Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sea-Change in Approach to Anti-Gay Bullying: New Education Secretary Meets with GLSEN

As my set of interests in the profile section of this blog indicates, I have a strong concern to stop bullying of LGBT youth in schools. I’ve blogged repeatedly about that concern. I’ve also noted how, when as an academic administrator in a university, I was given an assignment of leading faculty in a project to encourage the civic engagement of students, I was punished for recommending GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) as one resource among many that faculty might study as they guided students in civic engagement projects (here).

I was told that mentioning this organization as one among many others from which faculty and students might learn as they dealt with community problems was “putting my lifestyle in the face” of the campus community. This took place in a Methodist university that proclaims to be concerned about healing social wounds and challenging social divisions, in line with the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church. When I told my supervisor, in response to her statement about my “lifestyle,” that I have a life and not a lifestyle, I incurred even more serious punishment.

This is a school whose Education Department is required by its accrediting body to teach prospective teachers to combat anti-gay discrimination, and to model respect for diversity in its own faculty. It also happens to be a school that has no written public policy forbidding discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.

Because of my interest in combating bullying of gay students in schools, and because of my own history with this topic, I am very happy to read that the new Secretary of Education Arne Duncan met with GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard earlier this week (here). Byard was accompanied by students and teachers interested in stopping bullying of LGBT youth in schools.

This was an historic meeting. It is the first time a Secretary of Education has met with LGBT advocates. The Bush administration rejected calls for such meetings.

Eliza Byard reports that Secretary Duncan listened compassionately to the testimony of students who have been bullied due to their sexual orientation, and committed himself to making schools safe for all students, regardless of sexual orientation. He also expressed interest in finding ways to combat anti-gay bullying, and requested information about interventions that have been tried by GLSEN and other groups.

For those interested in hearing recent first-hand testimony by a high-school student who has experienced bullying in school due to his sexual orientation, I recommend the testimony of 17-year old James Neilly of Charlotte, Vermont (here), at the Vermont Senate hearing last week as that body deliberated on a same-sex marriage bill (it passed the Senate by a vote of 26-4). Neilly speaks about how locker-room bullying due to his sexual orientation evoked a “ripping, nagging feeling that I am inferior.”

No young person should be made to feel that way in our schools. It continues to appall me that any university owned by a church which professes to decry prejudice against gay human beings lacks policies forbidding discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, and punishes academic leaders who encourage faculty to consider organizations devoted to ending bullying of gay students, among other organizations promoting constructive social change, as faculty study civic engagement project for students.