Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Policy Matters 6/6/2012

Front Page Headlines

First Openly Gay Cadets Graduate from Air Force Academy: The first openly gay cadets graduated Wednesday, May 30th from the U.S. Air Force Academy, eight months after the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy took effect.  President Obama, in his address, focused on the “new feeling about America” that has been generated around the world during his term. He stated that “we can say with confidence and pride: The United States is stronger, safer and more respected in the world. There’s a new feeling about America. I see it everywhere I go, from London and Prague, to Tokyo and Seoul, to Rio and Jakarta. There’s a new confidence in our leadership.” [Advocate]

First Transgender Athlete to Compete for a U.S. Olympic Spot: A central question of gender and sports is facing officials as they prepare for London’s Summer Olympics: In a system that segregates athletic competition by sex for reasons of fairness, where do transgender athletes fit? Keelin Godsey is the first openly transgender contender for the U.S. Olympic team. Last month, Godsey qualified for the women’s track and field Olympic trials in the hammer throw. Godsey was born female, identifies as male, and has to compete in the female division—a situation that has attracted much attention. [NPR]

Transgender Candidate Elected in Thailand: Thai political history turned a new page on Sunday, May 27th when Nok Yonlada, who is openly transgender, won a provincial election. She stated that “Nan people voted for me, showing that Thai people respect human rights.” Nok is also president of the Trans Female Association of Thailand and a well-known activist for LGBT rights. She became well-known for her work starting the Sister’s Hand Project which offers free surgery for transgender and gender non-conforming patients. [Jakarta Post]

Erie, IL School Board Bans Anti-Bullying Materials: At last month’s school board meeting, the district decided it would ban elementary school resources that teach respect for all families and address the anti-gay name-calling that has been documented in Erie schools.  The ban includes The Family Book by Todd Parr and anything associated with the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), including the proven bullying prevention program No Name-Calling Week (endorsed by over 50 national education and youth organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America) and Ready, Set, Respect, lesson plans created in partnership with the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association for the Education of Young Children. A petition has been started to urge the School Board to reverse its decision. [Change.Org]

Policy Watch

Illinois Senate Rejects Anti-Bullying Bill:  The Illinois Senate again rejected legislation that would require Illinois schools to create anti-bullying programs and fully explain how they would investigate bullying instances on Tuesday, May 29th, after an initial vote stalled the bill last week.  The legislation fell one vote short of passage amid concerns raised by anti-gay lobbyists that it could be used to promote acceptance of homosexuality. [Chicago Phoenix]

Bill Introduced in the House of Representatives to Ban Discrimination Against LGBT Jurors: The bill, introduced on May 18th by Representative Steve Rothman (NJ-9), follows an American Independent investigation documenting numerous state and federal cases in which LGBT individuals may have been removed from juries based on their sexual orientation or gender identity—a practice that federal courts have repeatedly declined to prohibit. This bill would “prohibit the exclusion of individuals from service on a Federal jury on account of sexual orientation or gender identity. It would amend a federal statute that currently bars discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or economic status” in jury service in federal courts.[Colorado Independent]

Federal Appeals Court Rules Against DOMA: A Federal Appeals Court ruled unanimously on Thursday, May 31, that Defense of Marriage Act, passed by Congress in 1996, discriminates against married same-sex couples by denying them the same federal benefits afforded to heterosexual couples. The decision will have no immediate effect because it anticipates an appeal to the United States Supreme Court, which is the only court that can overturn an act of Congress.  In upholding an earlier decision by a lower court, Thursday’s ruling, by a three-judge panel of the First United States Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, is the first time an appeals court has declared the federal law unconstitutional. [New York Times]

Federal Appeals Court Refuses to Review Prop 8 Decision: Marriage equality took another step forward on Tuesday, June 5th, on its march to the U.S. Supreme Court, when a federal appeals court that struck down California’s ban on marriage equality refused to reconsider the ruling. Now that the case has run its course in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the measure’s sponsors “absolutely” plan to take the case to the high court, said Brian Raum, a lawyer with the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal defense group. Backers of the ban, known as Proposition 8, now have 90 days to petition the Supreme Court to review the finding that the ban violates the civil rights of LGBT citizens in California. [Huffington Post]

NCTE Publishes Policy Recommendations for Transgender Elderly: Aging poses unique challenges for transgender adults. They came of age during decades when transgender people were heavily stigmatized and pathologized. Some came out and made gender transitions during these years, while many others kept their identities hidden for decades. With a growing older transgender population, there is an urgent need to understand the challenges that can threaten financial security, health and overall well-being. Improving the Lives of Transgender Older Adults, the National Center for Transgender Equality publication, responds to these concerns by examining the social, economic and service barriers facing this population. The report includes profiles of experiences, a literature review and more than 60 concrete recommendations for policymakers and practitioners. [NCTE]

Question from the Field

Dear Policy Matters,

I’m a mother of two high school students, and am concerned about the recent amount of negative action around anti-bullying policies. I want to be sure that my children are entering a safe environment when they go to school, and am having trouble understanding why schools wouldn’t do everything they can to stop bullying, harassment, discrimination and physical assault. What can I do as a parent and a community member to make sure that my children’s school promotes safety and respect?


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Dear Molly,

Thanks for writing to Policy Matters! Preventing anti-LGBT bullying in schools and creating safe learning environments is one of PFLAG and the LGBT community’s biggest priorities, and we share your concern for the health and well-being of our LGBT youth. The daily conditions that many of our children endure are astounding, and it’s up to parents, teachers and administrators to ensure that no child ever feels unequal, unsafe or unvaluable because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. That’s why PFLAG has created several resources to stop bullying and harassment in schools and recently launched the CARE with Pride Campaign to raise awareness about the prevalence and terrible consequences that severe bullying causes.

It’s impossible to deny that many LGBT youth are constantly and intensely bullied for their sexual orientation or gender identity; just look at the facts. According to the GLSEN National Climate School Survey, at least 84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed at school, while 40.1% were physically harassed and 18.8% were physically assaulted. These numbers are incredibly and disproportionately high in comparison with the average student body. Almost two-thirds of LGBT students said that they felt unsafe in their schools, a saddening statistic that we need to work hard to change.

LGBT students are bullied vastly out of proportion from the rest of the student body; this isn’t simple school-yard bullying, but harassment that is severely detrimental to these students’ health and well-being. 34% of LGBT students were threatened or injured at their school, compared with only 7% of straight students, and 45% attempted suicide, compared with 8% of straight students. It’s incredibly important that parents, teachers, educators, administrators and friends take action and ensure that these numbers are greatly decreased.

In order to protect students from anti-LGBT harassment, schools need to implement strict no-bullying policies and ensure that adults are trained in stopping and preventing these behaviors from taking place. By not ignoring these discriminatory behaviors, and making it clear that harassment and bullying will not be tolerated, we can change the environment for the students and give them a safe place to learn. Encourage your school administrators to implement a strong anti-bullying policy that spells out behaviors that will not be tolerated and endorses every student’s right to a safe education free from harassment.

As you’ve pointed out, there have been several recent instances of school boards shooting down anti-bullying policies because they believed they were too pro-LGBT. We believe that creating a safe learning environment and ending bullying, harassment, and discrimination for students is something everyone should be able to agree on. No one deserves to be bullied, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Preventing debilitating harassment and assault and ensuring the right to a safe education should be basic for every student. The actions of school boards to not implement anti-bullying policies out of a fear that they will “promote” an LGBT lifestyle are disheartening: they clearly don’t understand that our priority needs to be ensuring that every single student has an equal opportunity to learn and participate in a safe school environment.

The most important thing that we can do as parents or concerned community members is to advocate in every way for the students that have to suffer through this harassment every day. Raise your voice at school board meetings or with school administrators to ensure that protections are implemented and that they understand the seriousness of the problem. Come out as a public ally and help show kids that there is a whole world of love and support waiting for them. Stop discrimination when you see it and promote activities like films or community programs that encourage acceptance and respect. Educate as many individuals as you can, whether they’re your friends, neighbors, fellow parents, etc…about the issues facing LGBT youths in school and the need to take action. Sharing your concern is a great way to gather more supporters of anti-bullying programs and policies.

If you see a student in need of support, try to provide them with safe space where they are fully accepted for who they are. You can help them find support resources, such as the local PFLAG chapter or organizations such as the Trevor Project. You can also help support PFLAG’s anti-bullying efforts through the CARE with Pride Campaign, which is committed to creating safer schools around the nation and providing support and resources to those students in need. 

Thanks for moving equality forward,

Policy Matters

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