The politicization of school safety continues to grow as gay rights advocates are driving many anti-bullying laws at the state and federal legislative levels.
In the past decade, school safety has been politically used and abused for everything from leveraging pubic support to pass school levies under the guise of increasing school safety, to the downplaying of school crime to protect schools’ images. In recent years, school safety has been turned into a political issue to further gay rights agendas in the form of anti-bullying laws.
This article is not posted for the purpose of serving as an “anti-gay rights” post. It is written to publicly lay out the political advocacy and tensions behind state and federal anti-bullying laws. While on the surface to the average parent and educator these proposed laws may appear to be nothing more than a straight-forward attempt to tackle bullying in general, a number of anti-bullying laws are being strongly backed and driven by gay rights advocates. Behind the scenes, there is a huge political advocacy movement which is often unseen by the public eye (parents, the media, etc.).
LGBT ENUMERATION IS THE GOAL FOR MANY ANTI-BULLYING LAWS
The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) advocates strongly for “enumeration” in its two page publication entitled, “Enumeration: A Tool for Advocates.” In short, enumeration refers to identifying, “…types of individuals or things that need to be protected,” according to the GLSEN advocacy document. In this case, the focus for enumeration is LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) students.
GLSEN specifically advocates:
“Two of the categories most important to GLSEN are sexual orientation and gender identity. Any time an anti-bullying and harassment bill is introduced we urge its sponsor to enumerate the kinds of students who must be included within the protection of the law.”
The document lays out a model of a law that includes enumeration:
“A law that incorporates enumeration might read like this: “Bullying means any gesture or written, verbal or physical act that takes place on school property, bus or off-site location where school activities are taking place, that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory disability, or by any other distinguishing characteristic or association with a person or group with one or more of the actual or perceived characteristics…”
In contrast, a law that does not include enumeration might read like this: “Bullying means any gesture or written, verbal or physical act against any student that takes place on school property…”
GLSEN proceeds to put forth five reasons why enumeration is essential. One of the reasons catching my eye:
“Enumeration is essential if laws are to be implemented. History and the Supreme Court tell us that enumerating policies is necessary. Girls would not have sports and our schools would not be integrated if policymakers had not specifically addressed these inequities by enumerating categories like sex and race in our laws. The Supreme Court of the United States noted in Romer v. Evans that “enumeration is the essential device used to make the duty not to discriminate concrete and to provide guidance for those who must comply (Romer v. Evans 517 U.S. 620 (1996).”
It would appear then that one of the most important reasons for having sexual orientation and gender identity enumerated specifically in laws is to therefore withstand any future legal challenges made to overturn the laws.
LEGISLATORS, ADVOCACY GROUPS BATTLE OVER ENUMERATION
An article originally printed on May 25, 2010, and published online at Pridesource.com, highlights tension around enumeration. In, “To enumerate or not to enumerate: Legislators, states split on specific protections in bullying laws,” author Dana Rudolph describes it as a “tug-of-war” in the movement to pass bullying laws that enumerate bullying for LGBT youth.
The article cites GLSEN and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays as advocates for enumeration. But the article also references another anti-bullying national advocacy group, the Bully Police, citing its founder, Brenda High, as an opponent of enumeration.
“Defining victims will slow the process of lawmaking, dividing political parties who will argue over which victims get special rights over other victims.
All children deserve the “special right” not to be bullied. ALL children who are bullied need to be protected.”
Legislative and policy activity at the state and local levels illustrate the tensions and how political anti-bullying, and in turn school safety, has become in recent years:
- Alabama anti-bullying policy omits sexual orientation: A July 29, 2010, Associated Press article covers the omission of sexual orientation in a school board anti-bullying policy in Anniston, Alabama.
- Antibullying Bill Goes to Governor: NY Times June 24, 2010, article detailing the behind-the-scenes battle of a bill strongly pushed by gay rights advocates, according to the story.
- Anti-Bullying Plan Delayed by Competing Interests: A May 24, 2010, Associated Press story on the competing interests’ impact on a Michigan anti-bullying law.
- Illinois Safe Schools Alliance press release on Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signing Senate Bill 3266, an Illinois anti-bullying law supported by the Alliance, a LGBT advocacy group.
CONGRESS PUSHES ANTI-BULLYING BILLS WITH ENUMERATION
Congress has also gotten into the anti-bullying bill business and appears to be moving forward toward federal law(s) addressing anti-bullying and, specifically, discrimination on sexual orientation and gender identity.
On May 20, Senator Al Franken introduced The Student Non-Discrimination Act specifically enumerating sexual orientation and gender identity. A similar bill was introduced in the House in January by Representative Jared Polis. The American Civil Liberties Union is strongly supporting the bills and urging swift action, all of this according to the Pridesource.com article previously referenced.
The advocacy efforts clearly are in place on Capitol Hill. When I testified on school crime reporting and comprehensive school safety to the House Joint Subcommittee in July 2009, GLSEN had a strong presence at the hearing, which evolved into a hearing largely on anti-bullying issues . GLSEN was a strong supporter at that time of an anti-bullying bill by Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, whose bill also included enumeration.
OBAMA SAFE SCHOOLS ASSISTANT DEPUTY SECRETARY UNDER FIRE BY GAY RIGHTS ADVOCATES
President Obama’s appointee as Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, Kevin Jennings, has been under fire in recent gay rights and gay news publications. Kevin, an openly gay activist who founded GLSEN, and the Education Department were accused of being slow and not advocating strongly enough for gay rights issues. Critical articles recently appeared in the Keen News Service and Keen News Service (2), and tensions around gay rights advocacy issues were highlighted from a speech by Kevin Jennings covered by MetroWeekly.com.
It is interesting to see the attempt at political pressure upon Kevin by others in the gay community. It is particularly intriguing given that in a little over a year that he has held office, he has openly and aggressively pushed to set the bulk of the U.S. Department of Education’s emphasis on school safety policy and funding on the issue of bullying and climate. As I have shared with him and also in a recent blog post, I believe based on my 25+ years of school safety experience that the over-emphasis on bullying and climate, versus a more balanced and comprehensive approach, is not the best course and is too strongly skewed.
It is interesting to see the political pressure from some in the gay community suggesting the dramatic proposed change in U.S. Department of Education school safety policy and funding is still not enough. This speaks again to the increasing politicization of school safety, which in my opinion is not good for the school safety field. School safety policy and funding directions should be driven by best practices, in the context of a balanced and comprehensive approach as was shared with Congress at the July 2009 hearing . It should not be driven by politics and skewed special interest agendas and political activists.
MY TAKE ON THE ANTI-BULLYING LAWS
As I noted early on, this article is not posted for the purpose of serving as an “anti-gay rights” post. It is written to publicly lay out the political advocacy and tensions behind state and federal anti-bullying laws.
A few immediate thoughts I have include:
- Once again, parents don’t know what they don’t know. For that matter, many in the media also don’t know what they don’t know on anti-bullying laws. The behind-the-scenes battles and political agendas are on fire, but the only thing most parents see and hear is legislators proposing laws to put an end to the terrible act of bullying. The vast majority of the American public has no idea just how politics is really behind what appears on the surface to be simple anti-bullying laws.
- I have been very outspoken against anti-bullying laws on my web site and in several blog posts. My positions have not involved speaking out against gay rights, but against anti-bullying laws as ineffective and poorly designed unfunded mandates which lack substance and impact on the front lines of schools. I also note on my web site , which really sums up my feelings on the laws in general, that most school policies address the behaviors which would constitute bullying and most schools have some type of school climate strategies place which deal with issues underlying bullying.
- The anti-bullying laws (state and federal) tend to focus on personal characteristics (race, color, sexual orientation, gender identification, etc) and fail to define or describe actual specific bullying behaviors other than “harassment.” Laws which are too vague will open up the flood gates for law suits against school districts. Vague laws also beg the question of what such anti-bullying laws will accomplish that existing civil rights laws, education laws, and school policies/student codes of conduct do not already address.
- Would the gay rights agenda, as well as school safety, not be better served by simply addressing these issues under a law clearly identified as a civil rights law, rather than masked to a great extent as “bullying”? If those advocating believe so strongly in the cause, why not openly call it a civil rights law and advance it accordingly. Framing it as “bullying” suggests that presenting the issues under the guise of school safety and anti-bullying are necessary in order to move it forward because calling it a civil rights law would garner more resistance.
- The politicization of school safety to further any political, civil rights, or other agenda is deeply concerning. Playing politics with school safety weakens school safety and creates divisiveness. In the end, school safety will lose far beyond the agenda of one particular issue such as anti-bullying when school safety becomes a political football.
What say you?
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