Monday, November 28, 2011

PFLAG National Statement on Barney Frank's Decision to Leave Congress at the End of Term

PFLAG National would like to thank Congressman Barney Frank for his years of commitment and support to advancing equality through family acceptance, community education and advocacy. 

As a member of Congress for nearly 30 years, Rep. Barney Frank has been a leader in advocating for the rights of LGBT people. He supported key pieces of legislation, including the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and provided a powerful role model for other LGBT people to get involved in all levels of government and civic engagement. As the first openly gay member of Congress, he has paved the way for leaders like Tammy Baldwin, Jared Polis, and David Cicilline.

PFLAG National was honored to have him join us at our  2011 Convention, where he spoke about the power of PFLAG and family acceptance, both of which he experienced personally through his late mother, Elsie Frank, one of the founders of Greater Boston PFLAG.  

The power of family acceptance and the unique voice it has in LGBT advocacy is just one of Rep. Frank’s legacies from his years of service to our country. We will miss his strong voice at the Congressional level in support of equality, but we look forward to continuing the work we started together, including passing a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace, when Rep. Frank leaves office.

Salvation Army Confronted About Anti-LGBT Positions

The Salvation Army’s bell-ringing volunteers and shiny red donation pails have become a familiar sight for many holiday shoppers during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, with their yearly “Red Kettle” campaign in full swing for this holiday season as volunteers aim to raise millions for families in need to help finance clothing, toys, and Christmas dinners. However, LGBT advocates are raising their voices against these seemingly neutral collectors. The Salvation Army lists many position statements on its website, including a statement on “homosexuality” which reads: “The Salvation Army believes…that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life. There is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage.”

Last year, Jeffrey Curnow, the corporate and public relations manager for the Salvation Army, defended the foundation’s views, admitting that they are indeed theological, but are “intended for our church members and those who are interested in our church.” They “would never expect everyone we help, our donors, or even our non-church-member employees to necessarily agree with these theological positions.” The Salvation Army also includes disclaimer of-sorts in their public position statement: “Likewise, there is no scriptural support for demeaning or mistreating anyone for reason of his or her sexual orientation.”

Yet, despite Curnow’s claim that The Salvation Army “serves countless people…including gays and lesbians,” many cite the organization’s discriminatory past. Bil Browing of The Bilerico Project, a group blogging site for LGBTQ advocates, asks people to consider the group’s history before they donate: “While you might think you’re helping the hungry and homeless by dropping a few dollars into the bright red buckets, not everyone can share in the donations…The organization also has a record of actively lobbying governments worldwide for ant-gay policies.” Browning was turned away when he and his boyfriend were homeless, and was told to leave “the ‘sinful homosexual lifestyle’ behind” if the couple wanted help.

The Salvation Army is known to have fought against U.S. anti-discrimination laws which prohibited employment discrimination against sexual orientation and sought exemption from federal non-discrimination policies. The group also threatened to close all of their New York soup kitchens in 2004 if they had to offer benefits to same-sex couples in domestic partnerships.

Yes, The Salvation Army does indeed help many families who urgently seek assistance in the holiday seasons, but at what cost? Andy Thayer from the Gay Liberation Network puts the problem in a unique perspective: “If a racist organization was trying to collect money with the massage that some of the money was going toward good, would you support them?” Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to donate to the organization must be determined on a personal level.

This winter, many supporters of LGBT equality are suggesting Americans donate to organizations that support the LGBT community. We hope you consider PFLAG National in your search for affirming organizations this season. PFLAG National directly helps LGBT people, their families, and friends by promoting education, support, and advocacy. PFLAG National helps by providing scholarships to young students, hosting national conventions, and fighting for equality at the state and national level. For more information on how to donate visit PFLAG National’s website or contact PFLAG National Member Services at give@pflag.org or (202) 467-8180, option 3.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

PFLAG Voices Stand Strong at Howard County Hearing on Transgender Non-Discrimination Bill

Last night, Howard County Councilmembers heard testimony on CB54-2011, an update to the County’s Human Rights Act which would prohibit housing, employment, credit, law enforcement, and public accommodations discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression for all residents. The bill was drafted in part by PFLAG Columbia-Howard County and Gender Rights Maryland in July and introduced in October. The bill is sponsored by four of the council’s members.


More than 70 people showed their support for the bill at the hearing by wearing purple clothing, and many PFLAG voices were heard, all of which received warm and heartfelt applause for the emotional testimony they courageously shared in support of basic rights for all families throughout the county.


While over a dozen Howard Country residents testified expressing their full support for these critical protections, arguments from three individuals – two of whom did not reside in Howard County - were also submitted for the record. These individuals expressed concerns about the legislation, yet failed to substantiate their claims when pressed by Council Members.


On the other hand, many local residents, including several PFLAG members, referenced report-after-report including NCTEand NGLTF’s groundbreaking report, Injustice at Every Turn Report, and GLSEN’s 2008 Harsh Realities report demonstrating the very real and severe discrimination and harassment far too many transgender and gender non-conforming individuals experience. These advocates also mentioned the professional statements from the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association further demonstrating the extent of the prejudice and discrimination experienced by these people, and the need for legal protections to help mitigate these realities.


Our very own PFLAG Columbia-Howard County chapter leader said it best:


We need a transgender anti-discrimination bill because legislation engenders education and reduces ignorance, which will help keep our kids safe, and allows them to grow into the productive members of society that we all want them to be.


Take Action: All of us at PFLAG National strongly support parents just like Catherine who work so hard to protect their kids, ensuring they will have equal opportunities to successfully transition into thriving adults. The Howard County Council has the tools to build this level playing field through the swift passage of CB54-2011. If you live in Howard County, it’s still possible to express your support for the bill by writing to Howard County Councilmembers before their December 5th vote.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Israeli TV Star Assi Azar Visits PFLAG National


Israeli TV star Assi Azar is touring the United States this month, screening his film, “Mom & Dad: I have Something to Tell You,” in which he tries to understand his parents’ journey to accepting him after he came out as a gay man. Two years after coming out to his parents privately, he came out very publicly in the media. When he came out, Mr. Azar was already a famous host of a children’s television show, now he hosts Israel’s most popular show, Big Brother. Since coming out Mr. Azar has been an advocate for LGBT equality, and was named one of the 100 most influential gay people in the world by Out Magazine.

In the film Mr. Azar visits Support Groups for Parents of Gay Children (a group modeled after PFLAG) to try to understand why his parents had such a difficult time accepting him. Mr. Azar learns that his parents' needed time and education to help them understand the issues and process their own feelings about his identity. Mr. Azar says that coming out stories are often entirely focused on the individual who is coming out, but the event is life changing for the family members as well. He felt it was important that his film “is not from the kids’ point of view only, but from the parents’ point of view.”

Yesterday Mr. Azar, along with representatives from the Embassy of Israel, met with PFLAG National Executive Director Jody Huckaby, Deputy Executive Director Beth Kohm, and Policy Intern Laura Van Dyke to talk about how his moving film can be incorporated into the great work that PFLAG chapters are already doing. Look out for more updates from PFLAG National about the film “Mom & Dad: I have Something to Tell You,” and the possibility of a second screening tour sometime in the spring of 2012.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

2011 Transgender Day of Remembrance

Tomorrow, Sunday, November 20th marks the 13th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day set aside to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred and prejudice. The event is held in November to honor Rita Hester, whose murder on November 28th, 1998 kicked off the “Remembering Our Dead” web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999. Rita Hester’s murder — like most anti-transgender murder cases — has yet to be solved.
 
According to Gwendolyn Ann Smith, the founder of TDOR, "The Transgender Day of Remembrance serves several purposes. It raises public awareness of hate crimes against transgender people, an action that current media doesn’t perform. Day of Remembrance publicly mourns and honors the lives of our brothers and sisters who might otherwise be forgotten. Through the vigil, we express love and respect for our people in the face of national indifference and hatred. Day of Remembrance reminds non-transgender people that we are their sons, daughters, parents, friends and lovers. Day of Remembrance gives our allies a chance to step forward with us and stand in vigil, memorializing those of us who’ve died by anti-transgender violence.”

Research and personal stories remind us that transgender people of color are particularly vulnerable to experiencing prejudice, discrimination, murder, and police brutality.  In 2010, the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) partnered with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), to release a startling report detailing the experiences of transgender people of color.
The key findings revealed:
  • Nearly half (49%) of Black respondents reported having attempted suicide
  • Trans black students reported alarming rates of harassment (49%), physical assault (27%), and sexual assault (15%) at school; harassment was so severe that it led 21% to leave school. 6% percent were also expelled due to bias.
  • Black transgender people had an extremely high unemployment rate at 26%, four times the rate of the general population.
  • Thirty-two percent (32%) of Black transgender people lost a job due to bias and 48% were not hired for a job due to bias.
  • Forty-six percent of Black transgender people were harassed, 15% were physically assaulted, and 13% were sexually assaulted at work
  • Thirty-eight percent of Black transgender people who had interacted with the police reported harassment, 14% reported physical assault, and 6% reported sexual assault.
Discrimination was pervasive for all respondents who took the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, yet the combination of anti-transgender bias and persistent, structural and individual racism was especially devastating for Black transgender people and other people of color.
In response to these and other egregious acts of violence, on Wednesday, November 16th, the White House convened a special meeting designed to address violence against transgender people.  Anti-violence advocates and transgender community members spoke out and stepped up to discuss strategies and best practices aimed at addressing the issue.  The meeting was facilitated by the NCTE’s Executive Director, Mara Keisling, along with Gwendolyn Ann Smith.  PFLAG National was also in attendance as a strong advocate for transgender equal rights and specially addressed the unique challenges that transgender and gender non-conforming students experience in schools across the nation.

These oppressive conditions and acts of violence against transgender community members must stop. 

In 1998, PFLAG became the first national organization to include transgender people in its mission statement; we also became the first national organization to develop a public policy that is completely transgender inclusive. Sadly, here we are in 2011 and we are still seeking basic vital protections for the health and well-being of our transgender loved ones.  In honor of those we have lost to violence and hate, this year and in years passed, PFLAG National and our 350 chapters across the country, re-commit to supporting the needs and rights of transgender people and their families everywhere.

On Sunday, please take time to remember transgender hate crime victims, as well as those who face violence and discrimination every day. 

To find out what events are taking place in your community, please visit http://www.transgenderdor.org/.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Howard County Council to Hear Gender Identity Bill Next Monday

On the heels of Massachusetts lawmakers’ praise-worthy decision to provide several basic rights to transgender residents, Howard County Marylanders continue to fight their own battle for local gender identity protections.
The gender identity non-discrimination bill was proposed with the help of PFLAG Howard County and Gender Rights Maryland and was introduced by Howard County councilmembers in October. The bill would prohibit discrimination in areas of housing, law enforcement, public accommodations, financing, and employment.
One out of every five transgender people in Maryland has lost a job because they are transgender. 12% have become homeless. These staggering numbers are proof of the dire need for protections for gender expression and identity. Catherine Hyde, coordinator of PFLAG Howard County’s Transgender Network, expresses the urgency for these protections: “As parents of transgender children we want the same thing for our children as all parents want: we want them to be happy, to get a productive job, and to move out and support themselves…this law is a matter of life-or-death for many Marylanders, including my child.”
63% of Marylanders support protections for gender identity and expression, and 15 states (and the District of Columbia) have gender identity protections. “It’s time for Howard County to say enough is enough,” said Catherine. We couldn’t agree more.
Americans don’t allow discrimination against the color of people’s skin, and there is no reason to allow discrimination against an individual’s gender or gender expression. Sometimes we forget: Everyone has a gender identity, and we express it every single day.
Take Action: Write to Howard County Councilmembers before the public hearing on November 21st to give them the real facts about this bill, and urge them to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential in Howard County. If you are a resident of the county or live near-by, wear your purple and attend the public hearing at 7:30PM next Monday, November 21st in Ellicott City to show councilmembers that Marylanders support this bill!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

BREAKING NEWS: Proposition 8 Back on Track

The California Supreme Court issued its advisory opinion which stated that the proponents of Proposition 8 have a standing to appeal. The lawsuit can now continue within the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and expectations are high for a speedy and efficient ruling. View the complete Supreme Court ruling here.

Though progress on the Proposition 8 trail has been in hibernation for several months, we have not forgotten the monumental importance of this legislation. If the Ninth Circuit Court rules in favor of marriage equality, California will set an amazing precedent for future marriage equality cases around the country.

The motion which asks the courts to publically reveal the original video from the Prop 8 trail is already being fast-tracked. Oral arguments before the court will be heard Thursday, December 8 at 2:30 p.m. (PST).

For more information on this important decision, visit American Foundation for Equal Rights and read their public announcement about today’s decision.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Massachusetts Lawmakers Pass Historic Transgender Equal Rights Bill

Just a few moments ago, the Massachusetts legislature passed the Transgender Equal Rights Bill. The bill adds protections to the state’s civil rights laws against discrimination in employment, housing, education, and credit based on gender identity or expression and adds gender identity and expression to the state’s hate crimes law. Governor Patrick, a leader in the fight for transgender protections, has said he will sign the bill into law.

After six years of waiting and working, An Act Relative to Transgender Equal Rights (H.502/ S.764) has passed in Massachusetts! The bill adds “gender identity and expression” to Massachusetts’ existing discrimination laws regarding employment, housing, education and credit discrimination. It also adds gender identity and expression to the list of categories protected under the state’s hate crime law. Within the act, gender identity and expression is defined as “a gender-related identity, appearance, expression, or behavior of an individual regardless of the individual’s physiology or assigned sex at birth.” [Boston]
There are around 33,000 transgender people living in Massachusetts according to a study by The Williams Institute. Gunner Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, puts this large number in perspective: “That is the equivalent of Fenway Park.” A report by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that 76% of transgender Massachusetts residents have been harassed at work because of their identity and 20% have lost their jobs. 17% of Massachusetts transgender residents have been denied housing because of their identity, and 10% were made homeless because they couldn’t find work.

Unfortunately, critical language which protected transgender residents in public accommodations (like grocery stores, theatres, libraries, and hospitals) was taken out of the presented bill. But we must be clear-- the bill as voted on offers vitally important protections that literally will save lives and ensure the overall well-being of transgender residents throughout the Commonwealth.

Passage of this bill is truly an historic step forward!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Senate Committee Votes to Advance “Respect for Marriage Act”

Today the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10 to 8 along party lines in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act (S. 598). Originally authored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and co-sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), RMA would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which currently prohibits marriage equality at the federal level. The bill must now be scheduled by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for a full Senate discussion. “[I]f I have to reintroduce it next session, I’ll reintroduce it,” said Sen. Feinstein, stating her dedication to passing the repeal bill. “[W]e’ll just march on. We’ll continue this.” [Politico]

Though a House version of this bill is not expected to be seen during this congressional session, the historic nature of today’s vote cannot be denied. In addition to the advancement of RMA in the committee stage, the 30 Senate co-sponsors and 132 House co-sponsors who support the marriage ban repeal, the current administration which declared DOMA to be unconstitutional, and more than 50% of Americans who support the repeal, come together to form a strong foundation of national support.

Sen. Gillibrand comments on the importance of today’s progressive vote toward marriage equality: “This is a major step forward to end the discrimination that is currently enshrined into the U.S. law…Marriage is the true foundation for strong families. Every loving, committed couple deserves the basic human right to get married…no politician should stand in the way of this fact.”

Take Action: With your help, we can continue to raise awareness about the importance of federally recognized marriage equality. Take a moment to contact your U.S. Senator. If they do currently support the repeal of DOMA then send them a thank you letter! If they do not, urge them to support the Respect for Marriage Act once it reaches the Senate floor in order to give committed couples around the country the federal rights they deserve.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

LGBT Candidates Win Legislative Seats Nationwide

Today the future of LGBT equality at the local level is looking bright as a record number of newly-appointed openly LGBT candidates across America are elected into office. According to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, at least 53 of their 75 endorsed candidates won their elections this year. Highlights from these elections include:

  • Texas: Openly lesbian Mayor Annise D. Parker has been re-elected for a second-term in Houston.
  • Massachusetts: Alex Morse is now the youngest Mayor of Holyoke, Mass. This openly gay 22-year old won the position over incumbent Elaine Pluta.
  • Connecticut: Openly gay Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio is the first elected mayor of New London in nearly nine decades. Previous majors had been elected by city councilmembers, not by public vote.
  • Virginia: Adam Ebbin was elected to the state Senate as its first openly gay senator.
  • Texas: Mike Laster became the first openly gay man on the Houston City Council.
  • North Carolina: LaWana Mayfield became the first openly lesbian woman on the Charlotte City Council.
  • Indiana: Zach Adamson is now the first openly gay Indianapolis City Councilmember.
  • Montana: Caitlin Copple has been elected as an openly lesbian councilmember in Missoula.
  • Ohio: Chris Seelback is the first openly LGBT councilmember in Cincinnati’s history.
  • Colorado: Robin Kneich was elected as the first openly LGBT Denver councilmember.
  • Michigan: In Traverse City, legislators chose to keep non-discrimination ordinances in effect, prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people in employment and housing.

The presence of LGBT legislators increases the likelihood that their states will adopt anti-discrimination policies and support LGBT equal rights legislation at the local level. Having LGBT political leaders also helps to re-shape the stereotypes some officials may have about LGBT people. Openly bisexual state Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona elaborates on how she and other LGBT members have helped shift fellow legislators’ approach to LGBT issues: “I haven’t changed [the other members’] minds about gay people and policies, but it’s really changed the way they talk about it. And to be honest…that makes a difference.” [USA Today]

Tony Perkins, President of the LGBT opposition group the Family Research Council, worries that LGBT elected officials will “redefine marriage and support special rights for people based on their sexual behavior.” Perkins says he is not alone in this fear: “[L]ike minded voters wouldn’t support them.”

However, a recent Gallup Poll from June 2011 shows that 67% of voters would be willing to vote for a gay or lesbian president. This has increased tremendously from 2007 when 55% were willing, and from 1978 when only 25% would consider voting for a gay or lesbian president. Even those who are 65 years old and above are showing increased acceptance of gay and lesbian political leaders—52% of senior citizens would consider voting for a lesbian or gay president compared to 38% in 2007.

Though the successes of LGB people in the political world are growing, we have seen limited representation of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals in our nation’s elected political positions. With increased visibility and acceptance, we are confident that transgender and gender non-conforming individuals will be able to celebrate many more victories in the future. For now, supporters of LGBT equality legislation have reason to celebrate a definitive step forward for openly LGBT politicians. “The election of gay and lesbian candidates in places where they have never won before is a major step forward,” said Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Victory Fund. “All of the openly LGBT candidates who stepped up to run for office this year are true leaders who deserve our profound thanks.”

Friday, November 4, 2011

Michigan Law Allows Morality-Driven Bullying

In the wake of an inspiring and moving speech by our Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden about the serious need for creating safer schools, we were shocked and angered to hear that Michigan lawmakers just passed an anti-bullying law with a secret provision that will harm more than help.


“Matt’s Safe School Law” was named in honor of Matt Epling who died by suicide after facing constant bullying from his classmates. And despite harsh objections from Kevin Epling, Matt’s father, “Matt’s Law” passed the Senate floor without protections for specific characteristics (like race, gender, or sexual orientation), without addressing cyber-bullying, and with a provision which actually allows bullying if the perpetrator cites religious or moral reasons for doing so. “I am ashamed that this could be Michigan’s bill on anti-bullying when in fact it is a ‘Bullying is O.K. in Michigan Law,” said Epling. “I am ashamed of this law.”

Sen. Rick Jones, the bill’s sponsor, said the revised  bill was never supposed to allow the bullying of LGBT students: “I don’t believe for one minute that is the intention of this legislation…certainly a child should not be allowed to go up to another child and say he’s going to hell.” And yet, this legislation specifically allows for this kind of behavior—as long as the student, teacher, or faculty claims it was motivated by moral beliefs.

“Matt’s Law” is a major step in the wrong direction at the state level. As Dr. Biden said earlier today, “We know the devastating price of the failure to confront hostile school climates…together we all need to stand up and do our part to keep all of our kids safe, and give them the love, support and acceptance they need….We must ensure that our classrooms are safer for all students to learn, grow and thrive.” 

Take Action: Michigan’s so-called anti-bullying law is unacceptable. If you are a Michigan resident, contact your Senators and state house representatives to tell them about the major problems within “Matt’s Law,” and urge them to take a stand against this version of the bill. On a federal level, we must continue to fight for SSIA (H.R. 1648/ S.506) and SNDA (H.R. 998/ S.555) by contacting our Senators and Representatives. More about these federal anti-bullying laws can be found at PFLAG Nation’s website.

REMARKS BY DR. JILL BIDEN AT THE OPENING CEREMONY OF THE PFLAG NATIONAL CONVENTION

Photo: Brendan Hoffman/WireImage for PFLAG National



For Immediate Release
November 4, 2011

REMARKS BY DR. JILL BIDEN AT THE OPENING CEREMONY OF THE PFLAG NATIONAL CONVENTION
 
Westin Alexandria
Alexandria, VA
Friday, November 04, 2011


Thank you Rabbi and thank you Jody for that warm introduction – and thank you all for that wonderful reception. It’s great to be here with you today.
As an English teacher, I like to share some of my favorite quotations – and so I would like to start today with some inspiring words from Margaret Mead who famously said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” Doesn’t this quote embody the spirit of PFLAG -- which started nearly 40 years ago with one voice – a mother’s voice –who spoke out courageously in support of her gay son? 
That simple act ignited a movement and today, because of the work that you do, there are hundreds of thousands of voices across this country raised in support of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, friends, neighbors, and coworkers.
I recently read an open letter written from a PFLAG father to America’s youth.  He wrote, “My wife and I have two sons. We think that they are the best kids in the whole world. They’re very different, with very diverse personalities, talents, and interests. One of the other things that makes them different is that one is straight and one is gay. But the important thing is this: we love them equally.”
At its core – it’s such a simple message – “we love our sons” – both of them. But that acceptance and support can make all the difference.
And as you all know well – acceptance by those you love is the greatest acceptance of all. 
As a teacher and a mom, I know what Jeanne Manford knew- that there is a direct connection between acceptance and positive, healthy outcomes in every important area of life, including education, mental health, and physical health. So I’m particularly happy to join you all today not only as Second Lady, but as a mother and also as an educator.
As was mentioned, I’ve been a teacher for longer than I care to admit...I’ve taught as a reading specialist in public high schools and I’ve tutored at-risk teens at a psychiatric hospital in Delaware.   I believe the greatest accomplishment of any teacher is not instructing students how to read or how to understand biology, but giving them the confidence to do the work.  Instilling that belief in themselves is the key – not only for learning in the classroom, but for succeeding in life. 

We all know that self-confidence can be a challenge for youth and adolescents – even under the best of circumstances.  These are the years when all kids are trying to figure out who they are and who they hope to be.  For children who are struggling with understanding their sexual orientation or gender identity, the teen years can be particularly challenging.   And, of course, kids are not always kind to each other during these times, especially when one of them is different.


As an English teacher, I have my students write about themselves in their journals.  Through those journal entries and my conversations with them, I have heard first-hand about this kind of pain and anxiety.  And I have seen how this situation makes it almost impossible for students to concentrate on their school work.  How can we expect kids who are taunted by their classmates to flourish in an academic environment?  

We have all heard painful stories of bullying and harassment.  And we have read too many accounts of heartbreaking incidents where kids are driven to take their own lives rather than endure the taunting of their peers.  No child should be subjected to that.  And no parent should suffer that horrific loss.    

We know the devastating price of the failure to confront a hostile school climate where bullying and harassment can be daily occurrences.   Together, we all need to stand up and do our part to keep all of our kids safe, and give them the love, support and acceptance they need to learn and grow and fulfill their dreams.

I’m proud of the progress the Obama Administration has made in the last two years for the LGBT community – including the signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The White House also held a  Conference on Bullying Prevention, and the Department of Education has held summits on this issue as well, and issued guidance to help combat bullying in schools and support Gay Straight Alliances.
This progress is important, but there is still more to do.  At this critical time for education in our country, we need to ensure that our schools are producing the next generation of American leaders and heroes.  We must insure that our classrooms are safer for all students to learn, grow, and thrive.
I want to say to each of you here today: thank you for raising your voice and working together to open minds, shift attitudes and support all of our sons and daughters, students and neighbors.
Some of you come from places where yours is the only voice of support and acceptance – but when you speak, people listen.  And we need you to keep speaking out, to keep shining a light on this important issue.
When I told friends that I would be speaking at this Conference today, one of them  explained how important PFLAG was in his own personal journey.  He grew up in a traditional family in a small town in rural America.  As a young adult, he attended a PFLAG meeting when he was struggling with his identity – he came home and left the PFLAG materials in a drawer. The materials conveyed what he could not.  His parents eventually understood and embraced him for who he was – thanks in no small part to the power of this organization’s work. He – like the loved ones of everyone in this room – is one of the lucky ones. 
As parents, friends, and families, you have the power to change hearts and minds with your stories of success and failure, tragedy and triumph. I commend you and hope you will all keep up this important work.
On behalf of the President, Vice President, and all of us at the White House, thank you for your courage and commitment -- and for promoting the dignity of your sons and daughters.
Thank you.


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