Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Safe Schools Panel on “Making It Better”

With so much attention focused on the tragedies that have befallen those students across the country who determined their only available option was to take their own lives because they were victims of harassment and discrimination, there is still little attention on the resources that should have been available to them. We can focus on an “it gets better” mentality, but that rhetoric may only further isolate victims entrenched in harassment by making the situation seem hopeless.

On Thursday, October 14, a congressional briefing took place that focused on bullying and harassment of LGBT youth in public schools. Moderated by the Human Rights Campaign and paneled by representatives from various organizations including Dr. Emily Greytak of GLSEN, Chris Anders of the ACLU, and Stacy Skalski of National Association of School Psychologists, the meeting focused on the harrowing statistics faced by LGBT kids in middle and high school, what actions that need to be taken now, and what advocacy efforts are in the works to prevent the harassment and the despair faced by LGBT youth from taking place in the future.

The briefing started with poignant opening remarks made by SMYAL (Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League) intern D’Angelo Morrison about the problems he had faced growing up in an urban environment like D.C. Morrison spoke of being outed by his best friend while in high school and the ensuing pain that was caused. He talked of the discrimination that isn’t dissimilar to the experiences of any LGBT young person; physical threats, verbal abuse, and isolation by friends and enemies alike. Morrison discussed the feeling of knowing everyone was looking on and noticing what was happening, not a single friend, staff member, or bystander was willing to respond or resolve any conflicts. Even when directly approached and asked for help, Morrison reported authoritative figures in his school would respond by placing him in a room with his aggressor to “talk it out”. Sadly, his experience illustrates what it’s like for thousands of LGBT young people every day, and evidenced to those attending why it’s important to promote ways in which students can seek help as well as relevant legislation to make things better.

Chris Anders spoke of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and provides legal recourse to redress such discrimination. Buiding off of Chris’ testimony, our Claim Your Rights page details, filing a claim with the OCR is a safe, confidential, and effective way to help protect you or someone you know from being harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The panel also discussed the two major efforts being put forth by the LGBT community and its allies. The Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), which is based on the rhetoric contained within Title IX, prohibits any school program or activity receiving federal financial assistance from discriminating against any public school student on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. In addition, SNDA prevents discrimination against any public school student because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of a person with whom a student associates or has associated.

Coming hand in hand with SNDA is the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA). SSIA would amend the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act through No Child Left Behind Act re-authorization to require schools and districts receiving federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Click here to see what you can do to help move these important bills through congress!

Research shows that actual or perceived gender identity and gender expression are among the top three reasons students in their schools are bullied or harassed. Research also shows that LGBT young people are bullied two to three times more often than their heterosexual peers. The harassment these youth experience increases their likelihood of skipping school, underperforming academically, and dropping out. Together, we can work to help prevent these striking statistics to remain or get worse, as well as allow LGBT young people to know that they are loved and that they deserve to grow up in a safe environment, regardless of how they choose to identify themselves.

This post was written by Eric VanDreason, the newest edition to PFLAG National’s Policy Team. To learn more about Eric and his role at the National Office, please visit our staff page here.

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