California's Governor Jerry Brown signed the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education Act (FAIR Act) today, a landmark piece of legislation requiring the state’s public schools to include LGBT history in their curricula. This major step forward is not only a sign of a significant societal shift, but is also proof lawmakers, activists, and everyday people are working to make things better for LGBT youth.
This exciting news comes at a time when we too frequently hear about numerous LGBT students suffering constant—and sometimes violent—bullying and harassment by their peers and even teachers. Though the FAIR Act is by no means a solution to the bullying problem by itself, its impact will hopefully help foster an environment of tolerance and respect in California’s public schools.
While states such as California continue to make important strides towards equality and inclusiveness, it is important that we continue tackling the bullying problem head on by supporting federal legislation such as the Safe Schools Improvement Act, the Student Non-Discrimination Act, and the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Act.
To learn more about these important pieces of legislation, please see our fact sheet on safe school and find out what you can do to support this effort.
In October and December of 2010, the Department of Education took a stand for LGBT youth by issuing 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, the Department has made clear that harassment on these grounds, under certain circumstances, violates Title IX.
Yesterday, the Department of Education released new guidance, this time focusing on the right of students under the Equal Access Act to form extracurricular clubs, including gay-straight alliances (GSAs).
Gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and similar student-initiated groups addressing LGBT issues can play an important role in promoting safer schools and creating more welcoming learning environments. Nationwide, students are forming these groups in part to combat bullying and harassment of LGBT students and to promote understanding and respect in the school community. Although the efforts of these groups focus primarily on the needs of LGBT students, students who have LGBT family members and friends, and students who are perceived to be LGBT, messages of respect, tolerance, and inclusion benefit all our students. By encouraging dialogue and providing supportive resources, these groups can help make schools safe and affirming environments for everyone.
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It is important to remember, therefore, that the Equal Access Act’s requirements are a bare legal minimum. I invite and encourage you to go beyond what the law requires in order to increase students’ sense of belonging in the school and to help students, teachers, and parents recognize the core values behind our principles of free speech.
The announcement was met with strong support across the safe schools community.
Eliza Byard, Executive Director, Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network:
Secretary Duncan's Dear Colleague letter is a clear signal to schools and school districts that they may not discriminate against students who seek to form Gay-Straight Alliances. We are grateful to the Department of Education for supporting students' rights, attempting to prevent discrimination and affirming the positive contributions Gay-Straight Alliances make to the life of our schools, right alongside other non-curricular clubs.
Laura Murphy, Director, ACLU Washington Legislative Office:
Gay-straight alliances can play a crucial role in improving students’ lives. Just as with other extra-curricular groups and clubs, students have a federal legal right to form GSAs. Our public schools should be promoting fairness and acceptance, not discrimination.
Gay-Straight Alliances are powerful forces in our schools. Not only do they offer a safe and supportive environment for LGBT students but they allow straight allies to show their support. One of the most powerful impacts that a GSA can have, however, is on those students who aren't even members - the very existence of a GSA shows students who may still be coming to terms with their orientations that someone at their school cares.
People For the American Way’s Michael Keegan writes today in the Huffington Post about right-wing activists who are trying to stop school officials and lawmakers from developing bullying-prevention strategies that address anti-gay harassment and violence, erroneously warning it would lead to “homosexual indoctrination” and “reverse discrimination.” Keegan writes:
Today, students across the country will take a vow of silence to protest anti-gay bullying and harassment in schools. The Day of Silence, an annual event organized by GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network), is meant to draw attention to the "silencing effects" of anti-gay harassment and name-calling in schools and to be a way for students to show their solidarity with students who have been bullied.
But all this silence has made the religious right very uncomfortable.
The religious right's campaign against anti-bullying programs, documented in a new report by People For the American Way, has been raging since school districts first started trying to recognize and confront anti-gay bullying. And it has since the beginning focused on the same set of myths.
The anti-anti-bullying effort shows the staggering extent of the religious right's campaign to prevent the recognition and acceptance of gay people in all parts of society -- and their desperation as more and more Americans, especially young people, want their gay friends and family members to enjoy equal rights. The Day of Dialogue's marketing is slick and its content carefully focus-grouped, but its true message is clear: as clock ticks on the religious right's anti-gay agenda, the Right's leaders know that intolerance, exclusion, and polarization can start at an early age, but they've "got to be carefully taught."
Find out more about the religious right’s latest anti-gay campaign in the new PFAW report, “Big Bullies: How the Religious Right is Trying to Make Schools Safe for Bullies and Dangerous for Gay Kids.”
Last Thursday I attended a press conference convened on Capitol Hill in support of the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Nondiscrimination Act. It was a diverse mix of speakers. Representatives Linda Sánchez and Jared Polis and Senators Robert Casey and Al Franken showed their support as our legislative champions. Clay Aiken (American Idol) and Louis Van Amstel (Dancing with the Stars) talked about using their star power to advance the cause. Dr. Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and Dr. Cathy Minke, President of the National Association of School Psychologists, shared the work they do everyday as advocates and practitioners. Then there were the people for whom this issue hits closest to home: Sirdeaner Walker, mother of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover; Tammy Aaberg, mother of Justin Aaberg; and Joey Kemmerling, a 16-year-old gay student from Bucks County, PA.
Something Dr. Byard said really stuck with me.
This is an issue of behavior, not belief.
Ensuring that schools are safe, as does the Safe Schools Improvement Act, and free of discrimination, as does the Student Nondiscrimination Act, isn’t about sexual orientation and gender identity, or how you might feel about LGBT issues being raised in schools. This is about stopping abhorrent behavior that prevents victimized students from accessing the quality education they need and deserve. Every student, LGBT or not, has the right to be educated in the same way.
Click here for more information, and be sure to take a look at this video posted by Senator Franken.
October 28 marked the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. I recently wrote about how honoring Matthew is part of Making It Better. Not only must we make sure that the law bearing his name is effectively implemented, but we must also ensure school safety for LGBT youth – a fact not lost on the Department of Education.
The Department’s Office for Civil Rights has 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, the Department 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.
The Departments of Education and Justice are rightly focused on the plight of certain religious students and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students who may not be receiving the full protections from bullying and harassment that are their right. While additional, specific protections are still needed, I commend this Administration for doing all in its power to protect vulnerable students.
Federal leadership on this important issue is critical to ensure that schools are safe places for all students, and that they help foster a culture in which bias and bullying are not tolerated. The guidelines will help community members work together to promote a civil and respectful environment for children, online as well as offline.
In order to fully protect LGBT young people, HRC continues to call on the administration to go beyond today’s interpretation of existing law and come out in support of two important pieces of legislation: the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act. The Student Non-Discrimination Act would explicitly prohibit discrimination by schools against public school students on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Safe Schools Improvement Act would require schools and districts receiving federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
I’ve been writing a lot lately about the It Gets Better Project, the Make It Better Project, and the plight of LGBT youth in America. This week, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton added their voices.
President Obama and Secretary Clinton have made clear that LGBT youth, just like all students, should feel safe and secure when they enter the schoolhouse doors. Now we must make sure that the Administration recognizes the tremendous energy and focus it takes to change the end of this story.
I think Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, put it well.
Sustained federal leadership on these issues is absolutely essential to reassert the fundamental culture of respect that must prevail in our schools. We need the President’s clear endorsement of the vital principles embodied in the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act . . . As the current crisis tragically illustrates, far too many school districts have not taken the actions needed to protect all students. And the tenor of public debate in this country stands in the way of effective local action and finding common ground. At times like these, on the difficult issues that really matter, Presidential leadership is paramount . . . They need his words, delivered now in this message, and they also need his actions.
The time to act is now.
Today, Kyle at Right Wing Watch reported on the unsurprisingly hate-filled reaction of the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer to a rash of suicides by young people have been bullied for being gay. Fischer puts the blame for these deaths not on hate-mongers like himself who spend their lives stirring up anti-gay sentiments, but on support groups like GLSEN that try to make life easier for gay teens:
If we want to see fewer students commit suicide, we want fewer homosexual students. What all truly caring adults will want to do for a student struggling with his sexual identity is to help him resist dangerous sexual impulses, accept his biological identity as either male or female, and help him learn to adjust his psychological identity to his God-given biological one.
Along that path lies psychological, spiritual, mental and emotional wholeness. Along the path of sexual depravity lies loneliness, self-torment, disease, and even death. It is a cruel thing to help a sexually confused student walk down a path that leads to darkness rather than urge him to choose a path that leads to light.
Fischer, as we’ve noted, is an unapologetic extremist on issues from gay rights to whale-stoning, but his response to this issue is essentially the same as that of much more prominent right-wing leaders. Fischer boils their “solution” to anti-gay bullying down to its head-in-the-sand conclusion: gay kids wouldn’t be bullied if there weren’t any gay kids. This is essentially what Family Research Council president and occassional Fischer buddy Tony Perkins said in a largely fact-free (not to mention compassion-free) op-ed in the Washington Post’s On Faith section yesterday:
However, homosexual activist groups like GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) are exploiting these tragedies to push their agenda of demanding not only tolerance of homosexual individuals, but active affirmation of homosexual conduct and their efforts to redefine the family.
There is an abundance of evidence that homosexuals experience higher rates of mental health problems in general, including depression. However, there is no empirical evidence to link this with society's general disapproval of homosexual conduct. In fact, evidence from the Netherlands would seem to suggest the opposite, because even in that most "gay-friendly" country on earth, research has shown homosexuals to have much higher mental health problems.
Within the homosexual population, such mental health problems are higher among those who "come out of the closet" at an earlier age. Yet GLSEN's approach is to encourage teens to "come out" when younger and younger--thus likely exacerbating the very problem they claim they want to solve.
Some homosexuals may recognize intuitively that their same-sex attractions are abnormal--yet they have been told by the homosexual movement, and their allies in the media and the educational establishment, that they are "born gay" and can never change. This--and not society's disapproval--may create a sense of despair that can lead to suicide.
Glenn Beck University “professor” David Barton also embraced this causality-reversed view of these tragic suicides when he offered up the higher rate of suicides among gays and lesbians as proof that homosexuality is inherently unhealthy—and should therefore be eliminated.
These illogical public health pronouncements would be laughable if they weren’t contributing to a very real tragedies. The mother of a boy who committed suicide after falling victim to anti-gay bullying, wrote a response to Perkins in the Washington Post today:
If schools perceive addressing anti-gay bullying as a controversial issue, then they'll continue the status quo of putting their heads in the sand and hoping the issue takes care of itself.
It won't. And we need to be clear on one thing - addressing anti-gay bullying is not a controversial issue. If you move through the smoke screen organizations like Family Research Council try to create, you realize addressing anti-gay bullying is simply the right thing to do if we care about all of our young people.
Fischer may be an extremist’s extremist, but right-wing leaders echoing his harmful message are no less dangerous. And when future presidential candidates gather with people like Fischer and Perkins, they ensure that their messages of hate will keep on trickling down to vulnerable, ostracized kids. If what Fischer, Perkins, and Barton are doing isn’t bullying, I don’t know what is.
Last week, I wrote about Matthew Shepard and his mother Judy. Today, on the 12th anniversary of Matthew’s death, the Make It Better Project is urging Congress to support the Student Nondiscrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act. Please join them!
The recent suicides of several LGBT students across the country have highlighted the fact that anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools can have a dramatic and tragic effect on LGBT students, their families, and school communities.
The Safe Schools Improvement Act (H.R. 2262/S. 3739) and the Student Nondiscrimination Act (H.R. 4530/S. 3390) will help make the lives of LGBT youth better!
Call Members of Congress on Tuesday, October 12th and ask them to make sure they cosponsor both bills, H.R. 2262/S. 3739 and H.R. 4530/S. 3390!
Students - Share your story with Congress and tell them how these bills will make life better for you.
Adults - Tell Congress why this is important to you and how these bills will improve the lives of students.
Call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected directly to your Members of Congress.
OR CLICK HERE to get talking points and automatically identify your Members of Congress, find their direct numbers.
Please click here for more information.
It’s not often that a web site like Gawker makes me stop and think, but staff writer Brian Moylan did just that in a moving post about anti-gay bullying.
If we can't save these kids' lives, then all of our struggles for civil rights and marriage equality aren't worth anything.
Brian’s right. Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Health benefits and housing. Immigration rights. Relationship recognition. Marriage equality. If we don’t save the next generation, what we’re fighting for today won’t mean anything tomorrow.
These days we can’t seem to escape the stories of lives ruined, or even ended, by bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation. Tyler Clementi has dominated the news this week. We’ve also heard about Seth Walsh, Justin Aaberg, Billy Lucas, and Asher Brown. One death is too many. Five in such a short period of time is unconscionable. This must stop.
Columnist Dan Savage makes a simple plea to those who think they have nowhere to turn: It gets better.
Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres has a similar message: Things will get easier. People’s minds will change. And you should be alive to see it.
LGBT youth, just like all students, should feel safe and secure when they enter the schoolhouse doors. We can change the end of this story.
For more information, please click here. And be sure to check out the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
Maintaining that “activist groups that want to promote homosexuality in kids” seek to violate the “innocence and purity of children,” Focus on the Family has launched the “True Tolerance” campaign to prevent “homosexuals” from capturing “the hearts and minds of our children at their earliest ages.” The Orwellian-named True Tolerance project believes that efforts by school districts to improve safety among their students through enacting anti-bullying policies are actually trying to send a “message about homosexuality — that it's normal and should be embraced.”
According to Focus on the Family, anti-bullying and anti-harassment laws are only meant to produce “special protections” for LGBT students and “reverse discrimination.” The far-right group says that schools should instead “unite around the teachings of our Founding Fathers— in particular, the principle that all men are created equal and that they are endowed with unalienable rights.” However, Focus on the Family believes that the sexual orientation and gender identity of students should determine just how “equal” they are.
Research from GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) shows that the vast majority of LGBT students have experienced verbal harassment in schools, and that 44.1% of LGBT students “reported being physically harassed and 22.1% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.” Educators are solidly in favor of strategies to thwart bullying, and 85% of secondary school teachers “agree that they have an obligation to ensure a safe learning environment for LGBT students.”
The push to stop schools from implementing policies to prevent harassment and bullying is a dangerous new low in the Religious Right’s long and vicious fight against equality for the LGBT community. Currently, only twelve states and the District of Columbia have policies meant to protect students based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. With increased attention on the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Nondiscrimination Act, Focus on the Family intends to gear up its fight to block school districts from protecting some of their most vulnerable students from maltreatment and violence.