Teaching Our Kids Not to Hate

October 13, 2010

The past few weeks have been shameful for those who abuse religion to justify their anti-gay bigotry, and devastating for our community and families that lost sons and daughters to suicide. We now face a moral challenge that we must meet.

In these past weeks, I have felt powerless to stop the rising toll. Just months into the school year, at least 10 teenagers committed suicide rather than continue to face the pain of daily harassment and the shame of being made to feel they were “wrong” or “immoral.” We know that for every one of these young people, there are countless more who suffer in schools and classrooms every day.

In the wake of these tragic deaths and in an appalling act of grown-up bullying, several anti-gay figures, including Mormon Apostle Boyd K. Packer and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, spit on the fresh graves of these young people. Spewing hate-filled rhetoric, baseless lies, junk science, and half-truths about our lives, they justified their screeds by invoking their religious beliefs.

Packer, in remarks televised as part of the Mormon General Conference, said that same-sex “tendencies” were “impure and unnatural,” and suggested that God would not make us this way. Perkins, in a column riddled with lies and discredited research (shame on The Washington Post for publishing such trash), argued that the bullies must not have been regular churchgoers because true Christians would not engage in such acts. He went on to blithely attack the integrity of our lives and the health of our relationships, and in a classic “blame the victim” deflection claimed that we are hurt not by anti-gay violence, intolerance, and harassment, but rather by simply being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. So much for living a “Christ-like” life.

These men are simply bigger bullies, and quite devoid of human decency. They spinelessly dodge the blame that belongs at their feet for trafficking in stereotypes about our lives, and for eagerly and ceaselessly supplying excuses and ideological cover for discrimination and hatred. We must hold them accountable for the damage they cause to LGBT youth with their bigotry masquerading as religious belief.

The deaths of these young people have galvanized our community and a range of allies. There has been an outpouring of support for many of the families and for other young people who may likewise be suffering, and a renewed push for accountability to address the epidemic of bullying and harassment. We must keep up the pressure. We must make sure there is lasting reform. We must reach the parents of kids who are both victims and perpetrators of bullying and forge a permanent end to this corrosive cycle. And perhaps most importantly, by speaking up and being out, as LGBT people or as allies, we must help foster a culture of greater inclusion, compassion and understanding.

In my school community, we have taken our first steps. My 14-year-old son Julian and some of his friends wanted to find a way to get a supportive word out to other kids, who may not be as lucky as they are to live in a community where difference is not feared. The result is our own It Gets Better/We are Making it Better video.

These kids are the same age as many who took their lives. That is a sobering reality. But fortunately, unlike those who exploit these tragic deaths to further their own anti-gay agendas, the kids in this video are the future. They are our future leaders. That should give us, and every kid out there, hope.

We still have much to do, and some of our most profound victories lie ahead. But we must have the faith of those who know our full humanity is worth fighting for. We will win equality. And we will win a day when anti-gay bigotry and dehumanizing statements about us and our lives are universally condemned as damaging, wrong, and utterly unacceptable. The teenagers we fight for – Asher, Tyler, Billy, Raymond, Seth, Aiyisha, Felix, Zach, Cody, and Chloe – should be fighting with us. They, more than most, earned the right to see that day. They were robbed of that moment. Our commitment must be to do all we can to ensure that they will be hate’s final victims.

Sincerely,

For additional resources on helping to stop bullying and information on suicide prevention efforts for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth, please visit:

The Trevor Project
GLSEN
Gay-Straight Alliance Network
Groundspark’s Respect for All Project films
Family Acceptance Project
Make It Better Project
Welcoming Schools


Recent Youth Suicides Show Urgent Need for Community and Public Leaders to Condemn Anti-LGBT Bias

September 30, 2010

Calls for Civility Not Sufficient

Today, the National Center for Lesbian Rights urged community and public leaders to condemn anti-LGBT bullying in response to news that four teenagers reportedly committed suicide after suffering bullying and harassment because they were gay or believed to be gay. The teenagers are: Seth Walsh, 13, of Tehachapi, CA; Billy Lucas, 15, of Greensburg, IN; Asher Brown, 13, of Houston, TX; and Tyler Clementi, 18, a college freshman from New Jersey.

In 1993, NCLR became the first lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender legal organization to launch a Youth Project. Since then, NCLR’s Youth Project has worked to ensure that all LGBT young people are safe and can live openly with the support they need to reach their full potential.

Statement from NCLR Youth Project Director Jody Marksamer, Esq.:

“The deaths of these teenagers are tragic and heartbreaking, and we extend our heartfelt sympathies to their families, friends, and communities. The deaths of Seth, Billy, Asher, and Tyler are a wake-up call that we must do more to stop the harassment and violence experienced on a daily basis by millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. While calls for increased civility in our schools are well-intentioned, they are woefully inadequate to the scope and severity of this problem. When adults express negative views of LGBT people, they are sending a dangerous message that leads directly to harassment, bullying, and violence against LGBT youth. It is time for every public official, community leader, educator, and clergy person in this country to unequivocally condemn the expression of negative views of LGBT people as biased, unacceptable, and wrong.”


2009 National School Climate Survey: Nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT Students Experience Harassment in School

September 14, 2010

from GLSEN

GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, today marks the culmination of 10 years of pioneering research documenting the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students with the release of The 2009 National School Climate Survey.

The 2009 survey of 7,261 middle and high school students found that at school nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the past year and nearly two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation. Nearly a third of LGBT students skipped at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns.

read more


Sen. Casey Introduces Anti-Bullying Measure

August 20, 2010

by Jen Colleta | Philadelphia Gay News

U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania Robert Casey Jr. (D) introduced a bill last week that seeks to mandate federal regulations for school bullying, including banning harassment against LGBT youth.

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Mississippi School Agrees To Revise Policy And Pay Damages To Lesbian Teenager Denied Chance To Attend Prom

July 20, 2010

from the ACLU

Agreement Marks First School Policy Protecting LGBT Students In Mississippi

Itawamba County School District officials agreed to have a judgment entered against them in the case of a recent high school graduate who sued her school for canceling the prom rather than let her attend with her girlfriend. The agreement ends a precedent-setting lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of 18-year-old Constance McMillen, who suffered humiliation and harassment after parents, students and school officials executed a cruel plan to put on a “decoy” prom for her while the rest of her classmates were at a private prom 30 miles away.

“I’m so glad this is all over. I won’t ever get my prom back, but it’s worth it if it changes things at my school,” said McMillen, who was harassed so badly by students blaming her for the prom cancellation that she had to transfer to another high school to finish her senior year. “I hope this means that in the future students at my school will be treated fairly. I know there are students and teachers who want to start a gay-straight alliance club, and they should be able to do that without being treated like I was by the school.”

As set forth in documents filed in court today, school officials agreed to implement a policy banning discrimination or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the first policy to do so at a public school in the state of Mississippi. The school also agreed to pay McMillen $35,000 in damages and pay for McMillen’s attorneys’ fees.

“Constance went through a great deal of harassment and humiliation simply for standing up for her rights, and she should be proud of what she has accomplished,” said Christine P. Sun, senior counsel with the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Thanks to her bravery, we now not only have a federal court precedent that can be used to protect the rights of students all over the country to bring the date they want to their proms, but we also have the first school anti-discrimination policy of its kind in Mississippi.”

In addition to today’s legal judgment against the school, an earlier ruling in the case set an important precedent that will help prevent other students from suffering the kind of discrimination McMillen experienced. In March, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi issued a ruling in McMillen’s case that school officials violated McMillen’s First Amendment rights when it canceled the high school prom rather than let McMillen attend with her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo.

“We’re pleased that the school district agreed to be held liable for violating Constance’s rights. Now Constance can move on with her life and Itawamba school officials can show the world that they have learned a lesson about equal treatment for all students,” said Kristy L. Bennett, co-counsel on McMillen’s case. “This has been about much more than just the prom all along – it’s about all of our young people deserving to be treated fairly by the schools we trust to take care of them.”

After IAHS’s original prom date was canceled by school officials in response to McMillen’s request that she be allowed to bring her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo, parents organized a private prom at which district officials told a federal judge McMillen and her date would be welcome. That private prom was then canceled as well, allegedly because parents did not want to allow McMillen to attend, instead organizing a “decoy” prom for McMillen and her date and another prom for the rest of the class. McMillen and her date then attended the event the school had told her was “the prom for juniors and seniors” on April 2, where they found only seven other students attending. Principal Trae Wiygul and several school staff members were supervising that event while most of McMillen’s classmates were at the other prom in Evergreen, Mississippi.

“We hope this judgment sends a message to schools that they cannot get away with discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. LGBT youth just want to be treated like their peers and do all the normal high school things, like going to the prom with the date they choose,” said Bear Atwood, Interim Legal Director at the ACLU of Mississippi. “We’re very proud of Constance for standing up not just for her rights but the rights of LGBT students everywhere.”

McMillen is represented by Sun, Bennett and Atwood, as well as by Norman C. Simon, Joshua Glick and Jason Moff of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, and Alysson Mills of New Orleans.

The case name is Constance McMillen v. Itawamba County School District, et al. Additional information is available at http://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/fulton-ms-prom-discrimination. There is also a Facebook group for people who want to support McMillen, “Let Constance Bring Her Girlfriend to the Prom,” at www.facebook.com/pages/Let-Constance-Take-Her-Girlfriend-to-Prom/357686784817.


Locked Up & Out! New Report Tackles LGBT Youth in the Louisiana Juvenile Justice System

July 7, 2010

by Wesley Ware | Bilerico Project

Visiting incarcerated youth in Louisiana, I am used to hearing bleak stories about young people who struggle daily with isolation, despair, and a lack of support. They come from every corner of the state and are housed together in all-male secure facilities. Intended to “rehabilitate” troubled young men, sometimes these placements do little more than warehouse them.

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NCLR on GRITtv: Violence Against LGBT Youth Behind Bars

July 7, 2010

NCLR on GRITtv: Violence Against LGBT Youth Beh…, posted with vodpod

Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana Releases Locked Up and Out Report

July 1, 2010

from jjpl.org

LOUISIANA’S JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM NOT REFORMED ENOUGH TO PROTECT THE MOST VULNERABLE

Louisiana’s juvenile justice system has seen vast improvement since stakeholders joined together and committed to reform.  In a state that was once known for some of the most brutal youth prisons in the country, leaders have taken important steps forward to ensure the system is dedicated to therapeutic, rehabilitative services rather than just punishment for crimes.

However, according to “Locked Up & Out,” a report released today by the Juvenile Justice Project of LA, youth continue to report physical and sexual abuse, psychological abuse, excessive use of lockdown and isolation, confidentiality breaches and privacy violations, as well as insufficient post-disposition representation which results in limited access to the court system and therefore a lower probability of obtaining early release when warranted.

The report focuses on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) youth, who make up 15% of youth in detention nationwide.  “As a Youth Advocate, I visit facilities to talk with youth about the conditions they face daily and the resources they need to succeed once released.  The stories I have heard from LGBT youth, both about the extreme challenges they have endured and about their courage and determination, inspired this report,” says Wesley Ware, the report’s author.  “Once inside prison, LGBT youth often bear the worst the system has to offer.”

A national Bureau of Justice Statistics report released in January indicated that 12% of youth on average reported they were sexually assaulted while incarcerated, that Louisiana generally fit that statistic, but that at Swanson Center for Youth, the state’s largest juvenile justice prison, 16.6% of youth reported they had been sexually abused.

One 15-year old’s letter to JJPL, published in the report, tells this story: “The first time I was here, they sent me to Swanson [Center for Youth].  I stayed there for about 11 months before I got raped by some of the youths there.  I did not report it on time so they did not do anything about it.  But they did send me to a group home in Shreveport.  There, I tried to kill myself because I could not take the boys hitting on me because I would not do sexual favors for them.”

That youth’s fear of violence is not uncommon. LGBT youth are often faced with violence, and they may be more likely to receive additional charges while in the facility for fighting, be issued disciplinary tickets, or be held on lockdown/isolation because they are reportedly defending themselves from such sexual attacks.  They also experience psychological attacks; one youth reported that he was called a derogatory name 20 times per day.  The report calls for the psychological abuse to be addressed as seriously as the physical abuse because LGBT youth are more likely to attempt suicide when experiencing harassment.

LGBT youth are not only are treated poorly once they are adjudicated delinquent, but also are overrepresented in juvenile justice programming and facilities.  The report describes challenges LGBT youth face at school, at home, in prevention/intervention programming, with police, with substance abuse, and in group homes and detention centers that lead to their being funneled even deeper into the system.

Recommendations for a stronger juvenile justice system that acknowledges the needs of LGBT youth include:

  • Full implementation of the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2003 (Act 1225), including movement toward smaller homelike facilities like those in Missouri, increased funding for community-based alternative programs, and downsizing the number of youth in secure care facilities, especially at Swanson Center for Youth.
  • Trainings for all Office of Juvenile Justice staff on best practices when working with LGBT youth and HIV+ youth, both developed with guidance of experts in those respective fields
  • Implemented uniform Office of Juvenile Justice policies on: non-discrimination, expected best-practice staff behavior towards LGBT youth, and treatment of HIV-positive youth and youth with other medical conditions, as well as consequences for noncompliance.
  • Review of current OJJ programming to determine possible negative impact on youth, making needed changes, and adding programs and services to ensure LGBT youth have their needs met, including HIV/AIDS and STD testing, treatment, education, and counseling; resources and education on LGBT issues; and partnerships with LGBT community organizations.

Locked Up & Out is the first report of its kind, addressing a population usually invisible in Louisiana’s juvenile justice system while also focusing on systemic changes that would improve conditions for all court-involved youth.

The full report is available for download HERE.


LGBT Youth Included in Plan to End Homelessness

June 25, 2010

by Lou Chibbaro, Jr. | Washington Blade

The Obama administration highlighted the longstanding problem of homelessness among LGBT youth this week when it announced a strategy that U.S. Housing & Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donavan called “the most far-reaching and ambitious plan to end homelessness in our history.”

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Lesbian Student Lobbies Officials

June 23, 2010

by Deborah Barfield Berry | The Clarion Ledger

Constance McMillen worked her way around Washington on Tuesday urging lawmakers and even the president of the United States to support a bill to protect gay and lesbian students from discrimination.

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