Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Welcoming An Education Secretary Who Champions Safe Schools

In Gus Van Sant's film Milk, Sean Penn, portraying the slain San Francisco Supervisor, asks a young Cleve Jones (played by Emile Hirsch in the film) what it was like being a young, gay man attending high school in red state Arizona.

"Did the jocks beat you up?"

"I faked a lung condition to get out of gym class," Jones responds.

It is an answer that countless gay movie goers could no doubt empathize with. In America - in both the red states and the blue - the school experience can be one fraught with anxiety, danger and fear for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people. LGBT students tell researchers they hear "faggot" almost every day . . . that they are threatened, harassed and intimidated . . . and that it is virtually impossible to learn in a classroom where you are forced to choose between learning math or avoiding a bully.

For young gay people, classrooms, hallways, cafeterias and locker rooms become dark corridors and alleys where an attacker is always waiting just around the corner.

That very danger, and the consequences of not taking concrete action to protect LGBT students, came to a head when, last year, an Oxnard, California student was gunned down in a classroom by a classmate who believed he was gay. The case of Lawrence King, a young, gender non-conforming boy who dared to express himself as he saw fit, blew the cover off the fa├žade that America's schools are safe havens where parents can assume their LGBT children will be properly cared for, and learn. The King case ignited a firestorm of controversy, placing the issue of school safety in the headlines, and prompting a still on-going case of finger pointing and blame.

Unfortunately, it did little to rally parents, school administrators or activists to actually come together and agree on a plan.

That, however, may be about to change, courtesy of committed parents . . . and one very promising political appointee who may be about to give them a place at the table.

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