>With back-to-school season is in full swing, we thought this would be a good time to introduce our 2010-11 GLSEN Student Ambassadors, a diverse group of 18 LGBT and non-LGBT students who will serve as GLSEN spokesyouth throughout the school year in traditional and social media.
You'll see the students in GLSEN videos; on our blog, on Facebook and Twitter talking about safe schools and respect; telling their story in the news and at GLSEN events; and simply being all-around amazing young people.
We got a chance to get to know the Ambassadors in July at GLSEN's Media and Safe Schools Summit, a four-day summit to empower students to learn how they can use media to help raise awareness about the need to make schools safe and respectful for everyone. You can see a bit of the highlights in the fancy photo sideshow below.
The Ambassadors got a chance to attend a Sheryl Crow concert as part of the Good Morning America Summer Concert Series, visit with out TruTV executive Marc Juris and spend several hours over two days with out country music singer and all-around fantastic person Chely Wright. Entertainment Tonight covered Chely's visit.
We'll be telling you more about each of the Ambassadors over the coming weeks.
Alyssa M. from Illinois
Annmarie O. from New York
Brandon H. from Maryland
Dominique W. from Massachusetts
Jason G. from California
Jesse E. from Pennsylvania
Jesse T. from New York
Joey K. from Pennsylvania
Lily G. from New York
Loan T. from North Carolina
Margot P. from Washington
Moriah R. from Ohio
Nowmee S. from Georgia
Red O. from California
Richard W. from Ohio
Ryan T. from Colorado
Saad D. from Texas
Zac T. from California
>Charles Pratt, a student in upstate New York, filed suit last April against his school district on claims that he faced severe anti-gay bullying and harassment before he was forced to drop out at age 15. Citing repeated pleas from his parents, Charles claims that district officials were aware of the harassment he faced but deliberately refused to help him. He is represented by Lambda Legal, which reports that he faced almost daily episodes of name-calling and physical intimidation. His sister, Ashley Petranchuk, is also suing the district for denying her rights to start a gay-straight alliance.
The Indian River Central School District has already filed a motion to dismiss the case, but the U.S. Department of Justice has filed a motion to participate as an "amicus curiae," or friend of the court, to help the court decide whether federal discrimination claims should be upheld and to prevent the case from being dismissed.
The Department of Justice intervened in a suit earlier this year in Mohawk, NY also under a Title IX based claim of bullying and discrimination. These cases may represent a new focus at the Department of Justice regarding preventing LGBT-based bullying and harassment.
The Department of Justice contends the arguments of the New York school district are incorrect, and therefore, could add a significant weight to Charles and Ashley’s case. However, the motion to dismiss remains pending.
Submitted by Sara LaPlante
GLSEN Public Policy Intern
GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard, who has a PhD in United States History from Columbia University, gave her initial reaction yesterday to Judge Vaughn Walker's decision to overturn California's Proposition 8. Today, Dr. Byard takes a deeper look at the decision and what it means beyond ruling that same-sex couples have a Constitutional right to marry. Check back Monday for Dr. Byard's look at how schools factored into Judge Walker's decision and the Prop 8 proponents' flawed arguments.
Proponents of California's Proposition 8 argued that allowing same-sex couples to marry would lead to public schools teaching that same-sex marriages are equal to heterosexual marriages – an outcome that they saw as disastrous. By failing to offer a single scrap of credible evidence at trial in support of Proposition 8, they have ensured that generations of students will learn just that, in studying Judge Vaughn Walker's landmark decision in Perry v. Schwartzenegger. Above and beyond the decision’s clarity on the equal status of same-sex and heterosexual relationships, however, Judge Walker has made another crucial contribution to a vision of a better America with his opinion in this case. Hopefully this additional lesson will make its way into our schools as well.
At an event in New York City in June, David Boies was quite clear about his goal for the initial trial in this case: establish a factual record of great clarity on the central issues for the rounds of appeal to come. A trial attorney of unparalleled skill and experience, Boies spoke movingly of his love for the American system of justice, and particularly for the practice of cross-examination, which requires the witness on the stand to respond substantively to direct questions posed by their opponents. By taking the key questions on head on, and confronting opponents in the courtroom, far from the media echo chamber, Boies felt that our court system would allow the discussion to cut through the noise to the facts. David Blankenhorn, you're not on Hannity anymore.
Boies was right. Brietbart beware. Tea Partiers take note. Propagandists of all stripes, you are on notice. Amidst Judge Walker's many bold statements and findings of fact is a simple citation of Federal Rule of Evidence 702 that is in its own right no less bold an assertion. Rule 702 holds that in order to be considered an “expert” by the federal courts, and to have your opinions and statements be given legal weight, you must be qualified by “knowledge, skill, experience, training or education,” and your testimony may only be admitted if it “is based upon sufficient facts or data” and “is the product of reliable principles and methods.” In simpler terms, you have to know what you’re talking about. In a society inundated with undifferentiated "content" and opinions often bolstered by nothing more than sheer volume, Judge Walker has reminded us of the standard by which information should be evaluated and categorized.
Whatever the impact of this ruling on the content of the curriculum vis-a-vis same-sex marriage, one can only hope that it will contribute to a fundamental renaissance of knowledge, expertise and respectful debate. If there is one thing that students in this diverse society should learn about in public schools, it is how to articulate and defend their points of view in a respectful, relevant and cogent way in the public square. Should Judge Walker's opinion prevail through many rounds of appeal, he will have left a truly monumental legacy. One element of that legacy will be his reassertion of the difference in standing between opinion and fact in a Constitutional system, and the grounding in reality required to give either credence and meaning in public discourse.
>We're still reading through the Prop 8 decision and hope to have deeper analysis tomorrow, but here's a quick take from GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard, who has a PhD in United States History from Columbia University.
This historic decision will one day be part of every student's curriculum. It represents a remarkably clear and unequivocal statement about the reach and meaning of constitutional protections heretofore not applied to the issue of marriage or to the standing of lesbian and gay people before the courts.
>Entertainment Tonight stopped by the GLSEN Respect Awards - Los Angeles kickoff party and BBQ on Sunday at Evo Couture Residences in LA. ET talked to Bill Paxton of "Big Love," Louis Van Amstel of "Dancing with the Stars" and GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard about the importance of valuing what makes us different and teaching respect for all people in schools.
"Whether you're gay or straight you deserve respect," Paxton said. "As we evolve as a society, that's the thing. We might not agree politically, philosophically or whatever our sexual orientation is, but everything has to have respect. To me, that's what it's about. It's a great cause and I'm glad to support it."
>GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network is the organization that sponsors and supports the National Day of Silence. This year GLSEN turned 20 years old! Check out this inspiring video that highlights some of the great achievements of GLSEN over the past two decades.
>Several student and community leaders represented GLSEN at the White House LGBT Pride Reception on Tuesday. Check out what they had to say about it here.
My mom and I were fortunate to have a private photo opportunity with the President prior to the reception. We were both very nervous as we stood there waiting to meet him. As the military personnel escorted us to have our picture taken, my mom told the President about my brother Carl, the anti-gay bullying he faced and how he took his life. We had a photo of Carl, which we showed to the President. I also told him about our work to raise awareness about the issue and our advocacy work with GLSEN to pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act. I was so surprised and honored when the President said that he had heard about my brother's story and offered his condolences. He also said that he wants to do what he can to help and is on board with the Safe Schools Improvement Act. The past year has been such a journey for me and my Mom. This was definitely a highlight in that journey - and I feel like the sky's the limit. Thank you so much to GLSEN for all of the support this past year and for this incredible opportunity.
This afternoon, a remarkable GLSEN delegation will attend an LGBT Pride Month reception at the White House to press for the federal action most critically needed on LGBT issues in K-12 education in this country. The five student advocates and their guests will call for President Obama’s support of the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act, as well as for continued progress on a range of initiatives currently underway in federal agencies, including the Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, and Justice. Dominique and Sirdeaner Walker will have the opportunity to make our case to the President himself, in a short meeting before the President’s remarks.
I am so proud of the fact that GLSEN has built such a strong partnership with such effective leaders. Because of the work that we do at the national and Chapter level, GLSEN will be ably represented at the highest level of federal advocacy by a diverse group of people who are at the front lines of this effort every day. This delegation is uniquely positioned to carry the message to the President, members of the Administration, and elected officials attending this afternoon’s event.
Over the past 18 months, many Executive Branch agencies have engaged with GLSEN in crucial new initiatives, but we still need clear and unequivocal support from the President himself, particularly in the legislative arena, where the provisions of the Safe Schools Improvement Act must become law as part of this Administration’s version of No Child Left Behind. I look forward to reporting back on the experience of our group at the White House today. Here’s a little more information about them:
Austin Laufersweiler, who just graduated from Lassiter High School in Marietta, GA, was GLSEN’s 2009 Student Advocate of the Year, and will attend the reception with his mentor and ally, Maru Gonzalez. After experiencing severe anti-LGBT bullying in school, Austin went on to found his school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), provide training for his former middle school on LGBT issues, and advocate for the implementation of comprehensive anti-bullying policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity/expression at his own school and throughout Georgia.
Danielle Smith, a recent graduate of Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham, ME, and GLSEN’s 2010 Student Advocate of the Year, will be accompanied by her parents, Richard and Victoria Smith. Danielle led the Jump- Start Student Leadership Team coordinated by GLSEN Southern Maine, was the president of her school’s GSA, and was the valedictorian of her class.
Dominique Walker, a rising senior at the MacDuffie School in Springfield, MA, will attend the reception with her mother, Sirdeaner Walker, a member of GLSEN’s National Board of Directors, and her aunt, Tonda Walker. Since the suicide of her younger brother, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, one year ago, Dominique has become a leader in the effort to end anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools, a member of GLSEN’s National Ambassadors Team, and the co-president of MacDuffie’s GSA.
Loan Tran, a rising junior at the Phillip O Berry Academy of Technology in Charlotte, North Carolina, is a member of GLSEN’s National Ambassadors Team. Loan has been a leading advocate for federal legislative action on LGBT issues in K-12 education as well as for positive change in her own school and local community.
Mary Susman, a recent graduate of Westside High School in Omaha, NE, will attend with her mother, Kathleen Susman. Mary is on the board of GLSEN Omaha and leads the chapter’s Jump-Start Student Leadership Team. She is a leading advocate for LGBT equality and LGBT issues in schools in her community and nationally, who has persevered in her work despite the bullying she has experienced in school and on-line.
Happy Pride, and thank you for all that you do to advance our mission!
Eliza Byard, PhD
Here is a glimpse of his cute new website (take note at that big ol’ GLSEN logo):
That's all I have for now, but I promise you I'll keep on the lookout for more articles about students out there working to help end bullying and harassment. If that is our common goal, than we'll be able to reach it together. Stay connected and get involved with GLSEN on Facebook and Twitter.
Your friend in the movement,