Accidental Role Models: Integrity and Bold Action

I recently heard Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns reflect on his October 12, 2010 statement about bullying and being gay during a City Council meeting. Wow. It was a considerably more intense experience than I had anticipated.

Apparently I cannot watch the video of his speech without crying, still. It is well worth watching (again): Joel Burns tells gay teens “it gets better” www.joelburns.com

At the event I attended, he described what brought him to that moment of bold action–one that would turn his world upside down. Week after week he read and watched news stories about young men killing themselves after being bullied and harassed for being different, or perceived as such.

Finally, after a report of a young man who took his own life after witnessing homoprejudice at his local city council meeting, Joel was moved to speak out. Talk about the universe knocking on the door and saying, “hey, you need to do something about this! You, City Councilman. Yeah, you!”

His experience describes the sort of moment that (hopefully) all people encounter in their lives–a moment of choice. Be true to your values, stand up, and speak up, or stay silent, be safe, and let injustice continue unchallenged. I gather that Joel had no idea what the ramifications of his action would be, but it was huge.

Today, I remember how important it is to not let injustice proceed unchallenged. There are so many moments great and small when we choose to make a stand or stand aside. We needn’t put ourselves in danger or sacrifice everything to a cause, but we can act with integrity, and on occasion take a bold action that may have incredibly widespread consequences.

* I hope I’ve accurately represented his story. My apologies for any incorrect interpretation. Watch the video and hear his own words.


Playgrounds and Prejudice

The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has just released a report based on their research about LGBT prejudice and bullying in elementary schools: Playgrounds and Prejudice: Elementary School Climate in the United States. It is a survey of more than 1,000 teachers and 1,000 students from 3rd-6th grade during 2010.

In the Preface GLSEN Executive Director, Eliza S. Byard outlines that:

This report from GLSEN illustrates the extent to which children’s elementary school experiences still draw artificial boundaries on their lives based on critical personal characteristics. Name‐calling and bullying in elementary schools reinforce gender stereotypes and negative attitudes towards people based on their gender expression, sexual orientation, disability, race, religion or family composition. Elementary school students and teachers report frequent use of disparaging remarks like “retard” and “that’s so gay,” and half of the teachers surveyed report bullying as a “serious problem” among their students. Students who do not conform to traditional gender norms are at higher risk for bullying, and are less likely than their peers to feel safe at school. Our research also shows the connection between elementary‐school experiences of bullying and a lower quality of life.

The most comment epithets were those oriented toward intellectual or neurological difference, i.e. “retard” and “spaz,” but almost half the teachers and students surveyed said they hear “gay” used in any number of negative ways as well. The survey finds that children who are gender non-conforming endure the most bullying and name-calling. (I read this and feel as though nothing has changed since I was in elementary school. The children haven’t even updated the vocabulary of hate from the 1970s.)

GLSEN concludes that:

Elementary teachers often intervene in incidents of bullying and harassment, and most report being comfortable doing so. Yet, most are not comfortable responding to questions about LGBT people and few elementary students are taught about LGBT families. This tendency is not surprising given that most teachers report receiving professional development on addressing bullying, but not about subjects like gender issues or LGBT families. It is clear that an approach that fosters respect and values diversity even before bullying occurs, in addition to addressing bullying as it happens, would be welcomed by elementary school teachers who are eager to learn more about creating safe and supportive environments. Ensuring that all students and families are respected and valued in elementary school would not only provide a more positive learning environment for younger students, but would also lay the groundwork for safe and affirming middle and high schools.

Definitely the elementary schools are where we need to begin education that will change the culture of  middle and high schools. I often wonder how much impact my daughter’s presence in her school will have on her classmates as they move into middle school. For the kids who are part of her school community having a queer-identified classmate will not be surprising as they move on toward high school.

About four months ago I wrote a post LGBT Bullying Ignored by School Policy in which I analyzed the policies of my local school district.  Our district’s Student/Parent Handbook and Code of Conduct identify “prohibited discrimination. For example:

No student shall be discriminated against or unlawfully denied the opportunity to participate in any program or activity on the basis of the student’s gender, race, color, national origin, or disability.

These guiding documents fail to go beyond those categories however. In my October 12, 2011 post I conclude:

According to the discrimination and the harassment policy of my local school district, sexual orientation and non-normative gender identity are not covered [as categories of "prohibited discrimination"].

Playgrounds and Prejudice finds that most schools fail to have comprehensive policies that protect children from harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation and non-normative gender-identity. The new GLSEN survey shows that less than a quarter of the teachers said that their schools had a policy protecting gender identity, sexual orientation or performance of gender. GLSEN suggests, and I heartily concur, that a comprehensive policy to protect children with non-conforming gender expression or who identify as LGBT will lead to teachers being more proactive in the protection of their students. The GLSEN report concludes:

Although most teachers report that their school has an anti‐bullying/harassment policy, less than a quarter (23%) say that their school has a comprehensive policy that specifically includes protections for bullying based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, among other characteristics (e.g., race/ethnicity).

Anti‐bullying/harassment policies may facilitate teachers taking action in their classrooms. Teachers in schools with these policies, particularly with comprehensive policies, are more likely to address incidents of bias and to take proactive steps to ensure that gender non‐ conforming students and students with LGBT families are safe and supported in school. (page 115)

What should we take away from this?

School districts must institute policies that are comprehensive in their protection of children based on gender identity, sexual orientation or performance of gender.

School districts and principals need to articulate to their teachers and school employees that these policies must be enforced and that school employees who identify incidences of harassment covered by these policies will be supported by school and district leadership.

School districts, principals, and teachers must commit to bringing these issues of justice into the school and classrooms. We need to teach justice and respect.

How do we do this?

We go to our the teachers, principals, and school board members and express our concerns. We ask for comprehensive policies to be incorporated into school codes of conduct and student handbooks.

We use the tools and programs already created for use in elementary schools. These are free programs that come with everything needed to institute a school wide, age-appropriated set of lessons that can form the platform to bring these issues into the schools, facilitate discussion, and cultivate a culture of respect among the students.

As GLSEN has just released their survey Playgrounds and Prejudice they have also released a toolkit to help educators incorporate lessons of respect and understanding into their classrooms. Ready, Set, Respect! answers the needs of elementary schools as outlined by the survey.  GLSEN Executive Director, Eliza S. Byard  states: Ready, Set, Respect! will equip teachers with tools and resources that not only improve school climate, but also instill a shared sense of responsibility among students that name-calling, bullying and harassment have no place in a school or community.”

The Human Rights Campaign has also created the Welcoming Schools program:

Welcoming Schools is an LGBT-inclusive approach to addressing family diversity, gender stereotyping and bullying and name-calling in K-5 learning environments. Welcoming Schools provides administrators, educators and parents/guardians with the resources necessary to create learning environments in which all learners are welcomed and respected.

The Welcoming Schools Guide offers tools, lessons and resources on embracing family diversity, avoiding gender stereotyping and ending bullying and name-calling.

For slightly older student populations, kids in middle and high schools, GLSEN has lots of resources to help organize Gay Straight Alliances (GSA). GLSEN also sponsors the Safe Space campaign.

The Safe Space Kit is a collection of resources for educators to create a positive learning environment for LGBT students. It contains a 42-page guide that provides concrete strategies for supporting LGBT students, including how to educate about anti-LGBT bias. It also comes with Safe Space stickers and posters to help students identify supportive educators.

I suggest purchasing a copy of Queer Kids: The Challenges and Promise for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth for the school counseling center of your local schools. It is a book written for school counselors, parents, and youth.

Lastly, many high school drama programs have already put on productions of The Laramie Project, a play written about the death of Matthew Shepard on October 12, 1998. These productions are a great way for students to create public forum that encourage discussions about LGBT issues, including discrimination and hate crime. This year was the 13th anniversary of his death and we mark it as an important reminder of the need for everyone, gay and straight, to make the safety all queer and gender non-conforming people a personal commitment–Be An Ally.


The Ugly Heart of Bullying

This post has made my morning: Unpacking Bullying posted at Trans/plant/portation.

The bullies themselves are not the core of the problem. It is families and society that teaches hate, intolerance and hurting others (sometimes just so they won’t hurt you) is the larger problem.

When a child decides to say something mean, they’re not necessarily (or often, for that matter) selecting a castigating remark based on what they think is the best “fit” for that target; they go straight for the thing they think is most hurtful. Often, that is a gay slur. They didn’t invent epithets, we adults taught it to them. We also showed them how to use these words with the sharpest points and manner of presentation possible. When we focus on bullies, we seem to forget that we ourselves are implicated in their behavior.

Education needs to happen at home, in our culture at large, and in schools – but it isn’t a message of “don’t bully” that the kids need it is a message about being strong and confident without kicking everyone else down so you can step on top of them.

The Food Chain

Yesterday my daughter and I were talking about bullying and the fact that it comes from families of origin, but the hate and fear is magnified by each kid’s own insecurities.

“So, the bully is so afraid of being at the bottom of the food chain that he pushes his way to the top so he can eat everyone else before they eat him?” That sums up part of the issue.

When I went to my daughter’s school to speak with her principal, I didn’t want to hear about the zero tolerance policy for bullying. By the time we are addressing incidents of harassment it is already too late. I wanted us to work together to teach the kids about diversity, acceptance, and the real ramifications of hate speech.

If a kid legitimately doesn’t know that “fag” isn’t a synonym for “stupid” he doesn’t understand that he is participating in LGBT bullying. Calling someone “stupid” isn’t okay either, but kids learn these terms from somewhere and they don’t always understand them. (I cringe when I recall my ignorant use of certain words – and I am appreciative that the adults who set me right did not humiliate me when they did)

The Big Picture

Safe and nurturing environments for our kids do not arise from simple assemblies about not bullying, but from inclusive education about the contributions of LGBT people throughout history, that gay families and straight families are more alike than dissimilar, that gender is not binary, and so on.

Let me leave you with the author’s last statement, but seriously go read the entire post:

We also affect how we think about bullies by focusing only on two extreme responses: the kids who commit suicide, and the kids who then hurt or kill other kids, as in the Columbine school massacre. But there are a whole host of other responses that get no media attention, and thus only a thin slice of the conversation. These are the kids who walk around with self-hatred, who insist they’re not gay for years longer than they may have otherwise, who become bitter or dysfunctional, who join ex-gay or gay reformer organizations, and so on, and that is another big price to pay for avoiding a subject or looking at only a few aspects of it.

We need to be more honest about LGBT/youth/LGBT youth suicide, because we care about human life and living it with happiness. This means we need to get honest with ourselves about how well we support our youngest generations’ emotional needs, and what we’re willing to do to make material improvements in their lives.

I am trying to nurture a strong, proud lesbian before the haters get to her. She already sees her identity as not hers alone, but part of a formidable community around the world and throughout time.

When I listen to her recount what happens in school I hear her interpreting the slurs of other children as attacks on all women or all queers – not just her. She seems to regard the world as having teams, some that support all that is best about LGBT-ness, and another made up of a disorganized set of people who are “narrow-minded and ignorant.” The ignorant, she believes might be educated, and the truly narrow-minded must not run amok without some push-back, but they are beyond wasting time on, especially when she could be swinging on the swings with her friends.


Black Ribbon Day – When Our School Ignores LGBT Students

This morning like every Wednesday morning, I perused the contents of my daughter’s “Tuesday Folder.” Its a manila envelope sent home on Tuesday afternoon full of fliers, completed school work, and promotional materials for activities like basketball clinics and youth softball leagues.

Red Ribbon Week

Today I came upon a bright red flier describing the school’s activities for Red Ribbon Week. If you are not familiar with Red Ribbon Week, it is dedicated to substance abuse awareness, particularly in the public schools:

Today, the Red Ribbon Week brings millions of people together to raise awareness regarding the need for alcohol, tobacco and other drug and violence prevention, early intervention, and treatment services. It is the largest, most visible prevention awareness campaign observed annually in the United States.

Red Ribbon Week established in 1988 by Ronald and Nancy Reagan recognizes the torture and death of Enrique Camarena in 1985 and to set aside time for drug use prevention education and drug abuse awareness. Many of us grew up with Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign of the late 1980s. Red Ribbon Week was part of the administration’s overall commitment to the War on Drugs.

Please know:

Red Ribbon for Substance Abuse Awareness

  • I believe Red Ribbon Week is important. Recognizing the sacrifices of the law enforcement and Department of Justice, and Drug Enforcement Administration agents is an obligation and honor. Many brave people have risked, and lost, their lives making our communities safer for us and for our children. 
  • I acknowledge Red Ribbon Week and support it.
  • I do not want my daughter to abuse drugs and I am happy that the school is helping me educate her about the dangers of drugs.
  • I put our Red Ribbon Week flier on the front of the refrigerator so next week we can take part in all the activities, including wearing red clothes in recognition of everything Red Ribbon Week observes and stands for.
  • I am fine that the children at my daughter’s school will miss class time  for assemblies about drugs and will complete lessons about it while in class.

BUT . . .

Ally Week - GLSEN

The irony of this was striking. During Ally Week, the week after National Coming Out Day and the anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, our school didn’t mention one word about the sacrifices of LGBT individuals or try to raise awareness of LGBT issues. THIS is the week that the Red Ribbon Week flier came home.

Just so you know:

Matthew Shepard, December 1, 1976 – October 12, 1998

October is LGBT History Month.

October 11th is National Coming Out Day.

October 12th is the anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death.

October 17th – 21st is Ally Week.

My daughter’s school recognizes none of this, but my daughter does. Tomorrow, October 20th is Spirit Day and my daughter has her head-to-toe purple outfit picked out to wear tomorrow in celebration and recognition.

Millions of Americans wear purple on Spirit Day as a sign of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth and to speak out against bullying. (. . .)  Observed annually on October 20, individuals, schools, organizations, corporations, media professionals and celebrities wear purple, which symbolizes spirit on the rainbow flag.

Probably her outfit will go unappreciated by her classmates and teachers, since there have been no discussions, bulletin boards, posters, or assemblies acknowledging LGBT history, awareness, bullying, activism, accomplishments, lives lost to make communities safer for LGBT people, or deaths just at the hands of violent bigots.

Ignoring LGBT Students

Black Ribbon Day*

So, I would like to recognize today as Black Ribbon Day at our local school. A Day when we blatantly ignore the contributions and sacrifices of LGBT people.

Couldn’t we just have an Anti-Bullying Day?** Is that so much to ask?

 

 

 

 

*Notes on Awareness Ribbon colors:

All the possible colors already stand for other issues. Black ribbons commemorate September 11th, the Virgina Tech shooting, and represent melanoma awareness. Red ribbons stand for substance abuse awareness and even more commonly for AIDS awareness. In reality the power of the symbolism is already diluted since every color of ribbon stands for many things. My choice of the black ribbon is in no way intended to belittle the loss suffered from the attacks of September 11th or from melanoma.

**Notes on Violence Against LGBT Students:

In case you’d like statistics and facts about what life is like for LGBT kids, especially in school, please peruse the following sites. The the GLSEN site and tell you far better than I can.

2009 National School Climate Survey from GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network)

Dealing with Gay Students, Bullying in Different Ways from CNN – Listen to what Minneapolis Public Schools do – intervention and education can work.

Violence Against Gays and Lesbians from The National Centers for Victims of Crime – Gives a sense of the kind of violence endured by LGBT people in general.

One last note in defense of October:

October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Autism Awareness Month, Dwarfism Awareness Month, National Pork Month, and National Cyber Security Awareness Month and they’ve gotten no coverage in school either. I hope somewhere someone is writing angry blogs about how these other issues have been ignored by the public schools! (Well, maybe pork doesn’t need a special day in the schools – we celebrate pork awareness every month in our house.)


Can I protect my daughter from bullies?

Last week and this week CNN and Anderson Cooper AC360° is featuring An Anderson Cooper Special Report – “Bullying: It Stops Here.”

Tonight, Friday, October 14 at 8 and 10 p.m. ET, Cooper hosts a town hall: “Bullying: It Stops Here”.

For as long at it is available on YouTube I highly recommend watching the October 5th episode. There is astounding video of what one child endures on the bus (in part 3 of 4) and a sickening video of a principal intervening in a active incident of bullying (in part 4). They are must-see videos (links below).

Be warned this show will likely make you sad and furious.

I have spent a lot of time discussing and role-playing with my daughter how to defuse the hostile situations that she encounters and may encounter in the future. It is important defuse them so they don’t escalate, but it is also absolutely essential that she feel that she can defend herself too. She has a series of responses that she uses to answer back to ignorant and hateful statements. She has crafted arguments on her own and with us to answer comments which come from a variety of loathsome discriminatory origins: religiously motivated bigotry, misogyny, physical disgust direct at LGBT individuals, etc.

Sometimes she quasi-jokingly says she will sock the perpetrator in the nose. Of course I make it clear that a violent response to a hostile situation is not okay, but truthfully after watching the videos of what these kids endure, I find myself thinking that she would be justified if she socked a bully in the nose.

At this point I do not trust that if she went to anyone at the school that they would be able to effectively deal with the situation. If schools cannot figure out how to productively address issues of diversity and bigotry before there is a incident on the playground, in the cafeteria, or on the bus, I have NO FAITH that they will be able to deal with it once it is happening.

One thing that becomes crystal clear from this program is that principals, teachers, all school staff need to be trained how to deal with this. They are clearly at a loss about how to respond.

How would school personnel know how to handle LGBT bullying if the school district, the school, and the principal have never made crystal clear what will and will not be tolerated? If there are no institutionally prescribed consequences for homo-prejudice before there are incidences of violence, how is a teacher supposed to have any power to do anything?

And how can we trust our schools to protect our kids when teachers like Viki Knox in New Jersey makes public statements about her own personal homo-prejudice? How many other Viki Knoxes are teaching in our school classrooms, but are smart enough not to out themselves as bigots on Facebook and Twitter? We are yet to see what will happen to her, but America would not tolerate a public school teacher in 2011 making racist statements on Twitter and Facebook because they were offended by Black History Month being honored in their school.

I now see that my daughter and I have to role-play and problem solve what she should do in a situation where an adult is as ill-equipped to handle LGBT bullying as the principal in the video in the AC360° October 5th episode. I need to make her aware that some teachers are bigots who cannot separate their prejudices from their obligations as educators bound by a duty to all students.

Her teachers say they love having her in class; they praise her polite and respectful demeanor. Yesterday at I even overheard my daughter thank the maintenance man for taking such great care of the school. I am happy that she is that kind of child, but I will not have her politely subject herself to ill-prepared, perhaps ill-intentioned, school personnel and their potentially destructive “interventions.”

I hope that Anderson Cooper AC360° and CNN will continue to make this episode available to the public. Allowing continued access to this material would be a real contribution to raising awareness about the lives of LGBT youth and the need to end bullying.

Here are the links:

“Bullying: It Stops Here,” part 1/4

“Bullying: It Stops Here,” part 2/4

“Bullying: It Stops Here,” part 3/4

“Bullying: It Stops Here,” part 4/4


LGBT-friendly Schools

With my daughter out as a lesbian at school I am holding my breath waiting to see what happens. So far so good. She has almost two years to go until middle school though. Middle school was just the worst for me, and from the kids I know in the neighborhood who are in or just graduated from middle school it still is hard to endure.

Earlier this week I avoided doing work and tried to assuage my concerns about my daughter by checking out the local school district’s Visual Arts Magnet middle school and high school on the internet. Maybe those schools would offer a more nurturing, diverse environment for my artistically-inclined daughter, I thought. Educationally, I feel the future is up in the air in a way it wasn’t before. I just don’t know what’s going to happen at school tomorrow, next month, next year and the media offers me a daily array of nightmares to ponder.

I used to live in NYC near the Harvey Milk school for LGBT kids. As I understood it from someone who used to teach there the kids who manage to transfer to Harvey Milk had a really rough time wherever they’d been before. It wasn’t a school you went to just to enjoy the comradeship of other queer kids. Schools like Harvey Milk are few and far between.

Thus far my girl has been tough and brave. She says the kids who use religion to denounce her are stupid; she claims she doesn’t listen to them. Perhaps more importantly she has a circle of friends who embrace her (though I am pretty sure most of the parents still haven’t heard about her disclosure from their kids yet – let’s see what happens when the news trickles up to the parents). Her natural commitment to social justice would suggest that she can handle life in the neighborhood public school – that she might even do some good there.

Yet as a mother I don’t want ANYONE to be mean to my kid. Obviously, that is unrealistic since kids are mean to each other for many reasons and few people, if any, get out of childhood without a few battle scars.

TIME magazine is running a special feature on bullying, and one of the articles is about the Alliance School in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It’s an LGBT-friendly charter school, the first in the nation. The article gives voice to the kids who find the Alliance School a safe haven, as well as those who would say my daughter might be better placed in her neighborhood school, for her own sake and for the sake of her classmates.

The article, A Separate Peace argues that schools like Alliance might not be the answer, yet for some children a school like this is the thing that will keep them alive long enough to make it through school. Author Kayla Webley writes,

Parents want to protect their kids, but is wrapping them in an Alliance-style cocoon of tolerance the best solution? Some conservatives oppose the idea of a gay-friendly school on moral grounds, others for fiscal reasons: Why should taxpayers help make sexuality a central part of a child’s or a school’s identity? Developmental experts — and many gay activists — question the wisdom of shielding some students rather than teaching kids coping skills and promoting an atmosphere of respect on all campuses. “Being segregated doesn’t help gay kids learn, it doesn’t help straight kids learn, it doesn’t help bullies learn,” says Ritch Savin-Williams, a professor at Cornell University who chairs the human-development department. “All it does is relieve the school and the teachers of responsibility. It’s a lose-lose situation all around.” And yet to some bullying victims, it’s nothing short of a lifeline.

It is hard to embrace the argument that taking queer kids out of hostile schools is a problem because it relieves the schools of the duty to educate their staff and students about diversity and LGBT issues, and fails to hold the schools accountable for teaching bullies the error of their ways. As far as I can tell many schools are choosing to ignore LGBT students until someone dies. Moreover, in many states it seems to be very difficult, perhaps impossible, to get LGBT awareness materials added to the curriculum in any form.
I’d like to know that there was a school like the Alliance School in our general area, just in case life gets tougher for our girl down the road. For now I will keep holding my breath and waiting.

LGBT Bullying Ignored by School Policy

In the wake of yet another teen suicide linked to bullying, bullying that singled out a student for being gay or allegedly being gay, too many school districts continue to ignore that their district policies fail to protect students from LGBT-related prejudice and harassment. Obviously language in a school district handbook isn’t the most important intervention to keep LGBT kids safe.

We need schools prepared to deal with diversity and school personnel who will take real action to protect students. However school policy sets the tone for how schools address difference, discipline problems, and the school culture in general.

Last year the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota came under scrutiny for their bullying policies and their practice of neutrality toward homosexuality in schools after many  students in Anoka-Hennepin district schools killed themselves after LGBT-related bullying. Associated Press writer, Chris Williams describes the situation on Boston.com:

It [the Anoka-Hennepin School District] has found itself caught between gay-rights supporters, who insist that any anti-bullying program must include specific policies aimed at protecting gay youth, and religious conservatives who call that unnecessary and biased toward homosexuality.

The district has told its staff to remain neutral when discussing matters of sexual orientation, while also ordering employees to step in if they learn of any harassment or bullying. [Emphasis mine]

Neutrality is not enough.

When I recently met with my daughter’s school principal to discuss that fact that she had chosen to come out to everyone including her friends at school and their parents, the principal made all the appropriate, district-sanctioned statements about how bullying was not tolerated in her school. She reassured us that our school community is especially tolerant of disabled students and therefore we could expect the children and parents to tolerate a lesbian student. (There are plenty of problems with that comparison, but that’s another post).

I have the utmost respect for our principal and I love my daughter’s elementary school. I know we are very fortunate to send our child to good, generally supportive school; however, neutrality and pat promises of zero tolerance are not going to deal with the reality of prejudice, hate speech, and intimidation that occurs in schools across the nation, even in nice schools like the one we send our daughter to.

I wondered how my local school district would compare with the Anoka-Hennepin district. So, I did some research about our local school district’s policies on harassment, discrimination, and sexual orientation.

Student/Parent Handbook and Code of Conduct – Our Discrimination Policy

What I found is very disturbing. I have excerpted the pertinent sections from both the Student/Parent Handbook and the Code of Conduct. The Superintendent states that these documents: “foster an environment for learning in which students respect the rights of others. State law requires each school district to create and implement a code of conduct for students that specifies policies and procedures.”

The sections of these documents that outline discrimination and harassment fail to include sexual orientation as a factor considered when determining

Discrimination Prohibited
XSD maintains a strict policy of equal opportunity and nondiscrimination. No student shall be discriminated against or unlawfully denied the opportunity to participate in any program or activity on the basis of the student’s gender, race, color, national origin, or disability. Any student who believes he or she has been subjected to prohibited discrimination at school or while participating in a school sponsored activity, should promptly report the concern to the student’s principal or to the Deputy Superintendent. . . . [Emphasis mine]

Harassment
XSD strictly prohibits harassment based on an individual’s gender, color, race, religion, national origin or disability. Harassment, in general terms, is conduct so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it affects the student’s ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program or activity, creates an intimidating, threatening, or hostile educational environment. Slurs, insults, or other inappropriate conduct related to those protected characteristics described above are wholly inappropriate, violate the District’s equal opportunity and nondiscrimination policies, and may subject the student who engages in such conduct to disciplinary action. . . . [Emphasis mine]

Thus, according to the discrimination and the harassment policy of my local school district sexual orientation and non-normative gender identity are not covered.

Hazing/Bullying
XSD strictly prohibits hazing, bullying, or intimidating students. Specific definitions of hazing and bullying are in the glossary at the end of the Student Code of Conduct.

The glossary sections that define hazing, bullying, or harassment are general and inclusive enough to include acts that make students frightened for their safety and undermine their ability to learn, but as the policy states above students cannot be subjected to “prohibited discrimination” and harassment is defined at “slurs, insults, or other inappropriate conduct related to those protected characteristics described above.”

Thus, discrimination and harassment based upon sexual orientation are not identified as actions that would undermine “an environment for learning in which students respect the rights of others” per district policy.

The policy on cyberbullying includes the following language:

Misuse of Computers and the Internet Students shall not:

  • send or post electronic messages that are abusive, obscene, sexually oriented threatening, harassing, damaging to another’s reputation, or illegal, including off school property if the conduct causes a substantial disruption to the educational environment; or [Emphasis mine]

If we assume that there is a comma missing between “oriented” and “threatening” then we can surmise that messages that are sexually oriented are innately prohibited. The use of the word “abuse” could be interpreted broadly and include hate speech, but only that which includes “slurs, insults, or other inappropriate conduct related to those protected characteristics described above” (not based on sexual orientation).

Cyberbullying that is “damaging to another’s reputation” would only apply to sexual orientation if one believes that being queer diminishes one’s reputation.

The district’s Human Sexuality curriculum not only does not mention the sexuality of LGBT people at all, but it limits discussion of sexuality to that practiced within marriage. Same-sex marriage is not legal in our state, so that effectively implies abstinence is the only sanctioned possibility for queer people.

At every turn LGBT students are absent in all district policy on discrimination and harassment.
For our child, who at 10 has already been told that God only approves of heterosexuality, there is no articulated protection for her or even an acknowledgement that she exists.

“God made boys and girls differently for a reason” she is told by a child on the playground. Can we really remain neutral about that?

Justin Aaberg’s parents Tammy and Shawn Aaberg, said that “one form of the bullying their son endured came from a student religious group whose members told Justin that he was going to hell because he was gay.” Justin, a gay fifteen-year old high school student, hanged himself after being bullied. Justin’s story is recounted on an ABC News story about the recent suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer.

“School systems need to do more to protect LGBT students from bullying, and not turn their back on them because of their sexual orientation” say the Aabergs.

I couldn’t agree more.


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