Friday, October 28, 2011

Policy Matters 10/28/2011

Front Page Headlines

LGBT-Inclusive Office Policies: Over 90% of the country’s largest companies state that diversity policies and generous benefits packages are good for the corporate bottom line, according to a new study from UCLA’s Williams Institute. The study finds that more than half of these companies specifically state that their policies prohibiting LGBT discrimination or extending domestic partner benefits are good for business. The past decade has seen the largest increase in the number of corporations adopting LGBT-related workplace policies. Among the top 50 Fortune 500 companies, 48 include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies, and 70% include gender identity and expression. [Williams Institute]

SEICUS Reports on Sexuality Education By State, Addresses Need for Improvement: SEICUS, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, issued a 2010 report titled “A Portrait of Sexuality Education and Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs in the United States.” Within this report each state’s mandates regarding sexuality education are broken down and examined. SIECUS found that seven states have policies which discriminate against LGBT individuals or disallow the discussion of homosexuality as a valid alternative to heterosexual behavior. Seventeen states do not have mandated HIV/AIDS education, and twenty states do not mandate sexuality education at all. The report cites a need for better education around HIV/AIDS, especially for the highest risk group—young gay men of color. [SEICUS]

North Carolina State University GLBT Center Vandalized: Police at North Carolina State University are investigating a case of vandalism in which someone spray-painted a homophobic slur and the words “burn” and “die” outside the campus’ GLBT center. “It’s a little unnerving,” Justine Hollingshead, director of the N.C. State GLBT Center, said. “This isn’t free expression. It was directed at the GLBT community and occurred right at the center of campus. It certainly proves that we have work to do.” [WRAL]

For Children of Same-Sex Couples, A Student Aid Maze: It took five attempts for one prospective college student and her mother to fill out the 106-question federal form that would determine whether or not she would be eligible for financial aid. What hindered their progress was the fact that the student had two legal mothers—and the form had room for only one. Other LGBT students, who are now out on their own because their families have cut off support on learning of their sexual orientation or gender identity, have difficulty establishing themselves as financially independent. Because these students cannot fully portray their family’s finances, the amount of aid they receive may not fairly reflect their needs. [NY Times]

Policy Watch

SLDN To Sue Over Military Benefits For Spouses of Gay Troops: The LGBT advocacy group that successfully lobbied to repeal the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy plans to file a lawsuit in federal court by the end of October that would challenge the constitutionality of federal laws that make married same-sex couples ineligible for the same benefits as their straight counterparts. [Huffington Post]

ACLU Files Class Action Lawsuit for Military Separation Pay: Congress made a judgment that military personnel who serve their country for at least six years and are honorably discharged should get separation pay. The Department of Defense decided to cut that separation in half for any service member who is discharged for “homosexuality.” The ACLU has filed a class action lawsuit challenging that discriminatory internal policy. The separation-pay policy is not part of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Department can change it immediately without waiting for congressional approval. [ACLU]

Congressman Wants Hearing on GOP DOMA Spending: Mike Honda (D-CA) wants a House hearing to address the rapidly rising price tag for keeping the Defense of Marriage Act alive—where legal bills could now total $1.5 million. Honda is a ranking member of the House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee. In a letter sent to the Subcommittee’s Chairman Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) Honda asked for a hearing so the American people can understand why the House is spending taxpayers’ money on the defense of DOMA. [The Advocate]

For more DOMA-related news, see “Boehner’s DOMA Defense: Gay People Are Powerful, Can Fight Marriage Ban without Courts” [Huffington Post]

Question from the Field

Dear Policy Matters,

I’m on my school’s PTA board. For a while now, we have been discussing the changes being made to the No Child Left Behind Act. As a PFLAG mom, I want to make sure the revisions cover protections for LGBT children in the school system. I would love to bring up the issue in our next PTA meeting. Do any of the proposed revisions cover school safety for LGBT children?

Thank you,

Beth

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Dear Beth,

Thank you for writing to Policy Matters. Here’s a brief background on what is going on with the No Child Left Behind law. Last week, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) issued draft language of an update to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and has been asking for input from the states. So far the law has been revised six times, about every five years. President Obama also issued his own recommendations. There has been strong support by LGBT-rights organizations and some politicians for ESEA/NCLB to include the language used in two major safe schools bills—The Student Non-Discrimination Act (House Bill: H.R.998; Senate Bill: S.555) and the Safe Schools Improvement Act (House Bill:1648; Senate Bill: S.506).

Over the past few years, media outlets have delivered long-overdue visibility of severe and pervasive incidents of bullying, harassment, and discrimination of LGBT students. Due to a lack of explicit federal protections, students who are perceived to be, or who are, LGBT remain vulnerable to overt attacks of school based bullying and discrimination. In the past few years we have watched schools discriminate against their lesbian and gay students who simply want to attend their school dance with their girlfriend or boyfriend. The media has also given increasing news coverage to the prevalence of deaths by suicide in the LGBT community. Many young LGBT students who have died by suicide experienced bullying and harsh discrimination at their schools.

The U.S. Department of Education, as cited by the ACLU, states that harassment in school leads to lower academic achievement and goals, anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, alienation from classmates, fear of the school environment, and absenteeism from school. Because of this apparent connection many national and state human rights advocacy organizations and federal legislators are lobbying for the inclusion of SNDA and SSIA in the reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB

SNDA would federally prohibit discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity for all students who receive ESEA funding. The Human Resources and Services Administration of the federal government already has a statement about the alarming prevalence of bullying against LGBT students and includes a “Best Practices” pamphlet on HRSA’s Stop Bullying Now website. However, federal laws only protect students based on race, color, sex, religion, disability, and national origin.

There is discussion about incorporating the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) as well. The bill mandates all schools contain explicit codes of conduct which prohibit bullying and harassment. It’s imperative that we urge committee members to include this legislation in the reauthorization, since it offers tools to prevent bullying and harassment through reporting requirements and mandatory district policies that include comprehensive protections for students who are perceived to be, or who are LGBT.

The U.S. Department of Education is inviting each State Education Agency (SEA) to request flexibility within the ESEA/NCLB which reflects their local interest. As of last Thursday, 41 states have submitted statements. You can find out if your state has submitted by following the link “41 states” on the Department’s flexibility request website. Don’t be discouraged if yours has already! They are open to revisions until the deadline. Write to your state SEA and explain the benefits of adding SNDA and SSIA to their submission for the ESEA/NCLB revisions. If you’d like, you or your PTA can write a letter to the HELP committee members, asking them to help create a supportive and productive learning environment by protecting all students.

The Senate Committee completed its bill markup on October 20th. ESEA will now be brought to the floor of the Senate in front of all of the Senators. The date for this hearing is currently unknown. The full senate debate is a crucial opportunity for us to push for the inclusion of SSIA and SNDA. Senate Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell must demonstrate that they are aware of the realities for students, and use legislative remedies to protect the most vulnerable. These protections will not only prevent discrimination but improve overall educational outcomes by creating a safer and more productive learning environment. Please, contact your Senators now and urge them to express their support for including SSIA and SNDA in the broader education reform bill.

We hope this helps you understand how the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/ No Child Left Behind can help create safer schools with the addition of the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act!

Thank you for moving equality forward,

Policy Matters

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P.S. Have you downloaded our new edition of Bringing the Message Home yet? Get your 2011 version of the how-to guide to PFLAG advocacy now and share it with your chapter. Visit PFLAG nationals' website for more information now!

Join us for the 2011 PFLAG National Convention and participate in our Lobby Day in Washington, DC!

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 November 7th, 2011.

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