Thursday, April 26, 2012

Policy Matters 4/26/2012

Front Page Headlines  

In Anoka-Hennepin, Minnesota Teacher Silence is Broken: In years past, teachers wouldn't have been allowed to show their support to students protesting anti-LGBT bullying. Now they can. School was no different than it's been every year in the past decade. 85 students wore placards that explained they were muting their voices to draw attention to the plight of young people silenced by the threat or reality of anti-LGBT bullying. What was different this year. Their teachers were able to support them, out loud. [Star Tribune]

Command Sergeant Major Allegedly Assaults Lesbian Captain at Military Ball: A soldier in the United States military wrote on Facebook, "I was just shoved across the dance floor by my command sergeant major for being gay...lovely end to my active duty career." While dancing with her girlfriend at the Cavalry Squadron Ball, the soldier’s Squadron Commander took her girlfriend aside and told her, "You [both] need to get off the dance floor." [Huffington Post]

The Anti-LGBT Base Is Shrinking: Last summer, Freedom to Marry hosted a National Press Club briefing to showcase a message to candidates of both parties from lead pollsters for President Obama and George W. Bush. The pollsters agreed: the political equation has shifted dramatically – with accelerating momentum and growing intensity in favor of the freedom to marry. [New York Times]

IRS Makes Same-Sex Parents 'Lie,' Shortchanging 2 Million Children: Tom Bourdon and his husband Jimmy are legally married and are raising two children in a home they jointly own in suburban Massachusetts. As they finished up their taxes, filing a joint state return as a married couple, they had to essentially lie to Uncle Sam about the most important aspects of their life. They filed two separate tax returns and "divided up" their two children so that they could claim child-related exemptions, deductions, and credits. [ABC News]

Policy Watch

U.S. EEOC Issues Landmark Ruling for Transgender Employees: In what has been hailed a “landmark” move, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled Monday that employers that discriminate against an employee or potential employee based on their gender identity are in violation of Title VII of the Civil rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on sex. [Huffington Post]

“God Shows No Partiality,” Says Minister in Support of Fairness Amendment: A Lincoln, Nebraska minister and several local business owners offered their support for what is being called the fairness ordinance. The proposal would extend legal anti-discrimination protection in Lincoln to LGBT people in housing, employment, and public accommodations. [Journal Star]

City of Eau Claire, Wisconsin OKs Benefits for Same-Sex Couples: The Eau Claire City Council debated the cost versus the fairness of allowing domestic partnerships to qualify for the same health plans married couples can receive. The council ultimately voted 10-1 in favor of extending benefits, after almost two hours of debate. [Leader Telegram]

'Don't Say Gay' Bill Advances in the House: Tennessee’s elementary and middle school teachers could face more pressure not to talk about LGBT issues with their students next year after the so-called Don’t Say Gay bill cleared a House education committee. [Tennessean]

Question from the Field

Dear Policy Matters,

The media continues to cover the importance of anti-bullying protections in schools across the country. Personally, I am relieved by the increased visibility as I don’t believe there is enough acknowledgment of the severe and pervasive bullying, harassment, and discrimination that many LGBT students endure. As we learned from the Anoka-Hennepin case, many education professionals are explicitly prohibited from portraying LGBT people and issues in a “positive light,” due to neutrality laws and/or policies, which are also known as “no promo homo” laws. Can you please explain share with me more about the impact of these laws and policies. How pervasive are they, and how can we as PFLAGers work to eradicate them to prevent future incidents like what occurred in Anoka-Hennepin from occurring again?

Thank you,

Emily
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Dear Emily,

Thanks the great question!  Bullying, harassment, and discrimination is a major problem for all youth today, including LGBT youth. A recent study found that nine out of ten LGBT students report being bullied in their schools. Bullied youth will often miss school because they don’t feel safe, their grades and interest in learning may decline, and some students resort to self-harm.

Clearly the landscape of legal protections for vulnerable LGBT students is incredibly rocky. In fact, only 13 states offer explicit protections for LGBT students. Moreover, a wave of laws, policies, and proposed legislation aims to prohibit educators from adequately addressing LGBT targeted bullying, harassment, and discrimination due to the presence of “No Promo Homo” policies. “No Promo Homo” policies are local or state educational policies that restrict or eliminate any school-based instruction or activity that could be interpreted as presenting LGBT individuals or topics from a positive perspective. These policies are founds across the country in school districts like Merrimack, New Hampshire, or before a recent court decision, Anoka-Hennepin, Minnesota, and they have a chilling silencing effect over educators fearing that if they speak about anything LGBT related, even to stop bullying, that their job security will be jeopardized.

This year alone seven states are considering such laws, and thanks to the efforts of many PFLAG Chapters, the majority of these state laws were amended to remove such explicit “No Promo Homo” prohibitions. Beyond talking with your elected officials about the harms of such misguided public policy, you can get involved by attending school board meetings, calling your Superintendent, or writing letters to the editor, reminding these stakeholders that public schools should be institutions that celebrate free speech and a healthy exchange of ideas. As the United States Supreme Court observed, “Teachers and students must always remain free…to study and evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die.” Keyishian v. Board of Regents, 385, U.S. 589, 603 (1967).

For more information, please visit our Cultivating Respect - Safe Schools website to learn more about the many different ways you can help build safer schools for ALL students in your own communities.  

Thanks again for the great question!

Policy Matters

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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 Friday, May 4, 2012.



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