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School Board Bans Book for Mentioning Gay Families Exist

4 Jun

Me, circa 1982.

I grew up in a small town in Massachusetts and I knew from a very young age that I was different from the other kids. My story starts off like many of yours. I read all the storybooks you read, saw all the Disney Princess movies you saw and I knew there was a reason I liked Bo & Luke so much more than Daisy.

When I was 10, I started performing in musicals and at 11, I was in a Longwood Opera production of Gianni Schicchi. At the cast party, a very tall slender African American man was talking to my mother. Another man came up next to him and was introduced as his “lover.” Of course I knew what they meant, but I’d never seen someone who was gay. Not in any book, or Disney movie or TV show. This was a first for me. It was the first time in my childhood I didn’t think there was something wrong with me.

In Erie, IL yesterday, the Erie School Board voted to ban Todd Parr’s “The Family Book” from it’s elementary school. The book tells young children that families are different. It speaks of large and small families, families with of different ethnicities, single-parent families, families with adopted children and then of course…the most terrifying of all “Some families have two moms or two dads.” It’s this single line which caused such a stir in Erie, Illinois, that the school board has taken the book off the shelves. Parents called and complained that children that young should not be taught this kind of material. It’s okay if it’s taught to older children, but not younger kids who are potentially picking on other kids because they have two moms or two dads.

It seems that due to the complaints of just 4 parents, the Erie School Board, led by School Board President Charlie Brown decided to ban the book.

Brown additionally took to Facebook to endorse putting “the Bible back in schools,” as seen here in the screenshot:


I spoke with Zach Wahls, the young man from Iowa who courageously defended his own lesbian parents and their family about this story and he responded:

“As the grown son of a lesbian couple who attended public K-12, this is both frustrating and frightening. For the board of a school district to say that my family structure is an ‘issue’ that shouldn’t be included ‘at the elementary school level’ not only fails to explain why that’s the case but also alienates the students in that district who do have two moms or dads. This is another startling reminder of the fact that not all bullies are just adolescent kids: some of them grow up to be school board presidents”

Erie School Board President Charles Brown

Additionally some educators from the elementary school where the book was banned made statements. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they feared they couldn’t do so publicly without risking their jobs.

“As an educator at the elementary, I am very disappointed that the GLSEN materials and Todd Parr books won’t be used again. They were excellent resources for the diversity unit and completely age appropriate. At no time was there anything mentioned that was inappropriate. The elementary level is the perfect time to teach acceptance and respect for everyone and all types of families. I am also very disappointed that these materials were taken away from everyone due to a small group of parents that opposed it. The best option would have been to leave the materials in place and those that wanted their children to opt out do so. By banning materials and books, we are not moving in the right direction. I am very saddened by the whole situation!”

Sean Leeds, a former student in the district, has started a petition at Change.org. In it, he requests that the school board reconsider their actions. Please tell School Board President Charles Brown that all families matter. As of now, more than 100 Erie parents have signed another petition asking for the reinstatement of both the book and other anti-bullying educational materials.

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Michigan Anti-Bullying Law Set to Pass Without Religious Exemption

14 Nov

Sen. Gretchen Whitmer

By now, many of you have seen a video that made the rounds last week. It’s an emotional speech by Senator Gretchen Whitmer following the passage of Michigan’s “Matt’s Safe School Law.” The law is an anti-bullying law named after Matt Epling – a gay teen who committed suicide in 2002 after unbearable anti-gay bullying.

Republicans in the Michigan Senate finally agreed to vote for the bill after a special addition was made by Republican Senator Rick Jones allowing bullying so long as it was based on religious or moral convictions. So as long as kids screamed “The Bible says it’s okay to beat the crap out of you for being gay,” bullying was still cool.

Whitmer’s speech was incredible and brought tears to many eyes. She outlines the fact that the law that was passed, which included these religious and moral protections – if it were passed when Matt was still alive, it would not have saved him. The irony of “Matt’s Law” not being able to stop kids from bullying LGBT kids was apparently not lost on thousands of people who made calls this week to the Michigan Senate.

Late last week, the Michigan House passed the bill without the exemption and Senator Jones has agreed that he will vote for the House version of the bill without his religious and moral exemption. The bill is expected to pass and Michigan will no longer be one of the only 3 states without an anti-bullying law.

 

Matthew Shepard: 13 years ago today

6 Oct

On October 7, 1998, Aaron Kreifels was riding his bike through a field in Wyoming. He wasn’t expecting that day to be different from any other beautiful sunny afternoon in the vast plains surrounding Laramie, but that day would change many lives.

Aaron spotted what he initially thought was a scarecrow next to a fence. Then he noticed a glisten of blood. The sun sparkled on what he barely recognized as a face. What Aaron had discovered was the 22 year-old Matthew Shepard, clinging to life.

Most of you know what happened next. Matthew held on for five more days and as his parents held his hand and prayed, Matthew slipped away quietly on October 12th, leaving in his wake a new movement for equality.

The outcries for justice and for greater protections were immediate and resonating.

Since then, Matthew’s mother Judy has made it her personal mission to protect all young LGBT people from Matthew’s horrific fate. In founding the Matthew Shepard Foundation, she has created safe spaces in and outside of schools for kids, and worked with parents to ensure their children learn to erase hate from their lives.

But overwhelmingly what you saw in 1998 was a community ready to act, ready to change something. And Matthew’s story was the catalyst for that. Many of you have seen or read the Moises Kaufman play, The Laramie Project – Matthew’s story as told through interviews of those who were living in Laramie at the time – some of his friends and some who just happened to be riding a bike through the plains of Wyoming that day. If you think of nothing else today, please consider the importance of telling your story – how your story can change the world around you.

This young boy, unbeknownst to him, has changed the world with his.

Is it Getting Better? 14-Year Old Gay Bullying Victim Lost to Suicide

20 Sep

Jamey Rodemeyer

This weekend, after years of bullying, and telling anyone who could listen about it – 14-year old Jamey Rodemeyer took his own life.

Since 5th grade, Jamey had been dealing with taunts from his classmates and routinely blogged and posted online about what he was going through. He would speak against bullying frequently and even call out his own school which he said was doing nothing about it. Just last week, Jamey wrote:

“No one in my school cares about preventing suicide, while you’re the ones calling me fag and tearing me down.”

His attentive parents frequently would speak to him about what he was going through and in recent months, it seemed as though either the bullying had subsided or that Jamey had learned how to brush it off. but then late Saturday night, Jamey posted two final comments to his Tumblr blog – the first saying how he wanted to see his Grandmother (who had recently died) and another was a message of thanks to Lady Gaga. The following is a line from Lady Gaga’s song, “The Queen”

According to Buffalo News, “He touched so many hearts, so many people,” said his mother, Tracy Rodemeyer, who met with some of his grief-stricken friends at Williamsville North on Monday. “I didn’t realize how many people he touched. He was the sweetest, kindest kid you’d ever know. He would give all his heart to you before he gave any to himself.”

Olivia Rinaldo, an eighth-grader at Heim Middle School, said she was drawn to his outwardly upbeat and extroverted personality. He made friends of the friendless, she said.

“He was always putting people first,” she said. “He always wanted other people to smile, even on the worst of his days.”

Jamey also had a Formspring account which allows anonymous comments to user’s posts. In recent months, some of those commenters said things including:

“JAMIE IS STUPID, GAY, FAT ANND UGLY. HE MUST DIE!”

“I wouldn’t care if you died. No one would. So just do it 🙂 It would make everyone WAY more happier!”

Jamey is another in a long line of teens who’ve succumbed to endless bullying and torture. This is not a rite of passage. Being tormented can make some stronger and cause them to come out of it and succeed in spite of their bullies. But some of us aren’t prepared for the kind of harassment young LGBT kids receive.

We need to be doing more.

Just a few months ago, young Jamey made this “It Gets Better” video. It’s very difficult to watch knowing what this child was going through when he made it. Despite his own circumstances – it was important to him that he help other kids feel better about themselves. Please watch and share Jamey’s story so that maybe one more kid won’t have to go through this.

EXCLUSIVE: Tennessee High School Principal Responds

9 Sep

Sequoya High School Principal Maurice Moser

Normally, when I get a reply from someone having to do with an article I’d recently posted – I’d just add an update to the end of the post. But the conversation I just had with Principal Maurice Moser of Sequoya High School warrants it’s very own post.

I wrote earlier about senior Nathan Carroll, a student at Sequoya who was trying to start a Gay Straight Alliance, but was met with a threat of suspension from the principal. I put in a call earlier and left a message for the principal and I just heard back.

According to Moser, he found that students were having verbal arguments about the potential Gay Straight Alliance in classrooms and it was “disturbing the educational environment.” He went on to say that he was exercising his rights as principal to then stop the petitions and all discussions of the GSA forming. I then asked him if he considered students getting bullied and beaten as a disturbance to the educational environment? He replied that if a student reports it and has sufficient proof that they were bullied, then the bullies are “dealt with accordingly.”

I then went on to tell him that many students are afraid of reporting this kind of bullying because they don’t want to or are not yet ready to come out of the closet. I mentioned that a GSA would actually give LGBT kids some of the courage they need to speak up about this kind of torture they go through on a daily basis. He said many parents would argue that a GSA would do just the opposite – when I asked him to explain what “just the opposite” meant, he replied “you’re a smart guy, you can figure it out.”

I asked Mr. Moser what the process for a new club like the GSA would be and he informed me that the students would need to find a faculty sponsor and that the students were having trouble finding one. He went on to tell me about a faculty sponsor for several clubs that had transferred schools this summer. Moser then assisted in finding faculty sponsors for several clubs at the school. He said he spent a good deal of time recruiting faculty members to fill in the holes left by the former faculty member.

Naturally, I asked him why the students would be responsible for finding this faculty sponsor, when clearly he had just helped out several other clubs in finding theirs. He was noticeably flustered and said that he wasn’t “forcing” any faculty member to be a sponsor to a club and that while he helped many existing clubs find sponsors, he could never help find one for a new club.

His disdain for these students trying to start a GSA came through several times during our conversation and he implied more than once that his rights as a Principal of a high school trumped the rights of students trying to fight bullying and anti-gay harassment.

I hope that there is a faculty member at Sequoya High School who will sign on to sponsor these students – they clearly need some protections from a less-than-supportive principal.

Tennessee HS Student Threatened With Suspension for Attempting to Start GSA

9 Sep

Nathan Carroll

Tennessee High School Senior Nathan Carroll has been bullied most of his life for being gay. The openly-gay teen attends Sequoyah High School in Madisonville, TN and decided a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) is needed at his school.

Nathan started a petition at his school to get support to start a GSA while kids opposing it started a similar petition. Despite Nathan’s efforts and the nearly 150 teens who’ve signed the petition, when he brought it to Principal Maurice Moser, he was threatened with suspension should he proceed in trying to form the GSA. Additionally, the Principal said that any students found with one of Nathan’s petitions would have the petition torn up and thrown away and that they be sent immediately to his office for further punishment.

Of course students are legally allowed to start the club should they find an adviser, which according to WATE Channel 6 News in Tennessee, is close to happening.

We put in a call today to Principal Moser and are awaiting a response as to why he would threaten to suspend students wanting to start this club.

UPDATE: Please see our follow up Exclusive: Tennessee High School Principal Responds

The school already hosts a student club called Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). According to the FCA Website:

“Since 1954, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes has been challenging coaches and athletes on the professional, college, high school, junior high and youth levels to use the powerful medium of athletics to impact the world for Jesus Christ.”

No clubs recognizing any other faith or denomination can be found on the school’s website.

Playboy Club’s Benanti, Easy A’s Royal and Emmy Winner Gold Show Support for Mt. Dora “It Gets Better” Petition

6 Sep

Florida’s Mount Dora High School has been getting a lot of extra attention in the past few weeks. Last month. One of their teachers, Jerry Buell took to his Facebook page after seeing a news story about marriage equality in New York. His status update said that he “nearly threw up” upon hearing about the state’s decision to allow gays and lesbians to marry.

Buell was immediately suspended and then upon threat of a lawsuit, he was reinstated by the school district citing first amendment rights. Since then, students have come forward to describe the atmosphere in his classroom, which was less-than welcoming for LGBT and students.

The Playboy Club's Laura Benanti (photo by John Russo/NBC)

In the interest of letting LGBT students at Mt. Dora H.S. know they are supported in their academic environment, a Change.org petition was started to request Mr. Buell’s colleagues to put together an “It Gets Better” video.

Since the petition was launched late last week, it has garnered some exciting and well-known support. Tony Award Winner Laura Benanti, star of the upcoming NBC series, The Playboy Club tweeted the petition out to her followers. Emmy Winner Judy Gold, Broadway’s Ann Harada and Seth Rudetsky are among the signers as well as Tammy Aaberg  the mother of 15 year-old Justin Aaberg, who took his own life after years of anti-gay bullying. Other supporters include at least two of Mr. Buell’s colleagues at Mount Dora High School.

Another petitioner of note is Bert V. Royal. Royal was the screenwriter of last year’s hit comedy, Easy A. He commented on the petition:

 I am a 33 year old gay man from Florida. I wrote the movie ‘Easy A’ which came out last year and lightly addressed how schools turns a blind eye toward gay bashing. Which is why I never made it to my senior year. (Or even my sophomore year.)

Now, I live happily in Los Angeles with my partner, my child and three dogs.

Trust me. It does get better.

(Remember kids: one day, you’ll be able to talk about it. Maybe even write a movie about it.)

The petition can be found at: http://www.change.org/petitions/mt-dora-hs-show-lgbt-students-it-gets-better.

Please check out Laura Benanti’s “It Gets Better” video!