

It’s also not paying lip service to the problem. It’s a genuine interest in making it better now and sustaining those solutions in the future. James Wendorf, Executive Director of the National Center for Learning Disabilities:

It’s having those supports, having those personnel there, but also having them prepared and trained in the right way is absolutely critical.

When we’re out of sync or insincere, you get school officials who skip a townhall. You get a student at that same townhall who says:

It’s a shame that [Tyler Long] had to do this for anybody to notice.

I think that Dennis Van Roekel, President of the National Education Association, says it best: (5:24)

Click here for more from the American Federation of Teachers on Tuesday’s DC screening of Bully. And here for more from PFAW.

PFAW

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 Change.org 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.

PFAW

Standing Up For Kevin Jennings

The Right Wing smear machine has been in overdrive attacking Kevin Jennings, who heads the Department of Education's Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools.  But the education community is having none of it.

The National Association of School Psychologists calls Jennings "A Champion in the Department of Education."

The Learning First Alliance says "Kevin Jennings is the right person to lead the Education Department's Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools."

The National Education association says Jennings is "highly qualified" and that his "proven track record of success speaks for itself."

Gerald Tirozzi of the National Association of Secondary School Principles appeared on CNN last night to praise Jennings as "a powerful voice to continualy help us not to back away from doing the right things for kids in our schools."

And, in case you were wondering, People For says "Kevin Jennings Will Keep Schools Safe for All."  Indeed.

 UPDATE: There's more!

The Council for Exceptional Children says "Mr. Jennings has dedicated his career to ensuring that our schools remain supportive, safe and positive for all students."

The Social Workers Association of America says Jennings "is devoted to improving the school climate and making schools safe and nurturing environments for learning and growth."

The National Association of Secondary School Principals calls Jennings "a great educator who cares deeply about every student."

PFAW