Safe Schools Improvement Act

Stop School Bullying Today

Please do your part by asking your senators and President Obama to support the Student Non-Discrimination Act.
PFAW

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

On Monday, DOJ, DOE, six students, and the Anoka-Hennepin School District proposed an agreement resolving complaints of sex-based harassment of middle and high school students in the school district. And in Congress, we need you to take action on bullying.
PFAW

UPDATE: Stop School Bullying this GSA Day!

As you know, PFAW recently celebrated GSA Day 2012 and the work of Gay-Straight Alliances that bring lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight allied people together to stop bullying, homophobia, transphobia and hate, and we called on you to be part of the solution.
PFAW

What a Difference 18 Years Makes

Sometimes it’s hard to see what it means to make change. Last week OutServe brought us a notable exception.

Not long ago, this video could not have been made. It’s because so many people worked so hard over the past 18 years to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell that this issue could be raised so openly from within the armed forces. And all of our work on It Gets Better and safe schools will be better for it.

PFAW

Stop School Bullying this GSA Day!

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 GSA Day 2012, when we celebrate the work of Gay-Straight Alliances that bringing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight allied people together to stop bullying, homophobia, transphobia and hate, 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.
  • Celebrate Gay-Straight Alliance Day by supporting and cosponsoring 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. You can check for your senators on the list here and if one or both of your senators are on it, please make your call a “thank you” call.

PFAW

Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover’s Story Comes to ABC

Following the increased media attention paid to bullying-related suicides last fall, PFAW took a strong stand on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and those who are perceived to be LGBT. Last Friday, ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition turned its attention to the story of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover.

On April 6, 2009, 11-year-old Carl Walker took his own life after being relentlessly bullied at school. Carl's family has focused their energies on helping others. They have turned this tragic event into something positive by lobbying for new state and federal laws against bullying.

The 3rd floor of the Walker home is where Carl took his own life. As a result, the family cannot bear the sadness of being on that floor. They need a new home that would meet their current needs yet also honor Carl in a positive way. Know anyone who can help?

Ty Pennington and designers Michael Moloney, Tracy Hutson, Jillian Harris, John Littlefield and local builders N. Riley Construction, Inc., as well as community volunteers, are tasked with building a new home while the Walkers are whisked away on a dream vacation to Hollywood.

As part of the episode, ABC teamed up with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network:

GLSEN worked with the Makeover team to create Stand Together, a community of people dedicated to taking action against bullying, with Sirdeaner Walker - a leading advocate on this issue - as the driving force behind the movement. The online hub featured in the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition episode is designed to raise awareness about the overwhelming number of bullying incidents in our nation's schools. Those touched by her work of making schools safe for all students can get involved and make a pledge against bullying and harassment by visiting www.standtogether.tv.

Stand Together is a great new tool to show how diverse the fight against bullying has become. They are well over one hundred thousand strong and still growing.

PFAW will continue its own advocacy to make sure that lessons are learned from stories like Carl's. Just this week, we sent a letter to the Senate supporting the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

S. 555 protects students from school-based sexual orientation and gender identity 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.

Ultimately, this is about stopping abhorrent behavior that prevents victimized students from accessing quality education. All children deserve far better than that.

Senator Franken is the sponsor of the Student Non-Discrimation Act.

On a personal note, Carl's story will remain saved in my DVR as a reminder of why I – why all of us in this fight do what we do.

PFAW

SB 137 says Michigan bullies can hide behind religion

In 2002, upon completing eighth grade at MacDonald Middle School in East Lansing, MI, Matt Epling was the victim of a hazing assault by upperclassmen. Roughly forty days later, presumably still reeling from the aftermath of the incident, Matt committed suicide. In the years since, friends and family have honored his memory by fighting for the passage of Matt’s Safe School Law.

The latest iteration of this legislation passed the Michigan Senate on November 2. But instead of protecting students like Matt from bullying and harassment, SB 137 creates a potentially dangerous religious exemption.

This section does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil's parent or guardian.

The First Amendment and the fundamental constitutional rights and principles it encompasses deserve our utmost respect and a passionate defense. But to exempt religion in this way is not the answer.

Matt’s father, [Kevin Epling], expressed his dismay in a Facebook post after the state senate vote on Wednesday. “I am ashamed that this could be Michigan’s bill on anti-bullying,” wrote Epling. “For years the line [from Republicans] has been ‘no protected classes,’ and the first thing they throw in…was a very protected class, and limited them from repercussions of their own actions.”

Senator Gretchen Whitmer:

Or as Dr. Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, once said:

This is an issue of behavior, not belief.

News reports suggest that a compromise is in the works. Please tell the House and the Education Committee to:

Fix SB 137 by removing the exemption clause, adding statewide reporting requirements, and adding enumerated protections for categories such as race, disability, and sexual orientation.
PFAW

Will California’s LGBT-inclusive curricula promote safer schools?

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.

PFAW

Standing together for schools that are safe and free of discrimination

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.

 

PFAW

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.
PFAW

President Obama and Secretary Clinton: It gets better

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.

PFAW

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.

PFAW

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.

PFAW