>GLSEN Public Policy Association Alison Gill takes a look at a positive development in the Department of Justice in terms of interpreting Title IX to include protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.
After a decade of virtually no enforcement, the Department of Justice has once again taken an interest in issues of sex and gender discrimination in schools. The Department of Justice intervened in the case of Sullivan v. Mohawk Central School District et al., which was originally brought by the NY Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a 14-year-old gay boy named Jacob who attended the Mohawk Central School District in New York.
Jacob suffered a pattern of harassment and abuse by fellow students and even teachers, including verbal harassment, assault and physical harm, and destruction of his property. Although Jacob and his supportive family reported this abuse to his school principal and other school authorities promptly and regularly, no action was taken to protect Jacob. For a complete account of the harassment perpetuated on Jacob and the school administration’s refusal to act, you can read the affidavits of Jacob and his father.
The Department of Justice is pursuing this suit under Title 9 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which does not allow students “on the basis of sex, [to] be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a). While this law explicitly covers sex discrimination, DOJ lawyers argue that the law also covers discrimination based on gender stereotypes — that is to say, boys who are beaten up for being effeminate. While some courts have ruled that Title IX covers gender expression and sexual orientation, the law is uncertain in this area. This case may help to establish this principle more generally.
Of course all children are entitled to a safe and nurturing space in which to learn. Unfortunately, the type of bullying and harassment from which Jacob suffered is all too common for LGBT students in schools around the country. GLSEN’s research shows that 60.8% of LGBT students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and only about a third of students who reported incidents of victimization to school staff said that the problem was addressed effectively.
While the Department of Justice intervention shows a renewed interest in protecting the rights of LGBT students, Jacob’s case again demonstrates the need for anti-bullying policies and legislation so that schools can take steps to prevent this sort of harassment in the first place.
>Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church really don't like LGBT people. This isn't news to anyone who's heard of his "church." It's also not news to the many high schools WBC has protested for having a Gay-Straight Alliance, a favorite target of WBC.
Wanting to make the most of their protesting trips around the country, WBC also will protest anything American because, if you don't stand with WBC, you're against WBC. Sometimes it's military funerals (don't try to find logic in it). Last week it was Twitter.
And where WBC goes, counter-protesters usually follow. Take last week's clever counter-protest outside Twitter.
We get asked every so often about how best to respond to WBC protests. Attention is what WBC wants, so local organizers should think twice about whether a counter-protest is the best course of action. The Anti-Defamation League says "resist directly engaging."
The antidote to hate speech is good speech. Spread positive messages of tolerance and respect throughout the community. Discuss openly how hateful speech can poison a community. Notably, we do not recommend holding counter-protests or educational events at the same location as, or close to, the protest.
GLSEN also worries about student safety. While WBC seems to have remained peaceful in their protests, counter-protesters sometimes get agitated. WBC feeds off such reaction and frankly would love nothing more than to have a reason to sue someone. It's how WBC funds a lot of its hatred.
Deciding to ignore is always difficult but probably the correct approach. What do you all think?
>GLSEN's longstanding research has shown for nearly 10 years that LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students face pervasive bullying and harassment in school. Nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT youth experience harassment at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation, according to GLSEN's 2007 National School Climate Survey.
As we prepare to release findings from the 2009 National School Climate Survey later this year, a new study conducted by doctors at Nationwide Children's Hospital corroborates what GLSEN has found for years.
The act and victimization of bullying continues to be a problem among today's youth. While many children are experiencing this form of violence, it is more prevalent in children that are different from the social norm. As medical professionals continue to further their understanding of bullying, research shows a high rate of sexual minority youth who experience this harmful activity.
A new study conducted by doctors at Nationwide Children's Hospital found that sexual minority youth, or teens that identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual, are bullied two to three times more than heterosexuals.
According to the study that is now available online in the Journal of Adolescent Health, sexual minority youth are more vulnerable to a variety of physical and mental domains such as bullying or suicidal thoughts. Plus, the study found that many older adolescents reported being bullied.
For more of GLSEN's groundbreaking research, including reports on the experiences of transgender students in school and LGBT students of color in school, visit the research section on our website, www.glsen.org/research.
>A Wyoming school board last week upheld its superintendent's decision to remove No Place for Hate banners from the local high school and elementary school. What was so horrible that required their removal?
>A proposed law to prohibit discussion of any sexual orientation in Tennessee schools other than heterosexuality, sometimes called "No Promo Homo" laws, was essentially killed for another year yesterday. GLSEN Public Policy Associate Alison Gill talks about how GLSEN supporters like you can make a difference in defeating bad policies like this.
Last week the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition (TTPC) told us about a scary bill moving through the K-12 Education Subcommittee of the Tennessee House. HB0821, also called the "Don’t Say Gay" bill, would prevent Tennessee teachers and schools from discussing sexual orientation other than heterosexuality. A law like this can make LGBT students feel invisible and could cut them off from resources they need, such as supportive teachers.
When TTPC told us that the K-12 Subcommittee was to consider the bill this Wednesday, we emailed an Action Alert to our networks in Tennessee, warning them about the bill. Fortunately, we have very strong networks in Tennessee thanks to a lot of great local organizing by GLSEN supporters and student leaders such as Conrad Honicker.
Combined with local efforts such as TTPC's, we were able to apply significant pressure on the subcommittee to drop the bill. And we were successful! On Wednesday, the Tennessee K-12 Subcommittee decided not to take up the bill, which should kill the "Don’t Say Gay" bill for at least another year.
Sign up to receive GLSEN's Action Alerts here.
- progress on raising standards,
- improving teacher effectiveness,
- tracking and assessing student and teacher performance,
- and turning around failing schools.
Today is the first day of No Name-Calling Week. The following is a statement from Sirdeaner Walker, a mother from Springfield, Mass., about the importance of No Name-Calling Week and its message of respect.
My name is Sirdeaner Walker, and last spring, my eleven-year-old son, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, took his own life after enduring months of relentless name-calling and bullying at school.
As my family and I struggle to find peace, I have determined to do everything in my power to eliminate name-calling and bullying of all kinds from schools so that other boys and girls do not suffer as Carl did. I am writing now to ask you to join me in this effort by participating in No Name-Calling Week (January 25-29, 2010), an event designed to help K-12 schools engage their students in the important work of building respect for all.
My son was only in middle school, but he heard all the names that I’m sure you have all heard at some point in some hallway. This problem begins early, before students even understand the terms they use, or have any sense of their consequences. There are No Name-Calling Week resources tailored for all classroom levels from elementary through high school, to spark discussion and reflection appropriate for students of various ages.
There is more information about this event and the free lesson plans and resources available to you for use in your school on the No Name-Calling Week website, at http://www.nonamecallingweek.org/.
No Name-Calling Week has reached tens of thousands of classrooms since its inception seven years ago. I am very grateful for the No Name-Calling Week Coalition Members for their leadership, and hope that you will add to that legacy of leadership by being part of No Name-Calling Week 2010.I thank you for all of your efforts on behalf of your students.
P.S. Please register as a No Name-Calling Week participant when you visit the website, so that it is possible to continue measuring the nation-wide reach and impact of this important program. It means a lot to me to know that there are allies out there in this crucial work. Thank you.
>We mentioned a few weeks ago that the Girl Scout Research Institute released a report on teen beliefs and values. GLSEN Research Assistant Mark Barkiewicz looked a little deeper at some of the findings and wants to share a little about what he found. From Mark:
According to research findings in Good Intentions: The Beliefs and Values of Teens and Tweens Today [PDF], a recent report from the Girl Scout Research Institute, 59% of youth in grades 7-12 agree with the statement “Gay or lesbian relationships are okay, if that is a person’s choice,” in contrast to only 31% who agreed with this in a 1989 study.
Furthermore, the study also highlights that 48% of 7th to 12th graders today say that if they found out one of their same-sex friends was involved in a gay or lesbian relationship, the friendship would continue and not change at all, compared to only 12% in 1989.
These positive changes should not come as a surprise as the American public in general has grown more tolerant of gay and lesbian issues throughout the years.
In doing safe schools work, it is important to consider how attitudes can vary across different groups and populations. Gender plays an interesting role with regard to these findings. Girls are more likely than boys to accept gay or lesbian relationships (65% vs. 54%) and continue a friendship with a same-sex friend involved in a gay or lesbian relationship (59% vs. 38%).
In trying to understand these gender differences, it is worthwhile to consider the role that masculinity can play in boys’ development, such that being gay can be seen as contradictory to being ‘masculine’ and tolerance of gay people somehow can be seen as being less ‘masculine.’ Nevertheless, while these findings show that girls are, in general, more accepting of their gay and lesbian peers, the question remains as to why four-tenths of girls would end a friendship with a same-sex friend involved in a gay or lesbian relationship.
Given these findings, many LGBT students may have a difficult time finding allies among their peers. In the nearly 20 years since the initial study was done, GLSEN has been working to develop school communities in which every member is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.
Through GLSEN’s effort in providing professional development to educators, efforts to create policies that protect LGBT students, and support of Gay-Straight Alliances, an increasing number of students across the country have had the opportunity to experience a more positive school atmosphere.
In further developing a better learning environment for all students, it is important that youth become more tolerant of their peers, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or how they express their gender. Resources such as Gay-Straight Alliances can be helpful in fostering supportive peers for LGBT students and increasing tolerance and respect for diversity.