Beginning in the seventh grade and continuing through Jacob’s eighth grade year, numerous students relentlessly harassed Jacob because he is gay, dyes his hair, wears eye makeup and speaks in a high-pitched voice. He endured a range of slurs, such as faggot, queer and homo, on a daily basis, occasionally with teachers present. Indeed at least one teacher contributed to this climate of harassment by telling Jacob he should be ashamed of himself for being gay.
Aside from the continuous verbal assault, Jacob has also experienced physical intimidation and violence at school. Students have thrown food at him in the cafeteria; pushed him down the stairs; knocked books from his hands; destroyed or defaced his belongings, including his clothing, cell phone and iPod; and threatened to beat, stab and kill him. When [a] student who brought a knife to school threatened to kill him, he said he would string Jacob’s "ass up from the flagpole."
Jacob's father, mother and stepmother frequently made their concerns known to school Principal Edward Renaldo, who agreed to look into the allegations of harassment but never upheld his promises. In addition, the district's equal opportunity compliance officer, Cynthia Stocker, did not follow protocol by filing reports about each of the harassments and abuses that Jacob faced. Because both Renaldo and Stocker failed to alert the proper authorities and did not seek to correct the situation, the NYCLU believes that school officials violated the district's anti-harassment policies.
- 4 out of 5 LGBT students in New York were verbally harassed (called names or threatened) in school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.
- 2 out of 5 LGBT students were physically harassed because of their sexual orientation.
- 1 out of 5 LGBT students were physically assaulted--kicked, punched or worse.
Like Jacob, many of these students experience emotional and mental distress because of these attacks, and their academic performance declines as a result.
Enacting comprehensive anti-bullying policies that enumerate categories often targeted for harassment (such as sexual orientation and gender identity/expression) is necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of students, but equally important are school faculty and staff members who make sure that these policies are enforced and that all of their students do not suffer the sort of abuse that Jacob and many others have faced.
>News spread last week about two Minnesota High School teachers who repeatedly harassed a student over his perceived sexual orientation. Teachers Diane Cleveland and Walter Filson teased and mocked student Alex Merritt--who is straight--by making homophobic remarks in front of their classes. Among their abuses: Cleveland suggested that Merritt "had a thing for older men" after he wrote a report on Benjamin Franklin, and Filson suggested to other students that Merritt "enjoys wearing women's clothes."
Merritt eventually left the school to avoid the harassment (and death threats!) from other students, and last week the Anoka-Hennepin School District awarded Merritt $25,000 after an investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.
The school district has continued to face criticism, however, from people demanding to know why the two teachers had not been fired. Cleveland received only a two-day suspension, and Filson was not punished at all. The district recently responded, expressing regret over Merritt's suffering but stressing that teachers typically face "corrective action" before they are fired. District spokeswoman Mary Olson assured that both teachers had received "letters of deficiency" in regards to the incident, but declined to comment further.
Under Minnesota state law, teachers can be fired immediately for discriminating against others on the basis of sexual orientation. Do you think the school district is correct in this case?
>Some (slightly) old, but good, news:
Two Yulee High School [Florida] students were “grateful” Monday when they learned that a federal judge ruled that the Gay-Straight Alliance can meet on campus and have the same privileges as other student groups.
U.S. District Judge Henry Lee Adams issued a permanent injunction Friday that the district can’t make the group change its name or interfere with its ability to “advocate for tolerance, respect and equality of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.”
The two students, Hannah Page and Jacob Brock, sued the Nassau Country School Board back in February after the district ordered them to change the name of the club. The reason? Officials alleged that "Gay-Straight Alliance" violates the school's abstinence only-policy.
The students started the GSA at Yulee High because both had faced homophobic harassment in the past and wanted to create a safer environment for themselves and fellow LGBT students. GLSEN's 2007 National School Climate Survey found that students attending schools with GSAs felt safer and experienced less harassment and bullying than students at schools without GSAs. Gay-Straight Alliances, therefore, are important steps in creating inclusive and welcoming communities for LGBT students.
Keep fighting the good fight!
>Campus Pride, an organization that strives to create safe environments for LGBT college students, recently issued a warning about the Princeton Review's "Gay Community Accepted" and "Alternative Lifestyle Not an Alternative" lists of colleges in their forthcoming 2010 publication The Best 371 Colleges (Random House/Princeton Review). The Princeton Review is a well-known standardized test and college preparation organization, but Campus Pride found these two lists in question to be problematic in their methodology and word choice.
As Campus Pride's press release states:
[These lists'] rankings were based off one single question asked to 122,000 students at the 371 top colleges -- whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: "Students, faculty, and administrators treat all persons equally regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity/expression."
"This list is an erroneous, misleading indicator of acceptance for LGBT youth and their safety on campus," said Shane Windmeyer, founder and executive director of Campus Pride..."The majority of students responding to such a question – irrespective of response – will be straight. Their perceptions of equality are likely quite different from those of LGBT students."
Another reason for concern is the dated use of the words 'alternative lifestyle' when referring to the lives of LGBT people. "It’s disrespectful and out of touch because it alludes that being gay is a choice and something that can be cured," Windmeyer said. "The insensitivity to language is a major warning sign that this guide does not have the nuanced perspective to be a trusted resource and to truly understand the complexity of LGBT students' lives and needs."
Given the physical, verbal, and emotional abuse that many LGBT students face due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity expression, Campus Pride fears that Princeton Review's lists--which did not highlight the opinions of LGBT students at these colleges, nor examine schools' anti-discrimination polices--may provide misleading information that could put LGBT college students in harm's way.
As an alternative, the organization has offered its own Campus Climate Index as a free resource guide for students and their families. The online index lists "over 200+ colleges and universities with inclusive LGBT policies, programs and practices."
>Sirdeaner Walker, who testified last month on Capitol Hill in favor of the Safe Schools Improvement Act, appeared on NPR's Here and Now yesterday to talk about a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics that encourages pediatricians to play a more active role in bullying prevention.
Walker's 11-year-old son, Carl Walker-Hoover, died by suicide in April after enduring constant bullying at school, including being called "gay" and "fag" by his peers despite the fact that Carl did not identify as gay. Carl would have turned 12 on the National Day of Silence on April 17 when hundreds of thousands of students took a vow of silence to bring attention to anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender bullying.
The AAP's new policy statement debunks the ridiculous claim made by opponents of anti-bullying policies that kids will be kids and bullying is somehow beneficial for students like Carl to experience.
It is clear that in this country, it must first be accepted that bullying behaviors cannot be considered a normative rite of passage and that they can be precursors for more serious downstream consequences. In terms of primary prevention, early parenting behaviors such as cognitive stimulation and emotional support have been shown to confer resilience against the future development of bullying behaviors in elementary-aged schoolchildren. Promotion and reinforcement of such parenting skills plus recognition, screening, and appropriate referral as secondary prevention strategies are essential ways that pediatricians can collectively contribute to this aspect of youth violence prevention.
Last weekend GLSEN brought together for the first time a group of students who will be part of GLSEN's Ambassaadors program. This Media Summit was a huge success with 15 youth traveling from far-flung locations such as Alaska, Alabama, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, as well as representatives from Brooklyn and the Bronx.
Throughout the weekend students learned key messages and storytelling techniques to help advance GLSEN’s awareness-building goals.
Workshop topics included Social Media, Telling Your Story through the Media, Public Policy and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, Media Coverage of LGBT People of Color Communities, and more intimate coaching and practice sessions on writing letters to the editor, action planning, and interview and presentation skills using video.
We also took field trips on the Staten Island Ferry and an LGBT history walking tour of the West Village.
Here are some select quotes from the students on the weekend:
“I loved it here. I’ve never felt so open about anything before.”
“OMG. It was amazing—one of the best experiences of my life.”
“An opportunity for me to become inspired and learn how to utilize the media as a tool for advocacy.”
“Aside from the tools and advice that were given to me in order to deal with the media, I have built wonderful relationships with wonderful people.”
>After testifying at the July 8th hearings, Sirdeaner Walker met with key sponsors and cosponsors of the Safe Schools Improvement Act and members of the U.S. Department of Education.
Rep. Linda T. Sanchez (D-CA); Eliza Byard, GLSEN Executive Director; Eric Masten, GLSEN Public Policy Associate; Sirdeaner Walker; Congressman Richard E. Neal (D-MA) who represents Sirdeaner's home district in Springfield, Mass.
Sirdeaner Walker; Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), Chair of the Healthy Families and Communities Subcommittee; Rep. Dale Kildee (D-MI), Chair of the Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education Subcomittee; and witnesses Cassady Tetsworth, Dr. Scott Poland and Kenneth Trump
Show your support for the Safe Schools Improvement Act by signing an online petition HERE.
>This morning Sirdeaner Walker was on Capital Hill testifying about bullying and in support of the Safe Schools Improvement Act. Here are two photos:
We expect to have video later in the day.