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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.

 

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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.

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!

SIGN THE PETITION! Show Students of Bigoted Teacher ‘It Gets Better’

1 Sep

Jerry Buell

Many of you have heard by know about Jerry Buell. Jerry is the teacher in Florida who took to his facebook and stated that he “almost threw up” when hearing about the marriage equality law passing in New York State. Immediately following the press picking up on the story, Jerry was suspended. Shortly thereafter, following threatened lawsuits based on Jerry’s first amendment rights, he was reinstated and started teaching this week.

Since being reinstated, other information has been pouring out about Buell. An interview with a former student on the New Civil Rights Movement exposed that Buell expressed his feelings about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to his class with a joke that implied gay and lesbian service members should be killed. Around his classroom on the walls were quotes from the Bible and a picture of Jesus hung above the clock. Buell insists he is welcoming of all students, but I’m not sure how his behavior in the classroom can possibly make students who are LGBT or non-Christian comfortable in their learning environment.

All the news stories have focused on Buell and his first amendment rights. We have seen very little focus on the students who are affected by the things Buell says and does. So after speaking to faculty members at the school as well as Equality Florida and the It Gets Better Project, we have decided to launch a Change.org petition.

The It Gets Better Project

The petition is requesting an “It Gets Better” video be made by staff, faculty and alumni of Mount Dora High School, to let LGBT students know they have support in their learning environment. We have been told that this would not be possible as the county has a policy that states the school cannot align itself with any organizations. It has been communicated to the Principal of the high school that the making of an “It Gets Better” video would in no way align the school with any organization. We’ve let her know that thousands have made a video including President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton and we of course would not expect them to utilize school time or resources to make this video.

Mount Dora High School

Unfortunately after several attempts, we have not heard back from the Principal of Mount Dora High School, but we understand things have been rather hectic with the start of the school year in addition to loads of media attention.

We hope through this petition, we will encourage educators and former students to stand up and state their support for students who most need it right now. We hope that a story of hope and acceptance could come out of the same place we are currently hearing nothing but bigotry from. With this petition, we hope to focus again on the students and their need for a safe place to learn. At the end of the day, isn’t that why educators are there?

Please sign and share the petition and let’s communicate to these students that it does in fact, get better.

SIGN AND SHARE THE PETITION!

Miami-Dade Schools Increase Protections for LGBT Students, Staff

21 Jul

Save Dade's CJ Ortuno (Photo by Jamie McGonnigal, EqualityPhotography.com)

According to a press release from Talk About Equality friend, CJ Ortuno at SaveDade.org, Miami-Dade Schools have just announced increased protections for LGBT students. Three years after having passed the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act,  which prohibits the bullying or harassment, including cyber bullying, of any public K-12 student or employee, Miami-Dade County Administration amended their policy to be explicitly inclusive of students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT). The policy will now include “sexual orientation and gender identity” providing clearer protections for LGBT students.

“For the past year we’ve focused on strengthening Miami-Dade’s anti-bullying policy as a way to create a climate where bullying a student because of their real or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity is no longer tolerated,” said C.J. Ortuno, executive director of SAVE Dade. SAVE Dade worked with their partner the ACLU of Florida in developing the policy’s new language.

According to GLSEN’s 2009 National School Climate Survey 7,261 middle and high school students found that nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students (84.6%) experienced harassment at school in the previous year. Miami-Dade County provides significant support through public school programs and nonprofit organizations for LGBT students.

“SAVE Dade’s contribution is to strengthen policies in hope that it provides some clarity for adults and students on the frontlines of bulling – if a teacher knows and understands that gay students are explicitly protected from bullying, it could result in a report that saves a young person’s life,” said Ortuno.

The new policy updates will go into effect Friday, July 22, 2011. An English version will be posted on the school board’s website at that time, with Spanish and Creole versions to follow.

The new policy language will read:

“Bullying, Harassment, Cyberbullying, and Discrimination (as referred to and defined herein) encompasses, but is not limited to, unwanted harm towards a student or employee based on or with regard to actual or perceived: sex, race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability (physical, mental, or educational), marital status, socio-economic background, ancestry, ethnicity, gender, gender identity or expression, linguistic preference, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or social/family background. This policy prohibits bullying or harassment of any student by any Board member, District employee, consultant, contractor, agent, visitor, volunteer, student, or other person in the school or outside of the school at school-sponsored events, on school buses, and at training facilities or training programs sponsored by the District.”

 

Comedian Tracy Morgan’s Anti-Gay Tirade

9 Jun

Should comedians be given a pass when it comes to hatred and bigotry? Historically, comedians have used the “but it’s just a joke” defense of their ignorant comments since before Al Jolson’s black face. But in this day and age, are we to excuse blatant homophobia coming from the mouths of comedians just because they are trying to be funny?

In the case of Tracy Morgan, of SNL and 30 Rock fame – to one audience member, it’s crossed a line. Kevin Rogers saw Morgan’s show in Nashville this past weekend and was expecting some straight-on-gay humor as is standard with a lot of comics. But what Kevin heard was instead a bigoted and homophobic anti-gay tirade at Morgan’s show.

According to a note Kevin posted on Facebook, Morgan’s entire demeanor changed for this portion of the program and after referring to gay people as God’s mistakes, advocated for anti-gay violence against his own family member, (quoting Kevin’s Facebook post): “He said if his son was gay, he better come home and talk to him like a man and not [he mimicked a gay, high-pitched voice] or he would pull out a knife and stab that little N—– to death”

Truth Wins Out has called on Morgan to comment on his anti-gay tirade as well as a request for comment on these allegations from equality advocate Tina Fey (whom Morgan has worked with for several years on 30 Rock).

“LGBT people are still fighting for equality all across America, and many of our teens are still very much at risk.  Sadly, reports of gay youth taking their own lives due to anti-gay bullying have become all too common.  Tennessee’s gay teens are in particular danger as the state legislature has endeavored over the past year to make life as difficult as possible for them, going as far as to move a bill prohibiting teachers from even acknowledging their existence in schools.  Tracy Morgan is a role model to many young people, including gay kids.  If these reports are true, Mr. Morgan owes them, and us all, a full apology.”

 

WATCH AND SHARE: The Kids Are Listening

4 May

With the non-stop influx of social media nowadays, it takes something really special to break through and make you take more than a glance at something. And today, this little video popped up on my facebook feed and I knew I had to do more than take a glance:

I followed through to the website listed on the video and I discovered what looks to be a moving and desperately-needed campaign aimed at improving the lives of LGBTQ foster youth. This is quite clearly the most underserved portion of our community and we must do more to include these kids in our conversations around equality.

According to the campaign running The Kids Are Listening website:

The Opening Doors Project works to make life better for LGBTQ youth today. The project is dedicated to training and supporting the legal and social service professionals on the front lines to ensure that LGBTQ foster youth have the support they deserve and the rights they demand.

Through on-the-ground trainings, local task forces and comprehensive research and training material The Opening Doors Project provides the legal community with the advocacy tools they need to successfully represent LGBTQ youth in foster care.

Also on the site, you can sign up to receive more information from the campaign. The pledge you sign is also linked to the It Gets Better Project.

So many organizations and campaigns come and go and I truly hope to see more from the people who put together this stirring video. Please share the video wherever you can and visit their site to find out more.