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D.C. schools get incomplete score on LGBT youth survey

Low response rate means data not fully representative

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Adam Tenner, executive director of Metro Teen AIDS, said flawed data in the biennial Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey will hinder his group’s work with local youth. (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

A survey of risky behavior by D.C. youth, including LGBT youth, was so flawed that its data cannot be weighted, hindering local groups as they work to help gay students and fight HIV.

Leaders of two groups that provide services to LGBT youth told a D.C. City Council hearing March 5 that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, known as OSSE, failed to ensure a required 60 percent response rate for the survey among city middle and high school students.

That failure, the group leaders said, led federal officials to declare D.C. data for the biennial Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey nothing more than a snapshot of student behavior rather than an indicator of trends.

Andrew Barnett, executive director of the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, and Adam Tenner, executive director of Metro Teen AIDS, said the loss would adversely impact their groups’ ability to assess the needs of LGBT youth.

“This gap in data presents a tremendous loss to SMYAL and the LGBTQ youth of D.C.,” Barnett told Council Chair Vincent Gray (D-At Large), who presided over the hearing. “We rely on the [survey results] to understand the scope of problems facing youth living in D.C.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, which created and funds the survey, said the CDC conducts a national version of the survey by sampling about 15,000 high school students in schools throughout the country.

Karen Hunter, the spokesperson, said the CDC also arranges for states, counties and cities to conduct their own version of the survey using a set of “core” questions established by the CDC as well as additional questions deemed important by local jurisdictions.

At the recommendation of a coalition of local community groups, including LGBT organizations, D.C. school officials agreed to add a question to the 2007 survey that gave student respondents an opportunity to disclose whether they were gay, lesbian or bisexual.

In response to a recommendation of the same coalition, OSSE agreed to add another question for the 2009 survey enabling respondents to disclose whether they are transgender. The LGBT questions are expected to be part of all future surveys.

“This was incredibly important,” said David Mariner, executive director of the D.C. LGBT Community Center.

Mariner said that identifying LGBT participants in the survey enables the community to assess the problems LGBT youth face and develop ways to address those problems.

Among the core topics included in the survey questionnaire that seek to identify “health-risk behaviors among youth” are: unintentional injuries and violence, tobacco use, alcohol and other drug use, sexual behavior, unhealthy dietary behavior and mental health issues.

Mariner and Tenner said the lack of sufficient data from D.C. students in the 2009 survey creates a four-year gap in assessing the needs of local LGBT youth because the results of the next survey, set for 2011, won’t be processed and released until 2012.

Chad Colby, an OSSE spokesperson, said that although the office is in charge of coordinating the youth survey, it is administered by the city’s public school system. Colby did not know why school officials didn’t arrange for more students to take the survey. A school spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment.

Colby noted that the survey was “in the field” before OSSE’s new director, Kerri Briggs, was appointed to her post as the city’s State Superintendent of Education last year.

A fact sheet he released about OSSE’s views on the survey also says that the survey is not legally mandated. “Therefore, school districts are not legally required to complete the survey,” says the fact sheet.

Colby said the lack of a 60 percent return of the survey questionnaires means the data cannot be “weighted,” precluding it from being compared against data from other cities and states. He noted that the data can still be used for some purposes.

“We’re still going to be reporting it as un-weighted data,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we won’t be able to use the data to make the case for grant funding. It just means you won’t be able to compare it to other states and districts.”

But Hunter said that un-weighted data only “provides a snapshot of what’s going on among the students that were surveyed.”

She said the data cannot be used to extrapolate the behavior of the entire student population. Only “weighted data,” which is obtained from a response rate of 60 percent or greater, can be used to assess the behavior of the larger population group, she said.

Tenner said CDC officials told him the D.C. survey response rate was 36 percent for high school students and 54 percent for middle school students.

“Many of us use the Youth Risk Behavior Survey for our programs and our grants,” Tenner said in an e-mail to local activists. “From a city-wide perspective, many of us were excited to use YRBS data to objectively measure the city’s effort to improve the health of its youth and to highlight the challenges that remain.”

He called on OSSE to present a written plan on how the agency will ensure that the 2011 survey is properly implemented “with adequate student and school participation.”

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Va. senator introduces anti-transgender student athlete bill

Democrats have vowed to thwart anti-LGBTQ measures in state Senate

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transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on Friday, would require “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.'”

“Under the bill, male students are not permitted to participate on any school athletic team or squad designated for ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; however, this provision does not apply to physical education classes at schools,” adds the bill. “The bill provides civil penalties for students and schools that suffer harm as a result of a violation of the bill. Such civil actions are required to be initiated within two years after the harm occurred.”

Kiggans introduced her bill less than a week after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office.

Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, has been named the Virginia Department of Education’s Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the state House of Delegates. Democrats still control the state Senate, and they have pledged to thwart any anti-LGBTQ bills.

“Let’s be clear: This is part of an ongoing, nationwide effort to exclude trans people from enjoying the benefits of sports like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Friday after Kiggans introduced SB 766. “We won’t tolerate this.”

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Comings & Goings

Hazen inducted into Cooperative Hall of Fame

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Paul Hazen

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Paul Hazen on his being inducted into the 2022 Cooperative Hall of Fame.  On receiving the honor, he said, “I am very lucky to be given the opportunity to combine my work in international development with my volunteer cooperative development work in Washington DC.”

Hazen is executive director, U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC) and has devoted his career to elevating the cooperative voice domestically and internationally. U.S. co-ops include Ace Hardware, Land O’Lakes, Inc., Sunkist, REI and the Associated Press. Hazen helped establish federal legislation promoting rural co-op development.  

Prior to joining OCDC, he was CEO of Washington, D.C.-based National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International. During his 25-year tenure with the organization, he held key positions, including chief operating officer, vice president of public policy, vice president of member services and director of consumer cooperatives.

He worked for Rep. Al Baldus (Wisc.). He was executive director of Rural Housing Inc. in Madison, Wisc., where he developed co-ops and affordable housing projects in rural communities. 

As a volunteer, Hazen formed the Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) with 12 congregations in D.C.  In 2020, CPA secured more than $18.7 million in contracts resulting in an investment of $13 million in D.C.-based small businesses owned by people of color.

Ben Finzel

Congratulations also to Ben Finzel, who was inducted into the National Capital Public Relations Hall of Fame. Upon receiving the honor, he said “To be recognized by your peers is wonderful; to be honored by them is amazing. I still can’t quite believe I have done enough to be worthy of this recognition, but I know enough to be thankful and appreciative of this high honor. Thank you PRSA National Capital Chapter for including me in such inspiring company; I will be forever grateful.”

Finzel is president of RENEWPR, a D.C.-based public affairs, communications consulting firm. In 2004, he helped launch FH Out Front, the first global LGBTQ communications practice at an international firm, Fleishman Hillard, and served as its first global chair. He started DC Family Communicators, a professional networking group for LGBTQ communications professionals. Finzel served on the Victory Campaign Board of the LGBTQ Victory Fund from 2007 to 2017.

His firm is currently celebrating its seventh year in business. To recognize that accomplishment, Finzel is launching an endowed scholarship at his alma mater, Texas Tech University. His business is certified as an LGBT Business Enterprise by the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

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Maryland

Judge rules trans teacher’s lawsuit against P.G. County can go to trial

Gay man files separate case charging discrimination

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Jennifer Eller, gay news, Washington Blade
Jennifer Eller alleges the P.G. County school system subjected her to discrimination and harassment. (Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal)

A federal judge in Maryland issued a ruling on Tuesday, Jan. 18, clearing the way for a lawsuit filed by transgender former English teacher Jennifer Eller in 2018 charging the Prince George’s County, Md., Public Schools with discrimination and harassment based on her gender identity to proceed to a trial.

In the ruling, Judge Theodore D. Chuang of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland denied key parts of several motions filed by attorneys representing the P.G. County Public Schools that in effect called for the dismissal of the lawsuit. The motions, among other things, claimed the lawsuit failed to provide sufficient evidence that Eller was subjected to discrimination and harassment, which forced her to resign due to a hostile work environment.

Chuang also ruled against a separate motion introduced by Eller’s attorneys calling for him to issue a summary judgement decision affirming all the lawsuit’s allegations that would have ended the litigation in Eller’s favor without the need to go to trial.

Eller’s lawsuit charges that school officials acted illegally by failing to intervene when she was subjected to a hostile work environment for five years that included abuse and harassment by students, parents, fellow teachers, and supervisors and retaliation by school administrators.

The lawsuit alleges that the school system and its administrators in its actions against Eller violated Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act of 1972, the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act, and the nondiscrimination provision of the Prince George’s County Code.

“We think the judge did as best he could,” said Omar Gonzales-Pagan, an attorney with the LGBTQ litigation group Lambda Legal, which, along with the D.C. law firm Arnold & Porter, are representing Eller in her lawsuit.

“The takeaway is that the case is now in a posture to proceed to trial,” Gonzales-Pagan told the Washington Blade. “The court found that the alleged facts and the information as discovered throughout the case in the discovery process is sufficient to allow a jury to find whether Jennifer Eller was subjected to a hostile work environment and constructive discharge and retaliation unlawfully by the defendants,” he said.

By the term constructive discharge, Gonzales-Pagan was referring to the lawsuit’s charge that Eller was forced to resign from her teaching job in 2017 after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to the alleged abuse she faced on the job.

P.G. County Public Schools officials have declined to comment on the lawsuit on grounds that the school system has a longstanding policy of not discussing pending litigation. However, in its response to the lawsuit in court filings, school system officials have denied Eller’s allegations of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

“For years, I was aggressively misgendered, attacked and harassed in the hallways and even in my own classroom by students, peers and supervisors,” Eller said in a statement released by her attorneys.

“My pleas for help and for sensitivity training on LGBTQ issues for students and staff, were ignored,” Eller said in her statement. “The relentless harassment stripped me of the joy of teaching and forced me to resign,” she said. “It is time for Prince George’s County Public Schools to be held accountable.”

The lawsuit says the harassment and discriminatory action against her began in 2011 when she began presenting as female during the school year. It says school officials initially responded to her complaints about the harassment by demanding that she stop dressing as a woman and return to wearing men’s clothes, which she refused to do.

In a separate action, gay former Spanish teacher Jared Hester filed on his own without an attorney a lawsuit in the Maryland federal court charging the P.G. County Public Schools with failing to take action to prevent him from being subjected to discrimination and harassment similar to some of the allegations made in Eller’s lawsuit.

Hester told the Blade that he was subjected to harassment by students who repeatedly called him “faggot,” but school officials, including the principal of the middle school where he taught, refused to take action to stop the harassment.

He provided the Blade with copies of earlier complaints he filed against school system officials with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, and the P.G County Public Schools’ internal Office of Equity Assurance. Each of the three agencies issued rulings against Hester’s complaints, with two of them saying sufficient evidence could not be found to support his allegations.

The EEOC, in a Nov. 3, 2021 “dismissal” notice, told Hester the EEOC “will not proceed further with its investigation, and makes no determination about whether further investigation would establish violations of the statute.” The notice added, “This does not mean the claims have no merit” or that the respondent, meaning the P.G. County Public Schools, “is in compliance with the statutes.”

The notice did not give a reason for why it chose to end its investigation into Hester’s complaint, but it said his filing with the EEOC cleared the way for him to file a lawsuit to further his case against the school system. 

Hester told the Blade he reached out to Lambda Legal to represent him in his lawsuit, but the LGBTQ litigation group declined to take on his case without giving a reason. Gonzalez-Pagan, the Lambda attorney working on the Eller case, said he was unfamiliar with Hester’s request for representation. Another Lambda official couldn’t immediately be reached to determine the reason for its decision not to represent Hester.

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