School safety is at the center of an increasingly heated political battle between gay rights and Christian conservative advocates.
Who is right? Who is wrong? Will school safety be helped or harmed in the process?
Focus on the Family says anti-bullying policies and laws promote gay agenda
An August 29, 2010, Denver Post article entitled, “Focus on Family says anti-bullying efforts in schools push gay agenda,” has set off a series of debates between Focus on the Family (FOTF) and the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
FOTF, a Colorado-based conservative Christian ministry non-profit organization, says gay advocacy groups are using bullying-prevention and school safety initiatives and proposed legislation as a guise to introduce policies, curriculum and library books promoting homosexuality. The group has been an outspoken advocate against homosexuality as a part of its ministry.
FOTF supports bullying prevention, according to Candi Cushman, FOTF’s education specialist. Ms. Cushman was quoted in the Denver Post story as saying, “But this issue is being hijacked by activists. They shouldn’t be politicizing or sexualizing the issue of bully prevention.”
The Post article is not the first time FOTF has charged that gay rights advocates are using “anti-bullying” and “school safety” as a front for advancing their social and political agendas. It appears this has been something FOTF has been advocating against in recent years:
- In a June/July 2010 issue of Citizen, Ms. Cushman authored an article entitled, “Parents beware: ‘Anti-bullying’ initiatives are gay activists’ latest tools of choice for sneaking homosexuality lessons into classrooms.” The five-page article claims gay rights activists are using anti-bullying and safe schools initiatives as a subtle tactic to advance advocacy agendas which would otherwise be blocked by “parents and people of faith.” The article highlights several case studies in local school districts, gives “red flags” for parents to watch for, and provides a critical sidebar of Kevin Jennings, the Assistant Deputy Secretary for Safe and Drug Free Schools in the U.S. Department of Education who is founder and former executive director of GLSEN.
- An eight page report entitled, “The Problem with Politicized Bullying Policies.”
- A two-page, “Fast Facts & Talking Pts on Bullying in Schools.”
- A series of online commentaries including, “President Obama Plans to Increase Controversial ‘Safe Schools Czar’s” Budget,” and “Deceptive ‘Anti-Bullying’ Act Introduced in U.S. Senate, Pushed by Gay Activists.”
- Promotes an Alliance Defense Fund, “Model Anti-Bullying Policy for All Schools,” as an alternative to anti-bullying policies and laws which enumerate “sexual orientation” and “gender identification” type language.
FOTF is also critical in the Post story that 16,000 U.S. public school superintendents will reportedly receive a copy of a 24-page book promoted by GLSEN entitled, “Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth.”
GLSEN says school anti-bullying laws protect LGBT and all other students
The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is a New York City-based national advocacy non-profit organization advocating respect of school members regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN works to educate teachers, students and the public about homophobia and its impact on schools and communities, and to support schools in seeking to redress all such inequities, according to its web site.
GLSEN stresses its agenda is to ensure safe schools and acceptance for all students, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, race, national origin or ability.
Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN, cites U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data pointing to bullying as a “serious public health crisis.”
GLSEN advocates strongly for enumeration of “sexual orientation” and “gender identification” in anti-bullying laws and policies. GLSEN has an online advocacy document entitled, “Enumeration: A Tool for Advocates.” (Note: Enumeration was highlighted in my August 10th post entitled, “Anti-Bullying Laws Are Being Driven by Gay Rights Advocates,” which was written before I had knowledge of FOTF’s publications and advocacy against anti-bullying laws. I have no organizational affiliation with FOTF.)
GLSEN has pushed back firmly in opposition to FOTF’s recent comments in the Post article and elsewhere. Dr. Byard reportedly sent the following statement to Talking Points Memo for their recent story entitled, “Focus On The Family: Anti-Bullying Efforts Are A Gay Front” :
“Focus on the Family has tried to discredit GLSEN’s efforts to make schools safe for all students since our founding in 1990. These most recent attempts show that, once again, Focus on the Family either doesn’t know what it is talking about or simply don’t care about addressing bullying, or both. The policies we support – which, by the way, include protections for bullying based on religion – have been shown by years of research to make a difference in young people’s lives. That is why nearly 70 national education, youth service and civil and human rights organizations endorse the Safe Schools Improvement Act. In terms of LGBT youth, we certainly hope that Focus on the Family agrees that the current environment in which nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students experience harassment each year in school is simply unacceptable. But we won’t hold our breath.”
GLSEN board member Sirdeaner Walker, whose son Carl completed suicide after reportedly having been bullied with anti-gay language, also posted an open letter to Ms. Cushman and FOTF.
GLSEN frequently cites data on the extent of LGBT bullying and harassment derived from its 2007 National School Climate Survey, a national survey of over 6,200 LGBT middle and high school students. The survey and report was conducted by GLSEN researchers and funded by a grant from IBM, according to the report. The report indicates the first National School Climate Survey was launched in 1999 by GLSEN founder, and now Assistant Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, Kevin Jennings.
Dr. Bayard said GLSEN initiated the idea for the “Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth,” but the booklet was written by a coalition of 18 medical, mental-health, and education organizations.
Federal Anti-Bullying and Nondiscrimination Bills Under Focus and Under Fire
Two bills currently pending in the U.S. Congress are under the microscope in this debate:
- Safe Schools Improvement Act – (See details of the bill at The Library of Congress Thomas.gov) Introduced by Congresswoman Linda Sanchez of California. Requires schools to maintain and report data on incidents of bullying and harassment; provide prevention strategies and professional development training for school personnel; and develop comprehensive policies prohibiting bullying and harassment. Supported by GLSEN as addressing “GLSEN’s federal policy recommendations” and supported by a dozen key education organizations and a “GLSEN-led National Safe Schools Partnership” of 70 members. A companion bill introduced in the Senate by Senator Bob Casey in August of 2010, which also includes protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, was lauded by GLSEN.
- The Student Nondiscrimination Act – (See details of the bill at The Library of Congress Thomas.gov)Introduced in the House by openly gay Congressman Jared Polis of Colorado with a companion bill in the Senate by Senator Al Franken. The bill specifically addresses LBGT, sexual orientation, and gender identification language.
The Culture War Battle Intensifies Under the Title of School Safety
The battle over the past week between FOTF and GLSEN has been thrust into the national media on CNN Anderson Cooper 360, ABCNews.com, MSNBC, and elsewhere. As we head deeper into the political election season, it is likely this debate will intensify.
One question at hand: Are these anti-bullying and school safety bills, or are they civil rights bills?
Another question: Who is right and who is wrong: FOTF, GLSEN, or neither?
And finally: Has school safety been hijacked for political purposes?
My take will be forthcoming. Meanwhile, what say you?
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