Thursday, January 07, 2010

"That's So Gay": Anti-Bullying Legislation and LGBT Teens

As we all recover from the holidays and drag ourselves kicking and screaming back into the swing of things, LGBT advocates in Harrisburg are gearing up to work on several pieces of legislation either currently before the legislature or forecasted to be introduced in the near future. Today's Philadelphia Gay News gives a great summary of some of the high points of these Bills to Watch, which include HB 300 - the antidiscrimination bill we have been blogging about over the course of 2009 - and an anticipated anti-bullying bill.
[N]ew to this year’s legislative docket will be a bill to strengthen statewide anti-bullying protections, which is inclusive of anti-LGBT harassment.

“For the first time ever, this legislation will be introduced to beef up laws to protect against bullying because of sexual orientation or gender identity but also other characteristics, like race, ethnicity and disability,” Kaskey said. “If you look through the statistics on this — 88 percent of LGBT students were victims of verbal abuse, 19 percent were harassed because of their perceived sexual orientation and in just one month, 39 percent of LGBT students skipped class at least once because of safety issues — the need for this is obvious.”

Kaskey said he could not disclose which lawmakers would be leading this initiative, but that it would be introduced this spring.
It should come as no surprise that the use of anti-gay slurs in casual conversation, the harassment of those who are or are perceived to be gay, and the threats of being labeled gay that are used to keep especially boys from stepping outside traditional gender roles are rampant in middle and high schools. It is when we hear the real stories of the kids who have suffered the most from this homophobic culture, however, that the true cost of allowing it to continue becomes apparent. It is hard to imagine that even the staunchest opponent of LGBT rights, if he or she has a modicum of compassion, could fail to be moved by these stories.

If you are a regular reader of Speaking Freely, you will be familiar with one such story - that of C.J. Bills, one of the main characters in the documentary Out in the Silence, which the ACLU of Pennsylvania has been working to bring to communities across the state. In the film, Washington, D.C., resident Joe Wilson decides to publish the announcement of his 2004 Canadian wedding to scientist Dean Hamer in his hometown newspaper, the Oil City (PA) Derrick. The announcement causes a deluge of negative letters to the editor, but Wilson is most interested in a personal letter he receives from Kathy Springer, the mother of a gay teen (C.J.) in Oil City who has been brutally harassed to the point where she had no choice but to withdraw him from school. In response to Springer's plea for help, Wilson and Hamer pack up and go to Oil City. Their film shows Kathy's efforts to get the school board to take action to fix what was happening to her son and the subsequent lawsuit, filed by ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director Vic Walczak, when they refused to do so. It also includes emotional testimony by C.J. about what he endured at the hands of his peers and the faculty of the school. (If you are interested in bringing Out in the Silence to your community, please contact Joe Wilson or your local ACLU office.)

Parents who have seen Out in the Silence relate to Kathy and C.J.'s ordeal. Here, one mother describes how, in the absence of resources within her own community, she took her son to PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) in larger communities to show him that he was not alone.

These stories and others like them illustrate not only the hell that kids are subjected to, but also the lack of resources in small towns for helping families address such situations. (One resource that is available but often not known is the Trevor Hotline, a national suicide prevention hotline for LGBT youth founded as a result of yet another harassed gay teenager who became suicidal as a result of the rejection and harassment he experienced.) At the present time, many schools do not discuss sexual orientation in their anti-bullying policies, and organizations like the ACLU or private lawyers can only take legal action in the small percentage of cases in which the bullying violates another law, such as laws against gender discrimination (if the person is being harassed because he or she does not sufficiently conform to traditional ideas about masculinity and femininity, it falls under the definition of sex discrimination - harassment specifically on the basis of one's sexual orientation does not). This leaves few options for gay teens and their parents when problems occur.

The proposed anti-bullying legislation would provide an important resource to Pennsylvania children and their parents - a written policy at each school that can be used as a basis on which to take action against the offending parties and an authority to complain to (the state Department of Education would be charged with monitoring schools' new policies). Such recourse is a vital addition to the community resources like PFLAG that Joe Wilson and Dean Hamer are trying to promote via screenings of their movie in the rural areas of Pennsylvania and other states, where these organizations are often less active and may not be widely known.

No doubt there will be some who condemn LGBT young people for their "choices" and simply do not care what happens to them - there are always a few. Hopefully, however, most of us, no matter what our other differences may be, can agree that protecting our children from severe harassment and physical assault (all too often to the point where those children consider, attempt, or actually go through with suicide) is both right and urgently necessary.

Becca in Harrisburg

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4 Comments:

Anonymous peterb said...

Let me start by saying that I am a strong supporter of gay rights. But.

It's possible that I'm misreading, but this article seems to confuse the issues of anti-gay bullying, such as physical harassment or threats and intimidation, (which I'd hope we can all agree are inappropriate and should never be permissible) and anti-gay speech.

If HB300 really does attempt to restrict, as you imply, "the use of anti-gay slurs in casual conversation", as opposed to directly threatening speech, then I would not only hope, but would expect that the ACLU would be leading the charge against it as a government limitation against free speech, and as part of the ACLU's consistent and ongoing campaign to protect the free speech rights of students.

Free speech and the right to protest peacefully extend to all Americans, even if their messages are unpopular and distasteful. The ACLU's vigorous defense of anti-gay protestor Fred Phelps serves as an example in this regard.

None of this is to say that the ACLU (or anyone) should be called upon to defend harassment, but it's important to maintain the distinction that expressing a political opinion on the rights of gays and lesbians, or even using offensive terms in casual conversation does not necessarily rise to the level of harassment.

Indeed, the ACLU as an organization makes this distinction; consider their recent amicus brief in the case in Zamecnik v. Indian Prairie Sch. Dist, supporting the right of a student to wear a t-shirt with the phrase "Be Happy, Not Gay." The ACLU observed, via press release, in that case:

"[T]he school's speech policy is unlawful on its face, because it broadly prohibits all speech that disparages protected classes, rather than carefully distinguishing protected speech from unprotected harassment".

Kind regards,
Peterb

8:16 AM  
Blogger Andy said...

Peterb, the legislation is being crafted to address free speech concerns. ACLU lawyers are among those who have reviewed it.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Victim of NJ FBI Cover Up said...

PHILA FBI ARE FAGS & FAIL TO ENFORCE!!!

I have reported Federal corruption.
I am victim of serious FBI wrongdoing and seek legal representation.
Please let me know if you or someone you know has integrity and can help.

Sincerely,
Richard Mills, Victim

Below is my Jan 21 e-mail sent to
Pres. Obama ,WhiteHouse
& Area officials

Dear President Obama,

I seek your offices assistance and attention to this serious matter involving fraud & corruption.
I have reported F.B.I. wrongdoing and obstruction of justice to your office. Attorney General case#200706634 fails to be prosecuted because of F.B.I. wrongdoing? I request Federal witness protection and hope that you will assist me. Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak has just advised me per his January 5, 2010 letter that he has made further contact with the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

I have published many reports and sent e-mails to the White House, Vice President Joseph Biden and to all members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary committee. My published Federal Corruption Reports may be found at www.congress.org, and this matter has been reported to the Philadelphia Inquirer, www.tabsonobama.org, and others. You may click on the link below to see my earlier reporting to CNN: http://www.ireport.com/docs/DOC-327134?r...

The Philadelphia Inquirer for months now has reported various stories relative to corruption. They have also reported a serious break down of our judiciary system including the overwhelming failure to protect Municipal / Federal victim-witnesses of crime such as myself.

With this said I ask that your office please coordinate withHomeland Security Protective Service and the U.S. Attorneys victim offices so that I may be better assisted. I visited the PA U.S. Attorneys office in PA and dropped off reports several times but have not heard back? My matter originally was assigned to N.J. U.S. Attorney Phillip Kwon to prosecute on February 4, 2009. Arrests and prosecution of this case as you know has not occurred because of obstruction of justice. I was wrongly jailed for 26 days in Camden and Burlington county jail - September 19 - October 15, 2009. This isn't the first time as I was wrongly jailed. I was unlawfully incarcerated for 9 days in Gander Hill Prison located in Wilmington, DE in October - November 2008. I attempted to report this matter in person to the U.S. OIG in Washington, DC but was wrongly denied entry by security at 1425 New York Ave, Washington, DC.

What I seek from State & Federal officials:
1> I request your help to receive Federal Witness protection?
2> I have reported wrongdoing in the states of DE, NJ & PA and Washington, D.C.
3> Please advise Glenn A. Fine that my complaints are not being duly received or handled at oig.hotline@usdoj.gov?
4> Where does legal venue lay? Will this case be prosecuted in N.J. or Washington D.C.?

Because of many instances of obstruction of justice and after being wrongly imprisoned in Camden and Burlington Counties of N.J. I have left the state of N.J. I have now resided in Philadelphia for 101 days now without real help? I also applied for PA state victim assistance and welfare but fail to recieve any such help? I am residing in a homeless shelter because of great injustice and I hope that you will help me and I have advised many of this serious matter.
Please also see attached and below background information.

Sincerely,
Richard Mills - Victim of Crime
1360 Ridge Ave, 1st Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19123
Tel: 215-236-0909

Mothers residence:
2113 Berwyn CT
Voorhees, NJ 08043
Tel: 856-874-4077

10:25 PM  
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