September 10, 2009

>A recent article on CNN's website highlights the experiences and struggles of gay Latino communities in the U.S., noting that LGBT Latinos are "coming of age" in terms of their exposure and acceptance amongst both Latinos and the wider population.

Amongst the people interviewed for the article are Perez Hilton, a well-known celebrity blogger and an openly gay Latino man, and Elizabeth Diaz, who is a Research Associate at GLSEN. "While harassment in schools for Latino gay students remained high, we also know that these students have more support than in past generations," Diaz notes. The article also cites data from GLSEN's 2007 National School Climate Survey, noting that 59 percent of LGBT Latino students participated in Gay-Straight Alliance clubs at middle and high schools that had GSAs (unfortunately, the author of the article misnames GSAs as "Gay Student Alliances").
Others interviewed in the article detail their personal struggles with coming out, and transforming their sexual orientation and gender identity/expression from a mark of shame into a source of pride. A Latina professor also cautions that while homophobia and heterosexism can be serious issues within Latino communities, they are not unique to Latinos and that accusations of such bigotry amongst Latinos are often "tinged with racism."
For more information, check out GLSEN's recent report on the experiences of LGBT students of color and the particular hurdles that they often face: Shared Differences: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Students of Color in Our Nation's Schools.
August 28, 2009

>We have some exciting GLSEN news from the social media world. GLSEN has been nominated for a MySpace Impact Award, a monthly honor voted on by MySpace users. Out of a pool of nominations, MySpace selects three organizations or individuals “who are using their MySpace pages to make a difference” and asks users to decide which organization or individual will receive that month’s MySpace Impact Award and a $10,000 donation.

This month’s nominees are GLSEN, Solar Electric Light Fund and the Kanye West Foundation. Voting runs through Thursday, Sept. 3, at 8 p.m. Eastern. Help GLSEN get recognized for the amazing work we do. Please vote for GLSEN (you must have a MySpace account) and share this with your friends and networks.

http://www.myspace.com/impactawards

August 28, 2009

>A judge ruled this week that an Oklahoma high school teacher, Joe Quigley, was wrongfully fired from his position and will be returning to the classroom in the fall.

The Oklahoma City school board dismissed Quigley in May, citing a poor job record and neglect for school policies. However, Quigley has countered that he was fired due to the district's hostility to his supporting LGBT students and his firm stance against homophobic bigotry. Fortunately, the judge ruled in his favor.

Unfortunately, many schools and teachers across the country have not taken the same initiative to discourage or reprimand discriminatory language and behavior targeting LGBT students. According to GLSEN's 2007 National School Climate Survey, fewer than one-fifth of LGBT middle and high school students reported that school staff regularly intervened when overhearing students make derogatory remarks about their peers' sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Even more troubling, nearly two-thirds of LGBT students reported ever hearing school faculty or staff themselves making homophobic statements.

In light of these disturbing trends, Quigley's reinstatement will hopefully help to send the message that teachers who defend the safety and dignity of their LGBT students should be honored, not punished. Quigley himself hopes that the school district will include information in its student-parent handbook about harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender idenity/expression.

August 28, 2009

>Kyle Giard-Chase, a transgender student at South Burlington High School in Vermont, has begun a campaign to place all-gender bathrooms in all of Vermont's public schools. He and his supporters hope to involve school administrators, policymakers and students from Gay-Straight Alliances in the effort to install at least one of these bathrooms--typically single-room facilities--in each of the state's middle and high schools.

While Kyle's high school does have all-gender facilities, he remembers feeling uncomfortable and unsafe with using his middle school's gender-specific bathrooms and deliberately "holding it" to avoid harassment and abuse from his peers. "This procedure of 'holding it' caused me to pay less attention in class, neglect my studies, and fear going to school in the morning," he said.

Recognizing that many other teenagers may face the same struggles with school bathrooms that do not accommodate their gender identity, Kyle approached the Vermont Human Rights Commission yesterday to launch his campaign--to make sure that all of the students in the state feel safe and secure when using public school restrooms.

August 26, 2009

>GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is saddened by the news of Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s passing. As Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Senator Kennedy was a leader in the effort to enact an enumerated federal anti-bullying policy that would include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

If the Safe Schools Improvement Act, currently introduced in the House, becomes law, it would be a testament to Senator Kennedy’s insistence that all students must be protected in any federal anti-bullying policy.

"At a key moment for education reform, GLSEN Founder Kevin Jennings and I had the remarkable opportunity to have a private lunch with Senator Kennedy to discuss the need for action on safe schools issues," GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said. “Senator Kennedy showed a genuine passion for making America’s schools safe for every student, and as the Senate geared up for reauthorization of No Child Left Behind soon thereafter, he turned that passion into concrete commitment. We were so grateful for his leadership in including crucial safe schools language in all of his drafts of the bill."

"While Senator Kennedy left his mark on so many aspects of recent American history, his stewardship of education reform highlighted the importance of federal action to promote respect for all. He was a friend to GLSEN as well as students and educators in Massachusetts and across the country."

August 20, 2009

>

Christian Castaing, a 17-year-old bisexual high school student from San Francisco, is spearheading a local resolution that would strengthen measures protecting LGBT students in San Francisco's public schools:
Among other things, the resolution proposes that the school district establish a procedure for recording, tracking, reporting, and responding to incidences of harassment and discrimination, and that the procedures include responsive measures.

The resolution also asks school board members to work with members of the Board of Supervisors and the mayor to create greater awareness of discrimination faced by youths who are perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning or who are LGBTQ.

Many people see the San Francisco Bay Area as one of the nation's more LGBT-friendly regions, but Castiang and others recognize that much more has to be done locally to prevent the discrimination of LGBT teens. Last year, the San Francisco Unified School District launched a web site for educators and students, offering LGBT-inclusive curricular tools, advice on how to respond to harassment and bullying, and pointers for middle and high school students who want to start Gay-Straight Alliances at their schools.

However, many parents and local LGBT rights advocates have raised concerns about bullying, even in supposedly inclusive school environments. A 2007 survey of San Francisco students revealed that 4 out of 5 students had heard classmates make disparaging remarks such as "fag," "dyke" and "that's so gay." GLSEN's research brief Inside California Schools: The Experiences of LGBT Students, which presents data compiled from the 2007 National School Climate Survey, suggests even higher numbers of anti-LGBT harassment statewide. The research brief demonstrates that 9 out of 10 LGBT middle and high school students in California heard homophobic remarks in school in the past year.

San Francisco's Youth Commission, Human Rights Commission, and Board of Education Youth Advisory Council have all voted in support of Castaing's resolution. The school board is expected to review and vote on the resolution within the next few months.

August 19, 2009

>

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) announced today that they have filed a federal lawsuit against the Mohawk Central School District in Herkimer County (upstate New York). The NYCLU has charged the school district with failing to ensure the safety of Jacob, a gay student at Gregory B. Jarvis Junior/Senior High School, who has suffered harassment, verbal abuse and physical assaults from his classmates:

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.

Unfortunately, Jacob's experience shares a lot in common with those of other LBGT middle and high school students in New York state. As GLSEN demonstrated in Inside New York Schools: The Experiences of LGBT Students, a research brief using data from the 2007 National School Climate Survey:
  • 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.

August 19, 2009

>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?

August 19, 2009

>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!

August 13, 2009

>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."

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