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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.”

 

Openly Gay Maine Couple Crowned Prom King & Queen

30 May

A beautiful story out of southern Maine (one of only two New England States not recognizing marriage equality). 17 year-old Christian Nelsen was just crowned Sanford High School’s Prom Queen.

Christian and his boyfriend, Caleb Jett decided to put their names in the running as Prom King and Queen to change minds across their community and in their state. With the help of his friends, Christian got enough votes to win Prom Queen. Happily, his boyfriend Caleb won King. The two wore suits and proudly showed off their tiara and crown and shared a King and Queen dance.

Here’s an interesting point. This interview from WNTW News 8 mentions that while some were very happy for the results of the election, others were very unhappy. News 8 tried to interview dozens of people and those who were against it declined to comment on camera – one even said he was afraid of offending someone. How wonderful is it when those who are on the wrong side of history and humanity can acknowledge their ignorance and bigotry through their silence.

Many Congrats to Christian and Caleb and many thanks to them and their friends for doing something so courageous. Please know that your work now will make all the difference in the world to LGBT kids for generations to come.

School Principal Bans “Bohemian Rhapsody” Because a Gay Man Wrote It

13 May

My senior year at Marshfield High School was getting rolling and auditions for our drama club’s production of Lillian Hellman’s “The Children’s Hour” were scheduled for the afternoon. We’d had a reading of the script and everyone was excited about it. It was about a private girls’ school where this nasty little girl decides to spread a rumor that two of her teachers are lesbians. Turns out one is and is actually in love with the one that isn’t. *Spoiler Alert* Drama ensues, lesbian teacher kills herself over the rumors and unrequited love in the end. That morning, the principal got on the loudspeaker and announced that the auditions were cancelled and that the drama club would be selecting a new play. We were all confused and some of us marched down to the his office to find out what was up.

It seems the principal had heard from a few freshman parents that the play was all about lesbians and he decided it wasn’t appropriate. We hemmed and hawed and the principal told us his decision was “final.” So I marched over to the library (the librarian loved me and let me hang out in her office and use the phone if I wanted), and I called the ACLU. The next morning, the officers of the drama club were called down to his office – “I rented the movie last night and my real problem is that there’s a suicide, so just make sure that happens offstage and you can do the play.” Cuz ya know, we were thinking it might be fun to have someone shoot themselves center stage. Anyway…I was reminded of this story when I read this little morsel of bigotry straight out of Sarah Palin’s hometown.

Wasilla High School’s Symphonic Jazz Choir had been working on Freddie Mercury’s hit anthem “Bohemian Rhapsody” all year in preparation for a performance at the school’s graduation next month. The song had been played at several school events including the prom and (as is the case for several decades now), no one seemed to have a problem with it. Until now.

Wasilla High School Principal Dwight Probasco

It seems Principal Dwight Probasco received some phone calls from some angry parents who deemed the song “inappropriate” because it was written by a gay man. So, instead of realizing he was the principal of a high school which more than likely taught about Michelangelo, Alexander the Great, Socrates, Lord Byron, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Proust, Stein, Leonard Bernstein, Tennessee Williams, Andy Warhol, Leonardo Da Vinci, Melville, Tchaikovsky, Eleanor Roosevelt, Julius Caesar, Hans Christian Anderson, Aristotle, Noel Coward and Cole Porter, he decided to ban the song.

The students were naturally up in arms about this, having been practicing for some time. Choir member Casey Hight went so far as to contact a gay and lesbian organization in Anchorage for some help. Monday, reportedly due to fear of the ACLU, Probasco lifted the ban and is allowing an edited version of the song to be performed (to leave out the parts about killing). The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Christian College Freshman Harassed By Students and Professors

9 May

Isaia Thomas (photo by John C. Whitehead for The Patriot News)

Openly gay freshman Isaiah Thomas has discovered Messiah College in Grantham, PA is not quite a good fit. According to PennLive, The student has been through hell at the Christian College – from having his wallet, room key and student ID stolen just a month after school started to having a professor call him “an abomination” in class to receiving a death threat on his facebook page. Isaiah has decided to transfer at the end of the semester.

The Christian College requires all students to sign a “Community Covenant” which forbids homosexual behavior, according to school provost Randy Bassinger. he also claimed the school had a very strict harassment policy and has investigated the claims from Isaiah, but they refuse to release the results of any of those findings.

What we find most interesting about Isaiah though is not that he was harassed and is leaving, but he actively worked to change the school’s policies. He is the secretary of the multicultural council, a member of the black student union and by invitation, vice president of the Middle Eastern Student Association. And when Isaiah learned about the Covenant, he actively worked for more inclusion, but each teacher he spoke to defended the covenant.

Back in March, we reported that another Christian school, Harding University was under fire from LGBT bloggers and press after they blocked an HU gay student website from being accessed from on-campus. The University defended it’s bigotry and it’s censorship of several students continues.

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.

Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” Country Version to Benefit GLSEN

4 Apr

Lady Gaga…We haven’t talked a lot about her here, but the time has come.

People inside and outside the LGBT community have mixed reactions to La Gaga. But one thing is for certain, and for that one thing – I think she’s great. No matter what she does, what she wears, what she says or where she goes, that one thing that remains true – is that she’s got our back.

Lady Gaga at the National Equality March (photo by Jamie McGonnigal, talkaboutequality.com)

I have a confession to make – the first time I ever really noticed her was in October of 2009. I had organized 25 buses to come from New York to DC for the National Equality March. I was with friends and quickly found my way to the front of the crowd to take photos of the speeches. Pressed up against the plastic fence on a very warm afternoon, I was astounded by the incredible sense of community I felt. People were kind and people were respectful of one another’s space…and then Gaga came out. Within a matter of 4 seconds, I was on the ground with my face pressed against the plastic fence. The crowd dove for the fence and all civility disappeared to catch a glimpse of this blond wonder.

While on the ground and snapping pictures, I was amazed. This pretty, young celebrity was screaming at President Obama to listen to us. It was a speech I won’t soon forget. And she was gone as quickly as she came.

Over the past two years since then, she has advocated for us on several occasions – from speaking out in defense of her gay “little monsters” to being a steadfast advocate for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Now, she’s putting her money where her mouth is. Her hit song, “Born This Way,” is an anthem to the LGBT community that has been censored in some countries due to it’s LGBT inclusion – . She has spoken out against this censorship and is taking it to the next level.

It seems she has recorded a country version of the hit and has decided to release it. Today, she announced that all sales from the single will benefit the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN). GLSEN is an incredible organization we’ve spoken about frequently at Talk About Equality and is responsible for Gay Straight Associations (GSAs) at high schools and colleges around the country. Please support GLSEN and purchase this single from one of our most ardent supporters.

The track is now available by clicking HERE!

Growing Up GLBTQ: Now There’s a Guide!

30 Mar GLBTQ--survival-guide

When I was just considering coming out, I was 18 years old. I lived with my mom on the bottom floor of a house next door to a church. Across the street was a little plaza which contained a video store. When I was home on breaks from college, I would wander through the tiny video store reading the back of every VHS tape and searching for the word “gay.” I’d tuck the bulky tapes under my coat and sneak them into my house and spend afternoons watching them while my mother was at work.

It was then I learned that others like me existed. From the beautiful Merchant Ivory film, Maurice to the campy Jeffrey, I was discovering who I was through film. It was the perfect anonymous way to do a little research. Movies like this are what made me realize that there was a community for me. As I became more confident, my friend Michael Hammond became my fairy godmother in a way. He would take me to Boston or Cambridge and we’d go see gay movies in the art houses there – we tried to catch Johns with David Arquette, but it was unfortunately sold out that evening. “Johns is sold out” then became code when Michael wanted to point out to me another person who was gay. I was beginning to discover my community.

I often think about what would have happened had I started that research when I was still in high school, but there was very little available to me that would answer the questions I had. Things have changed.


Free Spirit Publishing has published the second edition of GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Teens. This is a book I would have stolen from my library. Written by Kelly Huegel, GLBTQ is a book that NEEDS to be in every junior high and high school library. The book is thorough and could help empower so many young people who are going through their adolescence full of fear.

The book covers so many different topics, opening with the basics of figuring out who you are and moving through how to deal with homophobia, strategies for coming out – specifically figuring out if it is safe to do so and how to tell your family if it is, finding community, dating, sexual and emotional health, religion and even features some in-depth discussion for transgender teens.

The author not only offers intelligent commentary and advice for teens, but she features real-life examples. Throughout the book, you’ll find segments titled “BEEN THERE,” which feature teens’ stories of how they have dealt with the challenges mentioned in each chapter. These real-life examples help illustrate the real-life challenges kids face, and how they deal with them.

The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has a wonderful program which sends “Safe Space Kits” to schools around the country. For only $20, you can send a kit to your high school to help educate that school’s staff and administration on how to make the school safe for LGBT students. It’s a wonderful campaign, and I can tell you that the two high schools and three junior high schools I attended have all received one. I would like to recommend to GLSEN that they find a way to include this book in their kits. And if that is not cost-effective, I would like to call on anyone who reads this, to send a copy of this book to your own school library.

GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Teens is available at Amazon for $10.87!  Please, take a moment and do an ounce of research. Find out who at your high school or junior high should receive this to make it a part of the school’s library collection and send a copy. Make sure that the kids who are growing up now have a resource. And more importantly than that – help those kids understand that there is a community for them, they have friends and people who love them unconditionally.

Being a teenager is rough. Being an LGBTQ teenager can be hell. We know this. Help make it easier and send this book back to your school.

Stonewall, LA Principal Punishes 8th Grader Wearing Gay Positive T-Shirt

21 Mar

In the ironically-named Stonewall, Louisiana, it seems the principal of DeSoto Middle School is the one who needs some schooling.

Though students are usually required to wear a uniform, eighth grader Dawn Henderson had earned the right to dress casually to school. So she sported a t-shirt that read “Some kids are gay and that’s o.k.”

Dawn had the shirt covered by a zip-up, but word still spread around until she was told by the principal that she needed to change the shirt immediately. According to Dawn, “He basically told me he thought it was a distraction…My opinion is any shirt can be distracting.”

Principal Keith Simmons couldn’t be reached for a comment as of this afternoon, but we hope to be speaking with him soon.

Meanwhile, the t-shirt is available at FCKH8.com.

It May Soon Be Illegal to Say ‘Gay’ in TN Schools

23 Feb

It would seem Tennessee is trying to pass a bill which would dictate that elementary and middle school students would be denied any discussion of sexuality (outside of heterosexuality). And many people would argue that sexuality isn’t something that is on the radar of a young kid either way. But that’s simply not true.

A few years ago, I came across this incredible video by Brian McNaught. Brian has been nicknamed the “Godfather of gay sensitivity training” and has been at this for quite some time. He debated homophobe hero, Anita Bryant and has spent his life educating people on what it is like to be gay. And the video at the end of this article hit home with me.

Brian talks a crowd of predominantly heterosexual men and women through what it would be like to live in a world that was the opposite of their sexual orientation. He asks them to close their eyes and imagine a world where they felt one way and everything in society told them there was something wrong with them. And it made me recall my own childhood and all those nervous moments I had – from first recognizing my crush on He-Man to the first time I snuck into the Glad Day Gay Bookstore in Boston – frantically looking over my shoulder the whole time. It made me remember quietly sneaking into the video store across the street from my house and renting every video I could find that might possibly have a gay theme – hiding them under my jacket when I covertly walked in the house. And it made me remember my first kiss – feeling frightened and ashamed as opposed to having that raised leg fireworks moment I should have had.

All the fear and shame started at an early age. When my kindergarten teacher could have read King & King alongside Cinderella, that was the first moment when I could have been told there was nothing wrong with me. I know we are sometimes reluctant to fight for early childhood education when it comes to introducing sexuality, but what we don’t often acknowledge is that love is an idea which we start learning about from the moment we open our eyes. While the details of what part goes where is a discussion that should come a little later in life, the notion of couples and families of all different shapes and sizes should and must be introduced as soon as it can be. This is the only way we can prevent that shame which envelops the early life of so many LGBT individuals.

This bill in Tennessee and all those like it, must be fought – as hard and steadfastly as we are fighting for marriage equality and employment non-discrimination. It is vital that our children are being raised in a fashion where they are not afraid of who they are, where they don’t need to look over their shoulder simply because of who they are attracted to. It’s a silly notion and as a people, we should be beyond it.

Please take a look at the video below and please share it with everyone you know, gay or straight and encourage them to share it with others who may not understand what it’s like to grow up gay or lesbian in this country. And when you’re done, make a contribution to the Tennessee Equality Project to help them fight this bill. And in the meantime, go buy a copy of King and King or And Tango Makes Three and send it to your elementary school library and make sure your school knows who it came from.

Oak For Court!

16 Feb

In September we wrote about Oak Reed, a Michigan teenager who was elected homecoming King at Mona Shores High only to have his candidacy invalidated on a technicality. The problem, for the administration, is that Oakleigh Marshall Reed used to be named Oakleigh Marie Reed.  So, despite the common belief that Oak earned the most votes, the school records still indicate that Oak is a girl. So no homecoming court for Oak.

Oak Reed for Homecoming King!After garnering national attention and outrage the same administration has made the laudable decision to remove King and Queen from its homecoming court in favor of gender neutral titles.  Thanks to broad support from Oak’s parents, friends, and fellow students an important step towards inclusivity has been taken.

According to the Muskegon Chronicle, the school administration quickly began examining how they could be more gender neutral and met with student leaders to make some changes. Oak responded through a statement released by the ACLU:

I’m so glad that the rules have been changed. All I wanted was a chance for all students to participate and be heard. Now my classmates and I can just focus on having a great time at our school dance.

Indeed. By simply being himself Oak has succeeded in making real changes in his community. Now they can dance , focus on being young, and get through high school, which is hard enough as it is.

Hopefully we’ll get to see the happy prom photos.

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