bullying

Censorship and the Right's Culture Wars

In the Huffington Post today, People For President Michael Keegan looks at the battle over censorship at the Smithsonian and what it means for the coming right-wing culture wars. The fight over the Smithsonian, he writes, is “just the beginning”:

As the newly empowered House GOP gears up to start culture wars on issues from reproductive rights for women to religious freedom for American Muslims, there's an important lesson to be learned from what happened this winter at the Smithsonian. Institutions and individuals will continue to come under attack from the right's powerful extremist-to-media-to-politician echo chamber. But, as the Smithsonian's experience showed once again, there is little to be gained by caving in to this loud and usually dishonest bullying. Clough's attempt at compromise -- instantly removing a work of art from an important exhibit -- only drew louder threats to censor the exhibit as a whole, while causing some of the Smithsonian's strongest supporters to lose trust in the institution. Despite what most might hope, the right is not going to stop its culture war campaigns anytime soon. The only thing the rest of us can do is aggressively tell the truth, unapologetically stand on principle, and refuse to back down.

Read the whole thing here.

You can get more background on the story from Keegan’s initial criticism of the Smithsonian’s decision to pull a work of art from a National Portrait Gallery exhibit; his call for the museum to restore the censored work; and his call for Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough to step down after poor handling of the controversy.

Earlier this week, protesters—including representatives from People For— gathered on the National Mall to protest the censorship and call for Clough’s resignation. Campus Progress recorded the event, including an interview with protest participant Dan Choi, who was one of the most influential voices in the fight to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:
 

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Justice Department, Civil Rights Division: It gets better

In recent months I’ve written about various contributions to the It Gets Better Project. Dan and Terry. Ellen DeGeneres. President Obama. Secretary Clinton. Today brought a video from the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.

As you can see:

The Civil Rights Division, and the entire Justice Department, is committed to ending bullying and harassment in schools, and the video highlights the Department’s authority to enforce federal laws that protect students from discrimination and harassment at school because of their race, national origin, disability, religion, and sex, including harassment based on nonconformity with gender stereotypes. The video also features Division employees who share their individual stories and personal messages that a better future awaits youth who may be experiencing bullying or harassment.

PFAW agrees that every student, LGBT or not, has the right to be educated in the same way. Click here for more information.

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Just as Shepard’s legacy lives on, our work continues

On October 7, 1998, Aaron Kreifels found Matthew Shepard clinging to life in a field outside Laramie, Wyoming. Unfortunately, Shepard lost that battle five days later. What resulted was a rallying cry for the LGBT equality movement.

One of the most enduring voices in the years since has been The Laramie Project, a play produced by Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project based on interviews conducted in the aftermath of Shepard’s death. I’ll never forget my own experience with The Laramie Project, and the emotion that overcame one of my friends in the audience. He was struck by the fact that Laramie wasn’t so different from his hometown. What happened there could have happened in his backyard. It could happen just about anywhere without people and a government willing to stand up to fear and hate.

Now comes The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. There’s a point at which the story turns to current students at the University of Wyoming. They don’t know who Shepard was. Or they choose to believe rumors. Or it simply doesn’t affect them. And we’re told several times throughout that the fence on which Shepard clung to life no longer exists, broken up into pieces and lost forever. As generations pass and the physical signs fade, it’s ever more important that we openly and honestly talk about Shepard and what happened to him – not just the attack, but what we can learn from his life and death and the very real ways in which they impact our own lives.

In the very meeting where I found out that the show was in town, we were discussing what is being done and what more might be needed to address bullying in schools. We also discussed the federal hate crime law that bears Shepard’s name. And just today the FBI released its 2009 hate crime statistics.

Just as Shepard’s legacy lives on, our work continues.

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Freedom of Speech in School

We were all pretty shocked by this story out of California today:

A Stanislaus County school is forcing a student to take an American flag off of his bike.

Thirteen-year-old Cody Alicea put the flag there as a show of support for the veterans in his family.

But officials at Denair Middle School told him he couldn't fly it. He said he was told some students had complained.

But the superintendent said he's trying to avoid tension on campus.

"(The) First Amendment is important," Superintendent Edward Parraz said. "We want the kids to respect it, understand it, and with that comes a responsiblity."

Parraz said the campus has recently experienced some racial tension. He said some students got out of hand on Cinco de Mayo.

"Our Hispanic, you know, kids will, you know, bring their Mexican flags and they'll display it, and then of course the kids would do the American flag situation, and it does cause kind of a racial tension which we don't really want," Parraz said. "We want them to appreciate the cultures."

School officials later explained that they felt Cody’s safety was at risk from children who were bullying him, and that they were addressing the bullies and have now allowed Cody to continue displaying the flag.

But whatever the reasoning (or lack thereof) behind the decision to make Cody put away the flag, the superintendant’s remarks are still startling. As we saw repeatedly in the vapid debate over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” it’s a skewed view of the First Amendment that sees displaying one’s values or culture as some sort of un-American provocation. There is, as the superintendent said, “a responsibility” that comes with freedom of speech. But that responsibility does not include suppressing your patriotism, or any other deeply held beliefs, at the risk of offending others.

The right of a kid to display an American flag on Veterans Day should be the clearest example of the freedoms that should never be taken away.

 

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Supreme Court Lets DADT Enforcement Continue

The Supreme Court today declined to reverse a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that let the military continue to discriminate against gay and lesbian servicemembers while the legal battle against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell continues. The ban on openly gay Americans serving in the military was stopped temporarily after a federal judge in California ruled the policy unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit demanded that enforcement continue while the case makes its way through the court system.

The high court’s decision makes it even more urgent for Congress to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell during this years's lame duck session. With a strong Republican majority in the House next year—including many new members who are not at all open to LGBT equality—there will be little hope for legislative repeal.

In the meantime, the vast majority of Americans, across party lines, continue to oppose Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. One of these Americans is Cindy McCain, whose husband John McCain is the leading the Senate effort to keep the discriminatory policy in place. Watch the video Cindy McCain made for the anti-bullying group NO H8, in which she slams Dont Ask Dont Tell: "Our government treats the LGBT community like second class citizens, why shouldn't [bullies]?"
 

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Department of Education takes a stand for LGBT youth

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.

Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, applauded the guidance.

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.

David Warren, Director of Education at the Anti-Defamation League, further noted the importance of the guidance.

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.

As did the Human Rights Campaign, who went on to describe next steps.

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.
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National Bullies

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.
 

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Don’t forget to honor Matthew Shepard today by making it better

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.

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Honor Matthew Shepard by making it better

These words have perhaps never been truer than they are right now.

For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

I was reminded of the late Senator Kennedy’s famous quote as I happened upon this blog post this afternoon. Twelve years ago today, Aaron Kreifels found Matthew Shepard clinging to life in a field outside Laramie, Wyoming. Unfortunately, Shepard lost that battle five days later.

Shepard’s story quickly became a rallying cry for the LGBT equality movement, and has remained such to this day. Judy Shepard works tirelessly to help make the world a better place for LGBT individuals. She has spoken out on bullying and the recent suicides of LGBT youth.

Quite simply, we are calling one more time for all Americans to stand up and speak out against taunting, invasion of privacy, violence and discrimination against these youth by their peers, and asking everyone in a position of authority in their schools and communities to step forward and provide safe spaces and support services for LGBT youth or those who are simply targeted for discrimination because others assume they are gay. There can never be enough love and acceptance for these young people as they seek to live openly as their true selves and find their role in society.

Judy Shepard wants you to stand up and speak out. Dan Savage wants you to tell your story. And now the Gay-Straight Alliance Network wants you to make it better. The Make It Better Project is endorsed by dozens of LGBT equality advocates. They are taking action, including a week of action designed to draw attention to school safety for LGBT youth.

We aren’t waiting until high school is over for our lives to get better . . . We are taking action now!

Please click here for more information. You might also want to look back at my blog posts from 10/1/10 and 10/28/09.

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It gets better

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.

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Focus on the Family’s New Target: Anti-Bullying Policies

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.

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Target apologizes, but will stay in politics

Why would two companies that received 100% ratings from the Human Rights Campaign's 2010 Corporate Equality Index give a combined $250,000 to a group backing a candidate with extreme anti-gay views? According to Target's CEO, the company was only trying to advance "policies aligned with our business objectives" when it contributed $150,000 to Minnesota Forward, a group whose sole purpose is to support the candidacy of State Rep. Tom Emmer, the Republican nominee for governor of Minnesota.

MN Forward is a creation of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Business Partnership, and its top priority is, of course, lowering the corporate tax rate. In fact, MN Forward is led by Brian McClung, who previously served as "government affairs director for the Twin West Chamber of Commerce" and ran the "group's political-action committee." Benefiting from the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, the organization already raised $1.1 million, much of it from corporate donors like Hubbard Broadcasting, Red Wing Shoe Co., Federated Insurance and Davisco Foods. Ultimately, MNForward hopes to obtain $2 to $5 million in order to run advertisements across the state promoting Emmer.

It's not a surprise that big business has rallied around Emmer, who repeatedly voted against consumer protection laws, such as "good faith" requirements for insurance companies, and raising the minimum wage. In fact, Emmer was rewarded with a perfect 100% rating from the Chamber of Commerce for his 2010 voting record. But Emmer is not only a consistent defender of corporations in the State House, but is also a leading opponent of gay rights.

He voted against a bill that would permit same-sex domestic partners to have rights over the burial of their deceased partners, and also opposed allowing domestic partners of state employees to collect health insurance. Emmer even voted against legislation that would mandate anti-bullying policies in public schools to protect LGBT youth. When a local Christian rock band's lead singer called the execution of gays "moral," Emmer refused to condemn the band, and instead called them "nice people."

While Emmer declined to denounce the viciously anti-gay rock band he has financially supported, he did take the opportunity to blast critics of corporate influence in elections as enemies of free speech.

In the end, faced with an outcry from shareholders and a boycott from consumers, Target's CEO apologized for the donations. However, the company did not say that it would stop making contributions; instead, it will create a review board to oversee future contributions.

No word yet from BestBuy and other companies who have financially backed MN Forward.

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Biased Critiques of Sotomayor's "Judicial Temperament"

Amid questioning concerning her supposed “aggressive” judicial temperament and “bullying” courtroom demeanor, Judge Sotomayor today emerged from the tussle of the hearings a composed and careful speaker, unwilling to let pointed critiques ruffle her feathers.

Senator Lindsey Graham read comments by attorneys -- as collected in the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary -- that referred to Judge Sotomayor as “temperamental” and “excitable.” However, Senator Graham’s statements that followed took on a decidedly patronizing tone, as he recommended the judge see the confirmation hearings as a time for self-reflection during which she should reconsider her courtroom behavior.

Would Graham have had the same critique of a male nominee? One whose demeanor was overtly hostile at times?

Says the L.A. Times: “[B]eing tough on advocates is de rigeur for the Supreme Court. Lawyers there often barely begin their presentations before they are interrupted by one of the justices. Being able to survive that sort of intense questioning and still deliver your argument is viewed as a badge of honor. If anyone ever asked Antonin Scalia if he had a temperament problem, he'd probably readily agree -- and be proud of it.”

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Reigniting the Culture War

For all the talk about reformers and mavericks, the Republican convention this week struck me as a return to the GOP's decades-old culture-war handbook, with speaker after speaker launching attacks on the "elites" in the media and Washington who supposedly look down on small-town America. At the GOP convention, there was a dispiriting number of distortions and ugly charges hurled from the podium, but nothing exemplified the spirit of the event to me more than the repeated outright mockery of community organizers.

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