Thursday, October 7, 2010

Policy Matters - October 6, 2010

Front Page Headlines
You Don’t Have to Wait. Check out PFLAG National’s policy intern Eric VanDreason’s, video blog, “You Don’t Have to Wait,” a response to Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better Project.” The “It Gets Better Project” is a YouTube initiative that lends support to youth in schools who are being bullied because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. All of us at PFLAG would like to acknowledge Dan and Terry for vocalizing concerns regarding the effect bullying, harassment and discrimination has on kids in schools across the country. Building from this message, PFLAG wants to reassure students facing bullying that there are ways to be proactive in schools to make them safer right now. Whether you’re actually or perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, we want you to know that you don’t have to wait.

Make it Better Project. The Make It Better Project gives students the tools they need to make their schools better today. Through their website and YouTube channel, students and adults can work together to make schools safer for LGBT youth right now. Columnist Dan Savage launched “It Gets Better,” a video message in response to recent youth suicides to tell LGBT youth that life gets better after high school. The Make It Better Project takes this one step further, giving students the tools they need to make their lives better now. The Make it Better Project encourages students and adults to not wait until high school is over for their lives to get better; rather, the project encourages school community members to take action today to make schools safer now.

Judy Shepard: We Must All Protect Youth from Suicide. Judy Shepard writes: “In the last month there has been a shocking series of teen suicides linked to bullying, taunting, and general disrespect regarding sexual orientation, in every corner of America. Our young people deserve better than to go to schools where they are treated this way. We have to make schools a safe place for our youth to prepare for their futures, not be confronted with threats, intimidation or routine disrespect. Quite simply, we are calling one more time for all Americans to stand up and speak out against taunting, invasion of privacy, violence and discrimination against these youth by their peers, and asking everyone in a position of authority in their schools and communities to step forward and provide safe spaces and support services for LGBT youth or those who are simply targeted for discrimination because others assume they are gay. There can never be enough love and acceptance for these young people as they seek to live openly as their true selves and find their role in society.”

Public Policy Watch
Bias Crime Charged Weighed After Teen Suicide. As prosecutors consider filing bias-crime charges against two college freshmen accused of streaming online video of a classmate’s sexual encounter with another man, a huge divide has emerged between those who support the suspects and those who want to see them punished. The saga that unfolded this week at Rutgers University has become a flashpoint for debate after the revelation that 18-year-old Tyler Clementi had jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22. Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, of Plainsboro, N.J., and another student, Molly Wei, of Princeton, N.J., both 18, are charged with invasion of privacy, with the most serious charges carrying a penalty of up to five years in prison. Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce J. Kaplan said Thursday that more charges were possible under New Jersey’s hate crimes law.

MI Assistant AG's Anti-Gay Blog Free Speech? An assistant attorney general (AAG) is using his personal blog to target the openly gay leader of the University of Michigan’s student assembly. AAG Andrew Shirvell claims he has the right to say whatever he wants outside work, including calling 21-year-old Chris Armstrong a racist with a “radical homosexual agenda.” It’s raising questions about how far a civil servant can go, especially outside “business hours” — and if it should affect his job. Attorney General Mike Cox said Thursday the posts are “distasteful” but Shirvell has First Amendment rights that protect his rants. Cox noted that he is troubled that the 30-year-old lawyer was outside Armstrong’s off-campus house in Ann Arbor at 1:30 a.m. last month videotaping police breaking up a party. Cox says he plans to investigate. Shirvell didn’t respond to phone and e-mail messages from press on the matter.

Transgender Ruling Will Affect Maine Schools. A recent ruling by the Maine Human Rights Commission is forcing schools across the state to look at how they handle transgender students. The commission said a middle school in Orono discriminated against a transgender student by not allowing the child to use the girls’ bathroom. At its most recent meeting, the Maine Human Rights Commission ruled that a middle school student in Orono was discriminated against because the child, who was assigned male at birth, was not allowed to use the girls’ bathroom. While Maine does have an anti-discrimination law with gender identity protections, there is no state policy to guide schools on how to accommodate transgender students. Some are worried accommodating transgender students might make others uncomfortable, but students interviewed in the state said that’s not a concern for them. Portland’s superintendent says it’s a matter of society catching up with the needs of these students, and guidelines from the state for schools to follow would be a good place to start.

A Question from the Field
Dear Policy Matters,
I am deeply saddened and incredibly alarmed by the number of teen suicides since the new school year began. To my knowledge, I know of ten suicides, and the number only seems to grow every time I read the news. As a concerned PFLAG member, what can I do to ensure that schools are safer for my kids and their friends?
Thanks so much,
Jeremy


Dear Jeremy,
Thank you so much for your question. As PFLAG National mourns the tragic deaths of Caleb Nolt, Felix Sacco, Raymond Chase, Asher Brown, Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Cody J. Parker, Billy Lucas, Justin Aaberg, along with the countless number of other young people who have suffered from relentless anti-LGBT bullying, harassment and discrimination – we find ourselves searching for more ways to end this trend. Sadly we know all too well that before taking their lives, these young people endured years of anti-LGBT bullying, harassment and discrimination that went unchecked by school officials. In response to these recent tragedies, and in honor of National Safe Schools Day, we urge you to take action at your school to prevent youth suicide by stopping anti-LGBT bullying today!

We call on you to work in coalition with students, teachers, and other school officials to put an end to anti-LGBT bullying, harassment, and discrimination. Below are 10 simple actions you can take to help build safer schools for all students:

Top 10 Ways To Make Schools Safer
1. Claim Your Rights. It’s critical that school community members know their federal civil rights, especially when they live in states and school districts that lack explicit LGBT anti-bullying protections. Be sure to check out PFLAG’s Claim Your Rights Resource Center, to learn about ways you can report unchecked bullying, harassment and discrimination.
2. Call Congress. Call your Congress Members and ask them to co-sponsor the federal Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act. Click here to find your Members of Congress and make the call today!
3. Plan a PFLAG meeting. Organize a PFLAG meeting to discuss what your members can do to prevent bullying and suicide at your school. If you need some ideas on what to include in your program, please contact our Safe Schools Coordinator for ideas.
4. Organize a Candlelight Vigil. Work with your chapter members along with other community organizations to honor students like Asher Brown, Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Billy Lucas, Justin Aaberg, and other young people who have died because of unchecked ant-LGBT bullying.
5. Plan School-Wide Activities. There are simple and important ways to educate the school community about why respect for everyone must be the rule, and not the exception, to address bullying in your school communities. Please contact our Safe Schools Coordinator for specific ideas.
6. Train and Educate Everyone. Ask for school faculty to be trained to repond to bullying in the most effective, helpful way. To learn more about PFLAG’s Cultivating Respect Program please click here.
7. Set the Policy. Work with school officials to strengthen your school's policies on bullying, harassment, and discrimination. Please click here to review PFLAG’s model policy.
8. Make a video. Similar to Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better Campaign,” consider making a video to tell the world what you're doing to make your school safer. Upload it to YouTube and send the link to our Safe Schools Coordinator so that we can publicize it!
9. Write an Op-Ed. Consider writing an Op-Ed to your local newspaper to educate your community about the impact of anti-LGBT bullying, and the remedies to help build safer schools for all students. For ideas on what to include in your op-ed, please visit our advocacy and issues webpage.
10. Know the Resources. Make sure school community members know that they can call 1-800-4U-TREVOR, a suicide prevention hotline, and be sure to share other community resources for young people who are looking for additional help, support and information.

Please be sure to share your op-eds along with your pictures and videos from your actions to rperry@pflag.org so that we can feature them on our National Blog.

Thanks again for your question and for your commitment to move equality forward!
Warmest regards,
Policy Matters

P.S. Have you downloaded your new edition of Bringing the Message Home yet? Get your 2010 version of the how-to guide to PFLAG advocacy now and share it with your chapter. Visit. www.pflag.org/btmh for more information now.

Please note that Policy Matters will return on October 19, 2010. If you would like to have a policy-related question featured in our next edition, please e-mail rperry@pflag.org with your question no later than October 15, 2010.

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