Schools

Haley Barbour's Whitewash of History

Mississippi governor and potential presidential candidate Haley Barbour is now trying to backtrack his previous support for the racist White Citizens Councils that existed in the state when he was young.

In a recent interview with the Weekly Standard, he made his feelings quite clear:

You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you'd lose it. If you had a store, they'd see nobody shopped there. We didn't have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.

Since not everyone in America is wholly ignorant of recent history, Barbour is being forced to backpedal, according to Talking Points Memo. Among other things, he now says:

My point was my town rejected the Ku Klux Klan, but nobody should construe that to mean I think the town leadership were saints, either.

Perhaps we are meant to think that the formation of the White Citizens Councils in the 1950s represented a principled rejection of the Klan. However, neither the timing nor the motivation rings true. As People For the American Way said in a 2003 report:

[I]t is worth noting that by 1967, "even the white establishment of Mississippi had begun to decide that Klan violence was bad for business." Clarence Page, "Fight Over Judges Replays Our Bitter History," Chicago Tribune (Feb. 13, 2002) (citing William Taylor, who at the time was Staff Director for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission).

Barbour’s desperate and unconvincing backtracking should not be the end of the story, because it is simply not credible that he was unaware of what the White Citizens Councils really were ... as if their name wasn’t already a giveaway.

While Barbour today likens them to just another "organization of town leaders," the Mississippi White Citizens Councils show up in contemporaneous federal court cases as anything but a Rotary Club.

For instance, in 1964, a federal district court noted the then-recent formation of the Mississippi White Citizens Councils, including its first priority, in United States v. Mississippi:

In 1954, after the Supreme Court had declared state operation of racially segregated schools unconstitutional, white citizens councils -- not parties to this action -- were formed in Mississippi. The purpose of these organizations was the maintenance of racial segregation and white supremacy in Mississippi. The first statewide project undertaken by these organizations was the attempt to induce the white voters of Mississippi to adopt the proposed amendment to Section 244 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890.

They succeeded, thereby introducing the literacy and civics tests that government officials subsequently used to keep African Americans disenfranchised.

Four years later, in 1968, their racist mission and funding were said to be common knowledge by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co:

It appears to be common knowledge that, in addition to its own activities promoting segregation, the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, an agency created in 1956 and financed by state tax revenues, used a part of its funds to finance some of the activities of various groups, including the White Citizens Council, which promote adherence to the ancient custom of proscribing the mixing of the races in places of public assembly; and that these groups, especially the White Citizens Council, use economic and social power to pressure those who might attempt to disregard custom into adhering to custom. See, generally, J. Silver, Mississippi: The Closed Society, 8, 32, 39-40, 42, 43, 65, 79, 94, 97, 110, 133, 151, 217 (1964).

People For the American Way discussed this key funder of the White Citizens Councils in a 2002 report:

The Sovereignty Commission, a state-funded agency, was created not long after the decision in Brown v. Board of Education in order to resist desegregation, and was empowered to act as necessary to protect the "sovereignty" of the state of Mississippi from the federal government. The Commission infiltrated and spied on civil rights and labor organizations and reported on their activities. It compiled dossiers on civil rights activists and used the information to obstruct their activities. The Commission existed until 1977, when the state legislature voted to abolish it and to seal its records for 50 years.

The White Citizens Councils were a dark stain on the history of our nation. No responsible officeholder - or office seeker - can think otherwise. Had Governor Barbour stated that he did not recognize that at the time because he was a product of the environment he grew up in, it might be believable. But his defense of the White Citizens Council coupled with his unconvincing backpedaling suggests that he still doesn’t understand how repugnant the South’s Jim Crow system really was.

PFAW

White House staff: 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. Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice. Yesterday brought a video from White House staff members.

The video’s release notes:

Inspired by President Obama’s It Gets Better video, several LGBT White House staffers decided to add their voices to the project. President Obama has more LGBT appointees than any previous administration and he is committed to making his administration reflect the diversity of our nation.

I also just came across a page that collects It Gets Better videos produced by the Obama Administration. Some I’d seen. Some I hadn’t. Check it out!

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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Future of Public Education at Risk in Florida

Even though Florida’s initial experiment with school vouchers was ridden with cases of fraud and profiteering, Governor-Elect Rick Scott plans to drastically expand the voucher program and put the state’s public schools in his crosshairs. While a recent state-commissioned study found that “students using vouchers to attend private schools in Florida are doing no better and no worse than similar students in public schools,” the new Governor wants to expand the voucher program to include all Florida students.

Scott called for the diversion of funds from the public education system to “education savings accounts,” which families can use to pay for public, charter, private, or virtual schools. While such a plan appears innocuous on its face, the devil is in the details.

Valerie Strauss who writes on education issues for the Washington Post suggested that by encouraging students to leave public schools for private institutions, Scott’s plan would badly undercut efforts to make schools more accountable since most private schools are not subject to the same measures of public accountability, like tests and grading. Strauss maintains that “the notion that private schools would inherently be any better than a system of public schools overlooks all the key factors -- poverty being the first but not the only one -- that affect our most troubled public schools right now.”

Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones adds that “Scott’s education ‘reform’ plan seems be less about actually making Florida’s schools better and more about paying private companies to run bad ones.” Under Scott’s proposal, oversight would be seriously weakened, while private and virtual schools stand to profit immensely and at the expense of the public education system. Mencimer profiles cases of fraud and underperformance among the programs that would be given the greatest advantages under Scott’s plan, which she described as “a formula for disaster.”

The St. Petersburg Times questions how Scott would clear basic Constitutional and financial requirements. Firstly, Florida’s Supreme Court has found similar voucher programs unconstitutional before for violating the state constitution’s provision for a “uniform system of free public schools.”

Moreover, the numbers just don’t add up. Scott wants to severely reduce school property taxes and abolish corporate taxes, cutting significant revenue sources. The Times adds that since his plan entails “taking a portion of the per student funding for public schools and allowing families to spend that amount as they wish,” Scott “would not leave enough money for public education. And presumably, the hundreds of thousands of students already in private schools would receive public money as well.”

Rick Scott’s radical experiment with the Florida education system is the latest example of attacks on public schools that are taking place throughout the country. Just as Florida’s vouchers have so far proven largely ineffective, studies about voucher programs in Wisconsin and Washington D.C. also found that the programs did not come close to producing the promised benefits. In essence, Scott’s voucher plan drains money away from public schools in favor of an untested, unaccountable, and financially-questionable voucher program without any evidence that it will improve results.

PFAW

New Attacks on Public Schools

When Republicans take over the House next month, we can expect a flurry of bills seeking to impose school vouchers. But around the country, state and local officials are already escalating their assault against public education.

In Florida, voucher supports had already gotten their foot in the door with voucher programs for low-income students and those with disabilities. Last week, they took the predictable next step:

Florida Gov.-elect Rick Scott on Thursday blew the door wide open to the idea of a voucherlike program for all students, saying he's working with lawmakers to allow state education dollars to follow a student to the school his or her parents choose.

He did not use the term vouchers. Others called it an "education savings account."

But whatever it's called, the incoming governor, key lawmakers and a foundation tied to former Gov. Jeb Bush are setting the stage for Florida to consider one of the most radical education ideas that it - or arguably any state - has ever considered.

In Indiana:

Gov. Mitch Daniels said Wednesday he will ask lawmakers to approve an education voucher system that would let low-income students use state money to help pay for private school tuition.

Daniels provided few details about his proposal - including income levels at which families would qualify or the amount they could receive - but said it will be part of his larger education agenda for the 2011 session.

And in Denver:

The Douglas County school board Tuesday night took another step toward a voucher program, with the board president saying he would like a pilot program for the 2011-12 school year. ...

[T]he board agreed to have Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen analyze whether vouchers would be good for the school district. After that analysis, the board will receive additional public input and make a final decision. ...

Some at the packed school-board meeting room were not in favor of using public money for a private education, especially for religious schools. Thirteen of the 14 private schools in the district are religious.

They carried signs that read "Keep Public Money in Public Schools" and "Do Not Bankrupt Our Schools."

"I think this would help destroy the public school system," said former teacher Sue Carter.

Indeed, the diversion of funds from public to private schools threatens the integrity of our public education system. By providing public funds to religious schools, voucher programs undermine the separation of church and state. To make things worse, studies show that vouchers don't even lead to significant academic improvements. For instance, earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education's final report on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP, the name of the voucher program) found that there "is no conclusive evidence that the OSP affected student achievement."

The problems that are faced by America's public schools will not be solved by taking kids out of the system.

PFAW

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.

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.

 

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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.
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

Extremely Extreme Extremism Update

With Election Day fast approaching, tens of millions of dollars from corporations flooding the airwaves each week and seemingly endless news stories about apathy in the Democratic base, right-wing candidates are getting more brazen -- advancing ever more extreme positions and spreading outright lies.

Sharron Angle, the Republican running to unseat Harry Reid in Nevada, told a crowd that Dearborn, Michigan and a town named Frankford, Texas are under Islamic Sharia Law. Utter nonsense. The statement earned her a strong rebuke from the Mayor of Dearborn and it turns out that Frankford, TX doesn't even exist!

Rand Paul, running for Senate in Kentucky, now supports ending the income tax in favor of a more regressive national sales tax that would hit the poor and middle class far more harshly than the income tax. After saying a few months back that he would have opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and making controversial statements about mining and the BP oil spill, Paul's handlers have tried hard to keep his extremism under wraps. But for someone as "out there" as Rand Paul, that's hard to do for very long.

In a debate on Wednesday night, Tea Party favorite and Republican Senate candidate in Delaware, Christine O'Donnell, perpetuating an attack that has been thoroughly discredited, accused her Democratic opponent Chris Coons of being a Marxist, based on Coons' tongue-in-cheek comment in an article he wrote as a student. On a roll, O'Donnell launched into a rant that included attacks on Coons for things he never said and completely fabricated declarations about the "tenets" of Marxism.

These are just some of this week's salvos from the right-wing Rogue's Gallery of Senate candidates -- let's not forget some of the past gems from Tea Party candidates. Sen. Russ Feingold's opponent in Wisconsin, Ron Johnson, is such an extreme pro-corporate ideologue that he tries to push the notion that global warming is caused by sunspots in order to cover for corporate polluters... he also wants to drill for oil in the Great Lakes and even fought against protections for victims of child abuse on the grounds that it would be bad for business.

But the worst of the bunch has to be Colorado's GOP Senate candidate Ken Buck. When he was a county D.A., he refused to prosecute a rape that the accused essentially admitted he had committed. Instead, Buck chose to blame the victim, calling her charges a case of "buyer's remorse." Perhaps most disturbingly, it appears his statement and inaction might have been retribution for what some claimed was an abortion the victim had a year before (despite the victim's claim that she had a miscarriage). Keep in mind this is a man who is against legal abortion even in the cases of rape and incest, and apparently agrees with Sharron Angle that rape victims who become pregnant as a result of their assault should make "lemonade" out of "what was really a lemon situation."

If this weren't enough, this week an interview from March reemerged in which the "get rid of government no matter what the cost" Buck actually came out in favor of privatizing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention! Imagine the CDC privatized -- the profit motive being the sole determination for whether the Center might act to save millions of lives... or let millions suffer or even die.

This is what extremism looks like. These could be the new people making our laws.

But it's not too late. We can Stamp Out Extremism. Please, this election, dig deep, speak out and get involved.

The latest poll numbers have progressive Democrat Joe Sestak ahead of pro-corporate extremist Pat Toomey in the Pennsylvania Senate race for the first time... Colorado is a very tight race and our endorsed candidate Michael Bennet is in position to defeat Buck with enough of our help... the progressive Senate candidate in Kentucky, Jack Conway, is running very close and could actually beat Republican Rand Paul because of his extremism... and we are fighting tooth-and-nail to keep Russ Feingold in the Senate and stop the radically right-wing Ron Johnson. We are in the process right now of producing ads for all of these states and more, and finalizing our field plan to get out the vote.

Please stay tuned for more on those products and activities, and, in the meantime, help spread around our resources, like our "Rogues Gallery" report, which calls out the GOP's extremist Senate candidates, and our "After Citizens United" report, which exposes the corporate front groups that are trying to buy this election for the Republicans.

UPDATE: Jed Lewison at Kos highlights right-wing candidates attacks on the miminum wage:

As Joan McCarter (here, here, and here) and DemFromCT (here) have documented, in the past few weeks leading Republican candidates have come out against the minimum wage, either calling for it to be lowered or for eliminating it altogether because they think it's unconstitutional. And now West Virginia GOP Senate nominee Joe Raese is once again vowing to repeal the Fair Labor Standards Act which established the minimum wage.

The key thing about the GOP position is that it's not just the minimum wage that they want to get rid of. They want to nuke virtually every law and regulation that protects workers. And that includes another provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act: overtime pay.

UPDATE 2: Tea Party House candidate in California's 11th Congressional District, David Harmer, wants to abolish public schools. Sharron Angle and others want to do away with the Department of Education, but Harmer's position could be an even more extreme attack on public education. Harmer is leading progressive incumbent Rep. Jerry McNerney in the polls...

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The Regressive Agenda

Is public education a sign that government is too big? That’s what a front-running GOP congressional candidate in California thinks. Nick Baumann at Mother Jones reports that David Harmer, who hopes to defeat Rep. Jerry McNerney in California’s 11th congressional district, has advocated for eliminating the public education system altogether:

[I]n 2000, he published a lengthy op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle titled, "Abolish the Public Schools." In that Chronicle piece, Harmer argues that "government should exit the business of running and funding schools." He contends that would allow for "quantum leaps in educational quality and opportunity" and notes that he's simply pushing for a return to "the way things worked through the first century of American nationhood." Here's how he describes the wondrous world of early American education:

“[L]iteracy levels among all classes, at least outside the South, matched or exceeded those prevailing now, and... public discourse and even tabloid content was pitched at what today would be considered a college-level audience. Schooling then was typically funded by parents or other family members responsible for the student, who paid modest tuition. If they couldn't afford it, trade guilds, benevolent associations, fraternal organizations, churches and charities helped. In this quintessentially American approach, free people acting in a free market found a variety of ways to pay for a variety of schools serving a variety of students, all without central command or control.”

Yet historians say the early American education system was nothing like that. Back then, even high school was a luxury. "The high school at that point is a kind of elite form of education pretty much limited to the inner cities," says John Rury, an education historian at the University of Kansas. The rest of the system was far from comprehensive. What early schools taught, Rury says, were "very basic literacy and computational skills." Many schools only met four or five months a year, and their quality varied widely. "To get to a higher level of cognitive performance, you needed to have more teachers and longer school years, and that drove costs up," he explains. That led to modern taxpayer-supported schools. "Look around the world," says Rury. "Do we have an example of a modern, well-developed school system that operates on the model this person is advocating? We don't."

Granted, Harmer is the only one of this year’s batch of far-right candidates who has wanted to go so far as to eliminate public education (though pleas to get rid of the standards-enforcing Department of Education are common). But his argument does illuminate the Tea Party movement’s enthusiastic embrace of radically regressive policies. For instance, there’s Rand Paul’s plug for replacing the income tax with a flat national sales tax (ensuring that the poor are disproportionately hit by taxes and the rich are home free), there's Ken Buck's proposal to privatize the Centers for Disease Control's public health work, there’s Christine O’Donnell’s insistence that non-citizens with serious injuries should be turned away by hospitals (which, as Adam Serwer points out, flies in the face of both decency and a law signed by Ronald Reagan), and then there’s the gleefully righteous reaction on the Right to the absurdly symbolic incident of the pay-for-play fire department that stood by while a house burned down.

These aren’t instances of opposition to further expansion of government. They’re examples of a backwards-looking ideology taken to its logical, and disastrous, extremes.
 

PFAW

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.
 

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.

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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.

PFAW

First Monday in October

Today, as the Supreme Court opens its new term, the major news concerns a decision from last term: the solid rebuke of Citizens United by a bipartisan group of more than 50 legal scholars and public officials. The impact of that decision is poisoning election campaigns around the country and, through the Congress that will be elected as a result, will doubtless impact the lives of every American.

This term, the Court will be deciding at least one new corporate personhood case, as well as other cases affecting our most important rights, including freedom of speech, church-state separation, and due process. Some of the ones we'll be looking at:

Corporate Personhood & Privacy: AT&T v. FCC. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) generally requires federal agencies to disclose records to the public upon request. There are numerous exceptions, such as records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes whose disclosure could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of "personal privacy." The Supreme Court will decide if "personal privacy" applies to corporations, as well as to people.

Free Speech: Snyder v. Phelps. Fred Phelps and his fellow fanatics from the Westboro Baptist Church are infamous for picketing the funerals of military personnel with messages such as "God Hates Fags." According to Phelps, the deaths of U.S. servicemembers are God's punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality. The Supreme Court will determine whether Phelps' funeral-picketing activities are protected by the First Amendment. The case will be argued Wednesday.

Free Speech: Schwarzenegger v. Video Software Dealers Association. The Supreme Court will address whether a California law restricting the sale of violent video games to minors violates the free speech protections of the First Amendment. California argues that states can restrict minors' access to violent material just as they can with sexual material. During oral arguments in November, we may get a sense as to whether the Supreme Court agrees.

Church-State Separation: Arizona Christian Tuition v. Winn. Arizona has a program that gives parents tax credits for tuition at private schools. Most parents use these credits toward tuition at religious schools. A group of taxpayers sued, arguing that this violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Before the Supreme Court can decide that issue, it must first determine if the plaintiffs have standing to sue. In 2007, the Roberts Court limited the circumstances in which taxpayers can challenge government expenditures that violate the Establishment Clause, and they may do so again in this case.

State Secrets Privilege: General Dynamics v. U.S. and Boeing v. U.S. These cases are actually not about the most infamous uses of the states secret privilege, which notoriously has been used to shut down lawsuits against the government alleging U.S. complicity in torture and other illegal activities. This time, it's the federal government that has initiated the lawsuit, which raises interesting Due Process issues. These consolidated cases address whether the United States can sue two defense contractors for failing to fulfill their contractual obligations, while at the same time using the state secrets privilege to prevent the companies from presenting a defense.

Employment of Immigrants: Chamber of Commerce of the United States v. Whiting. In 2007, Arizona passed a law targeting employers who hire undocumented immigrants by revoking their licenses to operate in the state. The state law also requires employers to participate in a federal electronic employment verification system that federal law specifically makes voluntary. The Supreme Court will decide whether federal immigration legislation preempts Arizona's laws.

Preemption - Right to Sue Drug Manufacturers: Bruesewitz v. Wyeth. The federal Vaccine Act preempts certain design defect lawsuits in state court against child vaccine manufacturers "if the injury or death resulted from side effects that were unavoidable even though the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warnings." The Bruesewitz family argues that their lawsuit isn't preempted because the side effects were not unavoidable: A safer, alternative vaccine was available. The Supreme Court will decide if the Vaccine Act preempts the family's suit.

Preemption - Right to Sue Car Manufacturers: Williamson v. Mazda. An accident victim sued Mazda in state court for negligently choosing to install a lap-only seatbelt in the back center seat instead of a safer lap/shoulder belt. However, federal car safety regulations at the time specifically allowed lap-only seatbelts. The Supreme Court will decide if Congress intended the federal safety regulations to preempt such state lawsuits.

PFAW

Senate Dysfunction Continues as Two Republicans Block Women's Museum

Republican obstructionism found another victim today in the senate: a bipartisan bill to sell unused land for the construction of the National Women’s History Museum has been held up in the Senate. Senators Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) have both placed holds on the bill that would sell land near the Smithsonian to the private group planning the Women’s Museum. Unless the holds are withdrawn, the Senate must go through the protracted process of holding a cloture vote, which requires the support of 60 Senators.

Even though all the preparations and finances for the museum would be privately funded, the two Republican Senators found their personal problems with the Museum to be so egregious that they are delaying the Senate’s ability to vote on the land deal. Senator DeMint, who is the head of the Senate Conservatives Fund and driving the GOP even farther to the right, believes that the Museum will be used to advance abortion-rights. Despite claims from the Museum organizers that the Museum does not intend to discuss the abortion issue, the far-right group Concerned Women for America is baselessly charging that the Museum will be biased towards the choice-activists. Of course, no one should have expected any less from DeMint, who most recently claimed that “this idea that government has to do something is not a good idea” and promised to “block all legislation that has not been cleared by his office in the final days.”

Oklahoma’s Senator Coburn’s reasons are more personal: he just doesn’t like the idea.

Gail Collins in the New York Times writes:

Coburn’s office said the senator was concerned that taxpayers might be asked to chip in later and also felt that the museum was unnecessary since “it duplicates more than 100 existing entities that have a similar mission.”

The office sent me a list of the entities in question. They include the Quilters Hall of Fame in Indiana, the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Texas and the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens in Washington.

There also were a number of homes of famous women and some fine small collections of exhibits about a particular locality or subject. But, really, Senator Coburn’s list pretty much proved the point that this country really needs one great museum that can chart the whole, big amazing story.

Neither Senator has a sound record on women’s issues to begin with: both support a sweeping criminalization of abortion, and Coburn even said: “I favor the death penalty for abortionists.” DeMint wants unmarried pregnant women to be banned from teaching in public schools.

But due to the combination of unprecedented Republican obstructionism with opposition to women’s rights, the National Women’s History Museum may have to wait for quite some time for the bill to get an up-or-down vote in the Senate.

 

PFAW

New Term for the Supreme Court, New Opportunities for Corporations

As detailed in PFAW Foundation’s report Rise of the Corporate Court, the Roberts Court has been routinely and consistently bending the law and the Constitution to elevate the rights of corporations over the rights of individuals. To borrow a metaphor from Chief Justice Roberts, when corporate power over employees, consumers, and the American population at large is at risk, the umpire is biased. Corporations win, people lose.

In January, this judicial tilting of the scales of justice to favor corporate America reached a new height with Citizens United.

So what’s in store for the Supreme Court term that begins next Monday? While we will not know for sure until the opinions are issued, we are beginning to see some of the cases that may become important. For instance, the Court earlier today added a number of new cases to its docket, including three focusing on the rights of corporations in what the New York Times characterizes as “unusual settings.”

In two of the cases, the justices will consider how the state secrets privilege, which can allow the government to shut down litigation by invoking national security, applies in a contract dispute between the Navy and military contractors hired to create a stealth aircraft.

In the third case, the justices agreed to decide whether corporations have privacy rights for purposes of the Freedom of Information Act. ...

The privacy case [FCC v. AT&T] will consider whether a provision of the Freedom of Information Act concerning "personal privacy" applies to corporations. ...

AT&T seeks to block the release of documents it provided to the FCC, which conducted an investigation into claims of overcharges by the company in a program to provide equipment and services to schools. The documents were sought under the freedom of information law by a trade association representing some of AT&T's competitors.

AT&T relied on an exemption to the law for law enforcement records that could "constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." ...

The federal government, represented by Solicitor General Kagan, urged the Supreme Court to reject the argument that the exemption "protects the so-called 'privacy' of inanimate corporate entities."

This case will turn on the language and legislative history of the FOIA statute, as well as prior Court rulings. Court watchers will be looking out for any efforts by the Roberts Court to use this case, as it did in Citizens United, to aggrandize corporate power far beyond anything contemplated by the law or even the parties themselves.

PFAW

Focus on the Family Brings Sex-Ed Fight to China

While consistently pushing to marginalize and prohibit comprehensive sex-education in schools throughout the United States, Focus on the Family is now hoping to introduce flawed abstinence-only programs in China. William Wan writes in the Washington Post that Focus on the Family is gaining a significant foothold in the country:

In Yunnan schools this year, teachers are being trained with a sex education curriculum created by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family. The agreement with the Yunnan ministry of education is a milestone for Focus on the Family, which has struggled for four years to make inroads on abstinence in China.

But China isn’t the only country that has been the subject of Focus on the Family’s efforts:

In the past decade, Focus on the Family has found relative success with its abstinence program in other countries - notably majority Muslim nations such as Egypt and Malaysia, where its Christian brand of abstinence coincides with the teachings of Islam.

Worldwide, the group says it has reached nearly 3 million teens. Despite Focus on the Family’s new push to bring abstinence-only until marriage programs into schools across the world, abstinence-only education in the US has been an abysmal failure. A congressional report from Representative Henry Waxman found that abstinence-only programs frequently employ misleading and erroneous information about human health and contraceptives. Moreover, studies show that signers of the virginity pledge, “the hallmark of the Christian group's abstinence program,” tend to engage in sex before marriage at the same rate of those who do not sign a virginity pledge, while pledge-takers are less likely to use contraceptives or seek testing for sexually transmitted diseases. “No abstinence-only program has yet been proven through rigorous evaluation to help youth delay sex for a significant period of time, help youth decrease their number of sex partners, or reduce STI or pregnancy rates among teens,” writes Advocates for Youth. With Focus pushing unsuccessful abstinence-only curriculums abroad, Americans should be wondering why our federal government still provides $50 million to promote the fundamentally flawed and ineffective programs.

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

This is what a "non-political" event looks like?

Glenn Beck has said repeatedly that his "Restoring Honor" rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial today would be "non-political." To people who showed up in the crowd or listened to any of the speeches… well, let's just say that claim didn't exactly hold up.

Sarah Palin used her speaking slot to criticize President Obama and Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King who has become a spokesperson for right-wing causes, made her opinions quite clear on issues from same-sex marriage to prayer in public schools.

See more coverage of the "Restore Honor" event at RightWingWatch.org.

PFAW