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In Suburb, Battle Goes Public on Bullying Gay Students September 13, 2011

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Tuesday 13 September 2011
by: Erik Eckholm, The New York Times News Service | Report

Anoka, Minnesota – This sprawling suburban school system, much of it within Michele Bachmann’s Congressional district, is caught in the eye of one of the country’s hottest culture wars — how homosexuality should be discussed in the schools.

After years of harsh conflict between advocates for gay students and Christian conservatives, the issue was already highly charged here. Then in July, six students brought a lawsuit contending that school officials have failed to stop relentless antigay bullying and that a district policy requiring teachers to remain “neutral” on issues of sexual orientation has fostered oppressive silence and a corrosive stigma.

Also this summer, parents and students here learned that the federal Department of Justice was deep into a civil rights investigation into complaints about unchecked harassment of gay students in the district. The inquiry is still under way.

Through it all, conservative Christian groups have demanded that the schools avoid any descriptions of homosexuality or same-sex marriage as normal, warning against any surrender to what they say is the “homosexual agenda” of recruiting youngsters to an “unhealthy and abnormal lifestyle.”

Adding an extra incendiary element, the school district has suffered eight student suicides in the last two years, leading state officials to declare a “suicide contagion.” Whether antigay bullying contributed to any of these deaths is sharply disputed; some friends and teachers say four of the students were struggling with issues of sexual identity.

In many larger cities, lessons in tolerance of sexual diversity are now routine parts of health education and antibully training. But in the suburbs the battle rages on, perhaps nowhere more bitterly than here in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, just north of Minneapolis. With 38,000 students, it is Minnesota’s largest school system, and most of it lies within the Congressional district of Ms. Bachmann, a Republican contender for president.

Ms. Bachmann has not spoken out on the suicides or the fierce debate over school policy and did not respond to requests to comment for this article. She has in the past expressed skepticism about antibullying programs, and she is an ally of the Minnesota Family Council, a Christian group that has vehemently opposed any positive portrayal of homosexuality in the schools.

School officials say they are caught in the middle, while gay rights advocates say there is no middle ground on questions of basic human rights.

“I think the adults are much more interested in making us into a political battlefield than the kids are,” said Dennis Carlson, the superintendent of schools. “We have people on the left and the right, and we’re trying to find common ground on these issues.”

“Keeping kids safe is common ground,” he said, pointing to district efforts to combat bullying and to new antisuicide efforts.

Gay children, and some parents and supporters, say these efforts are undercut by what they call the district’s “gag order” on discussion of sexual diversity — a policy, adopted in 2009 amid searing public debate, that “teaching about sexual orientation is not part of the district-adopted curriculum” and that staff “shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation.”

The lawsuit was brought in July on behalf of six current and former students by the Southern Poverty Law Center and by the National Center for Lesbian Rights. It charges that district staff members, when they witnessed or heard reports of antigay harassment, tended to “ignore, minimize, dismiss, or in some instances, to blame the victim for the other students’ abusive behavior.”

One of the plaintiffs, Kyle Rooker, 14, has not declared his sexual orientation but was perceived by classmates as gay, he said, in part because he likes to wear glittery scarves and belt out Lady Gaga songs. In middle school he was called epithets almost daily, and once he was urinated on from above the stall as he used the toilet.

“I love attention, but that’s the kind of drama I just can’t handle,” Kyle said, adding that when he was threatened in the locker room, school officials had him change in an assistant principal’s office rather than stopping the bullying.

The district’s demand of neutrality on homosexuality, the suit says, is inherently stigmatizing, has inhibited teachers from responding aggressively to bullying and has deterred them from countering destructive stereotypes.

“This policy clearly sends a message to LGBT kids that there is something shameful about who they are and that they are not valid people in history,” said Jefferson Fietek, a drama teacher at Anoka Middle School for the Arts, using the abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Mr. Fietek, the adviser to a recently formed Gay-Straight Alliance at his school, said he knew of several gay and lesbian students who had attempted or seriously considered suicide.

Colleen Cashen, a psychologist and counselor at the Northdale Middle School, said that by singling out homosexuality, the policy created “an air of shame,” and that contradictory interpretations from the administration had left teachers afraid to test the limits, seeing homosexuality and the history of gay rights as taboo subjects. “I believe that the policy is creating a toxic environment for the students,” she said.

Mr. Carlson, the superintendent, agreed that bullying persists but strongly denied that the school environment is generally hostile. He said he welcomed further initiatives that could result from negotiations over the lawsuit or with the federal investigators. “We want all students to feel welcome and safe,” he said.

But conservative parents have organized to lobby against change. “Saying that you should accept two moms as a normal family — that would be advocacy,” said Tom Prichard, president of the Minnesota Family Council. “There should be no tolerance of bullying, but these groups are using the issue to try to press a social agenda.”

A group of district parents who are closely allied with the family council declined to be interviewed. Their Web site says that depression among gay teenagers is often the fault of gay rights advocates who create hopelessness: “When a child has been deliberately misinformed about the causes of homosexuality and told that homosexual acts are normal and natural, all hope for recovery is taken away.”

This article, “In Suburb, Battle Goes Public on Bullying Gay Students,” originally appeared at The New York Times.

Just Good Friends August 12, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Humor, LGBT.
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Roger’s note: for years (since childhood?) many of us have wondered about Bert and Ernie.  Not that it is anyone’s business but their own.  It is comforting, however, to know, that the question of their sexual orientation, or lack thereof, has been clarified.  Freud said that sometimes a cigar is nothing but a good smoke; likewise I guess, a Muppet is nothing more than a child’s friend.

 

by Abby Zimet, www.commondreams.org, August 12, 2011

Bert and Ernie have lived together at 123 Sesame Street as roommates – separate beds – since 1969, but now a Facebook page and petition at Change.org is asking the show’s producers to let them live as a gay couple and eventually marry. The (possibly exasperated) response: Let muppets be muppets.

“Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics, they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.”

Tenn. Senate OKs ban on teaching of homosexuality May 21, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Education, LGBT, Tennessee.
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Roger’s Note: What caught my attention in reading this article was the statement that “homosexuals don’t naturally reproduce.”  Tell that to the hundreds of thousands of Gay and Lesbian parents around the world.  The mindless implicit assumption behind this statement, of course, is that a gay person is nothing other than being gay.  Gay 24/7; from cradle to coffin.  This kind of one dimensional thinking is characteristic of bigotry.  Bigots, of course, are no different in that they are not bigots and nothing else.  Bigots can be loving parents and loyal friends.  Like the good Christian that I am, I do not hate bigots; rather I love the sinner but hate the sin.  Whoops, I have to take that back.  First of all I am not a Christian, good or otherwise.  Secondly, I do hate bigots for all the harm and grief they cause.   Bigotry is indeed worthy of being criminalized, not being Gay (or teaching about being Gay).  That is so obvious to me that I am astounded at the incapacity of so many to not understand.

Saturday, May 21, 2011 09:50 ET

Critics deride the chamber’s passage of the “don’t say gay” bill

By LUCAS L. JOHNSON II, Associated Press

Tenn. Senate OKs ban on teaching of homosexuality

Wikimedia/Kaldari
Tennessee State Capitol building

A bill passed Friday by the Tennessee Senate would forbid public school teachers and students in grades kindergarten through eight from discussing the fact that some people are gay.

Opponents deride the measure as the “don’t say gay bill.” They say it’s unfair to the children of gay parents and could lead to more bullying. Supporters say it is intended to give teachers clear guidance for dealing with younger children on a potentially explosive topic.

The bill isn’t likely to be taken up by the House before lawmakers adjourn this spring, but the sponsor there has said he would push it forward in 2012 when the General Assembly comes back for the second year of the session.

Passage would make Tennessee the first state to enact such legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In 2003, Washington defeated a proposal similar to Tennessee’s, as did California in 2005 and 2006. A Louisiana law forbids the use of sexually explicit materials depicting homosexuality in sex education classes.

Under the proposal, any instruction or materials at a public elementary or middle school would be limited to age-appropriate lessons about the science of human reproduction.

The legislation was amended from the original version, which said no elementary or middle schools will “provide any instruction or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality.” Republican Senate sponsor Stacey Campfield of Knoxville said some of his colleagues were uncomfortable with that language.

“There’s more than one way to skin a cat,” Campfield said after the vote. “I got what I wanted.”

He said the language is appropriate because “homosexuals don’t naturally reproduce,” and he said it’s necessary because the state’s curriculum is unclear on what can be taught.

However, a critic said the new wording could create other problems.

Sen. Roy Herron, D- Dresden, said it “may inadvertently prevent the teaching of ethics, morality and abstinence.”

Stephen Smith, assistant commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education, also said he’s unaware of homosexuality being taught anywhere in the state. He said there is nothing in the state’s curriculum standards that allows students to be taught about homosexuality.

Texas: The state of sex (mis)education February 27, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Education.
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I wish this were a bad joke — the unfair caricature of Texas that you might see on a Prius’ bumper sticker — but it isn’t: a whopping 94 percent of school districts in the lone star state teach only abstinence, according to a new report. Worse yet, the review by two professors at Texas State University found that “sexuality education materials” used in the state “regularly contain factual errors and perpetuate lies and distortions about condoms and STDs.” They also found that classes promoted gender stereotypes, sexual orientation biases, shame and fear. Oh, what fun!

Disturbing as they may be, those top-line summaries of the findings are nothing compared to excerpts included in the report (PDF) from actual teaching materials. Suicide is a favorite scare-tactic: One program predicts non-virginal students’ miserable future, “You know people talk about you behind your back because you’ve had sex with so many people … Finally you get sick of it all and attempt suicide.” There are fun skits about suicide, too. In one, titled “Jumping Off the Bridge,” the moral of the story is put like so: “Giving a condom to a teen is just like saying, ‘Well if you insist on killing yourself by jumping off the bridge, at least wear these elbow pads — they may protect you some?'” (Got it: Handing out condoms = assisted suicide.)

Pre-marital sex presents a triple-threat, though: If you don’t kill yourself, you’ll probably die anyway — and if you don’t die, you’ll probably kill your sex partner. In response to a question about having pre-marital sex, an abstinence-only education video warns: “Well, I guess you’ll have to be prepared to die. And you’ll probably take with you your spouse and one or more of your children.” (Noted: Pre-marital sex = murder-suicide.) Boys are warned that they might kill their girlfriend by having sex: If you give her HPV, she’ll “probably end up with a radical hysterectomy, cervical cancer, and possibly death.” (So, you know, sure, go ahead and have sex, you murderer.) A curriculum for wee little sixth-graders exclaims: “WARNING! Going on this ride could change your life forever, result in poverty, heartache, disease, and even DEATH.” Another cautions in all-caps: “FOR OUR YOUNG PEOPLE TO ENGAGE IN SEX NOW IS LIKE PLAYING RUSSIAN ROULETTE WITH ALL BUT ONE CHAMBER FULL!”

Suicide, death, murder? These programs gotta be pretty good at scaring teens out of having sex, right? Mmm, not exactly. Texan teens “rate well above national averages on virtually every published statistic involving sexual risk-taking behaviors,” according to the report, and the state has the third-highest teen birthrate in the country.

Why Gay Students Don’t Feel Safe February 25, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights.
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by Deb Price

Imagine being a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender teen who loves singing in the school chorus.

Now imagine that experience being spoiled by a thoughtless, homophobic adult — the music teacher who ought to be striving for harmony.

“My choir teacher constantly makes gay jokes,” a 12th-grade Latino student reported in a new national study. “And he doesn’t realize that he makes it so uncomfortable for us because it’s choir. There’s a large LGBT community in choir, and he sits there and cracks gay jokes all the time.”

In its groundbreaking report, “Shared Differences,” the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network captures what school feels like for America’s LGBT youth of color.

The survey results paint a grim picture of kids so hardened to anti-gay remarks, shoving or worse that they don’t even bother reporting the abusive incidents to a school official or parent.

These students rarely read about LGBT people in textbooks, nor do they learn about gay history or people in class.

What they too often learn firsthand is that school is a place where they can expect to be hurt — emotionally or physically. The predictable but sad result is that many of these kids skip classes and see their grades drop.

GLSEN has found that the best antidote is to make sure schools have gay-straight student clubs, LGBT-supportive officials and textbooks, and anti-harassment policies that clearly include sexual orientation and gender identity.

The report, available at glsen.org, draws on data collected during the 2006-2007 school year on 2,130 GLBT students, ages 13 to 21, who are African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific islander or multiracial. In addition, researchers listened to small groups of students.

Key findings:

  • Biased barbs: More than 80 percent of LGBT youth of color often heard the phrase “that’s so gay” or similar uses of “gay” at school to put people down. Two-thirds heard “faggot,” “dyke” or other anti-gay name-calling.

In a particularly alarming finding, more than half of these students said they had heard teachers, principals or other adults at their school make homophobic remarks.

  • Ignored cries for help: Only about one-fifth of students reported that school officials “most of the time” or “always” stepped in when anti-gay remarks were made in their presence.

Report co-author Joseph Kosciw says some educators are sending the message that anti-gay remarks “aren’t just tolerated in school but acceptable.”

Only about one in 10 LGBT students of color said other students stepped in when they heard anti-gay comments.

  • Frightened: More than half of these students said they felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation; one-third said they felt unsafe because of how they express their gender.

Close to half of LGBT students said they had been physically harassed or assaulted in the past year in school because of their sexual orientation.

But this experience varied widely by race and ethnicity: 33 percent of LGBT African-Americans said they’d been subject to physical violence in school. Among LGBT American Indian students, the percentage was 54 percent.

  • Who am I?: Only 14 percent of LGBT students of color said their schoolbooks include information about gay issues, and only 11 percent said their schoolwork has included positive portrayals of gay people.

Our educators are failing America’s LGBT kids of color. And that’s certainly nothing to sing about.

In a First, Gay Rights Are Pressed at the U.N. December 20, 2008

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www.truthdig.com  

NEIL MACFARQUHAR, New York Times

Published: December 18, 2008

UNITED NATIONS — An unprecedented declaration seeking to decriminalize homosexuality won the support of 66 countries in the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, but opponents criticized it as an attempt to legitimize pedophilia and other “deplorable acts.”

The United States refused to support the nonbinding measure, as did Russia, China, the Roman Catholic Church and members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The Holy See’s observer mission issued a statement saying that the declaration “challenges existing human rights norms.”

The declaration, sponsored by France with broad support in Europe and Latin America, condemned human rights violations based on homophobia, saying such measures run counter to the universal declaration of human rights.

“How can we tolerate the fact that people are stoned, hanged, decapitated and tortured only because of their sexual orientation?” said Rama Yade, the French state secretary for human rights, noting that homosexuality is banned in nearly 80 countries and subject to the death penalty in at least six.

France decided to use the format of a declaration because it did not have the support for an official resolution. Read out by Ambassador Jorge Argüello of Argentina, the declaration was the first on gay rights read in the 192-member General Assembly itself.

Although laws against homosexuality are concentrated in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, more than one speaker addressing a separate conference on the declaration noted that the laws stemmed as much from the British colonial past as from religion or tradition.

Navanethem Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, speaking by video telephone, said that just like apartheid laws that criminalized sexual relations between different races, laws against homosexuality “are increasingly becoming recognized as anachronistic and as inconsistent both with international law and with traditional values of dignity, inclusion and respect for all.”

The opposing statement read in the General Assembly, supported by nearly 60 nations, rejected the idea that sexual orientation was a matter of genetic coding. The statement, led by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said the effort threatened to undermine the international framework of human rights by trying to normalize pedophilia, among other acts.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference also failed in a last-minute attempt to alter a formal resolution that Sweden sponsored condemning summary executions. It sought to have the words “sexual orientation” deleted as one of the central reasons for such killings.

Ms. Yade and the Dutch foreign minister, Maxime Verhagen, said at a news conference that they were “disappointed” that the United States failed to support the declaration. Human rights activists went further. “The Bush administration is trying to come up with Christmas presents for the religious right so it will be remembered,” said Scott Long, a director at Human Rights Watch.

The official American position was based on highly technical legal grounds. The text, by using terminology like “without distinction of any kind,” was too broad because it might be interpreted as an attempt by the federal government to override states’ rights on issues like gay marriage, American diplomats and legal experts said.

“We are opposed to any discrimination, legally or politically, but the nature of our federal system prevents us from undertaking commitments and engagements where federal authorities don’t have jurisdiction,” said Alejandro D. Wolff, the deputy permanent representative.

Gay-rights advocates brought to the conference from around the world by France said just having the taboo broken on discussing the topic at the United Nations would aid their battles at home. “People in Africa can have hope that someone is speaking for them,” said the Rev. Jide Macaulay of Nigeria.

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