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GLSEN warns of ‘school to prison pipeline’ for youth

New federal guidance on discipline disparities excludes LGBT youth

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Eliza Byard, GLSEN, Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network, gay news, Washington Blade
Eliza Byard, GLSEN, Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network, gay news, Washington Blade

‘Ending discriminatory practices in school discipline is one of the most critical civil rights issues facing K-12 education today,’ said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, a national group that advocates for LGBT youth in the nation’s schools, says LGBT students and youth of color have been disproportionately impacted by overly harsh school disciplinary practices.

In a statement released earlier this month, GLSEN praised a new Obama administration initiative to discourage elementary and secondary schools from administering student discipline based on race or other discriminatory grounds.

But the GLSEN statement notes that the initiative issued jointly by the Department of Education and the Department of Justice doesn’t specifically reference LGBT youth, raising concern that overly harsh disciplinary practices will continue to funnel LGBT students into what education experts call a “school to prison pipeline.”

This so-called “pipeline,” education reform advocates say, refers to students who land in the criminal justice system, including prison, after being repeatedly suspended or expelled from school. Reform advocates, including GLSEN, have argued that alternative disciplinary approaches should be employed to ensure school safety without overly relying on suspension and expulsion as punishment.

GLSEN has pointed to numerous cases where LGBT students are suspended or expelled for “fighting back” after being targeted for bullying and violent attacks by other students.

“Ending discriminatory practices in school discipline is one of the most critical civil rights issues facing K-12 education today,” GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said in the group’s statement.

“GLSEN commends the Departments of Education and Justice for these long-overdue guidelines that will help to erode decades of policies that have robbed countless youth of a chance to get an education and forced many of them out of school and into the criminal justice system,” she said.

She added, “While the omission of the specific challenges facing LGBT youth is disappointing, we are pleased that the guidelines focus on prevention and intervention strategies by supporting developmentally appropriate and proportional responses to school discipline that encourage and reinforce positive school climate…We encourage the Departments to examine the extent and effects of discipline disparities among LGBT youth and to provide leadership and guidance to ensure that school discipline practices do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”

An example of what LGBT activists have called biased school treatment of LGBT youth took place in November when a female transgender student at Hercules High School in Contra Costa County, Calif., was arrested and charged with battery for fighting with three other straight female students.

The transgender student said a fight broke out between her and her classmates, which was captured on video, after she defended herself from repeated taunts and harassment from the three girls. Activists noted that all four students were suspended from the school for fighting but the transgender student, Jewlyes Gutierrez, 16, was the only one arrested and charged in the incident.

The school and the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office have declined disclose the reason that Gutierrez was prosecuted in the case while the others were not, saying the matter is pending in juvenal court and they are prohibited from discussing cases involving a minor.

GLSEN has said studies show that LGBT youth disproportionately experience bullying and harassment in schools. The group cites a 2010 study published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, showing that LGBT youth experience a significantly higher level of disciplinary action in schools along with youth of color than do heterosexual youth and whites.

In a statement responding to an inquiry by the Blade, Jo Ann Webb, a spokesperson for the DOE, said the main guidance document released jointly by the DOE and DOJ was a legal oriented document addressing school discipline actions that may violate existing federal laws banning discrimination based on race, color, and national origin.

Current federal law doesn’t include non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.

Web said an accompanying “discipline package” released along with the legal guidance includes “a guiding principles document that specifically includes LGBT students as among those who are potentially at risk for dropping out of school, social exclusion, or behavior incidents.”

She said the accompanying document also emphasizes “the need for schools to consider the impact of discipline policy on all students, including specifically LGBT students, and to make sure they are not being disproportionately disciplined.”

A GLSEN spokesperson couldn’t immediately be reached to determine whether GLSEN considers the accompanying document sufficient to address its concerns about school disciplinary practices pertaining to LGBT students.

In a Jan. 8 press release announcing the guidance document, DOE and DOJ said the school discipline guidance initiative was aimed at helping states, school districts, and schools develop “practices and strategies to enhance school climate and ensure those policies and practices comply with federal law.”

President Obama and most heads of federal departments and agencies in the Obama administration have said that although Congress has yet to pass federal legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, federal agencies would do what they could to put in place policies to protect LGBT people from discrimination.

 

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California mom claims school manipulated child into changing gender identity

Jessica Konen gave the school permission to use the boy’s name for attendance and tried to be supportive but noted it was difficult for her

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Fox News host Laura Ingraham & Center for American Liberty CEO Harmeet Dhillon with client, Jessica Konen (Screenshot Fox News)

A Northern California mother is claiming teachers in a small school district in the state manipulated her daughter into changing her gender identity and name in a legal claim. 

The claim, filed by the ultra-conservative Center for American Liberty on behalf of the mother, alleged “extreme and outrageous conduct” by the Spreckels Union School District, leading Jessica Konen’s 11-year-old daughter to change her gender identity and drive a wedge between them.

Specifically, the claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, names two teachers – Lori Caldera and Kelly Baraki – at Buena Vista Middle who, in addition to teaching, ran the school’s Equality Club, later known as UBU (You Be You). Buena Vista is a part of the district. 

It comes after Abigail Shrier, the author of a book widely criticized as anti-trans, quoted what the two educators said last year at the California Teachers Association’s annual LGBTQ+ Issues Conference in a piece headlined “How Activist Teachers Recruit Kids.” Caldera and Baraki spoke about the difficulty of running a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in a socially conservative community. 

After the article was published, the teachers were put on administrative leave, and the district hired a law firm to investigate, which is ongoing. The UBU club was suspended. 

Spreckels is a town of about 400 people in the agricultural Salinas Valley, approximately 90 miles south of San Francisco

According to the complaint, Konen’s daughter began attending Equality Club meetings after being invited by a friend when she started sixth grade at Buena Vista. After attending one session, she decided it wasn’t for her until Caldiera convinced her to come back. At the gatherings, Caldera and Baraki held LGBTQ-centered discussions and introduced students to different gender identities and sexualities. 

During her time in the club, Konen’s daughter began exploring her own gender identity and sexuality, choosing to wear more masuline clothes. At some point, she decided to change her name and pronouns, which she has since changed back to her original name and pronouns. 

Konen said she was aware her daughter was bisexual but did not know she began using a male name and gender pronouns until she was called into the school when her daughter was in seventh grade. The meeting caught both Konen and her daughter by surprise – Konen’s daughter had said she wanted to notify her mother, but she did not know the meeting was that day. 

Konen gave the school permission to use the boy’s name for attendance and tried to be supportive but noted it was difficult for her. 

However, when Shrier’s article was published and circulated around the small town, everything changed. At this time, Konen’s daughter was again using a female name and pronouns.

In the leaked recording from the LGBTQ conference, Caldera and Baraki were discussing how they kept meetings private, among other things. 

“When we were doing our virtual learning — we totally stalked what they were doing on Google, when they weren’t doing school work,” Baraki said. “One of them was googling ‘Trans Day of Visibility.’ And we’re like, ‘Check.’ We’re going to invite that kid when we get back on campus.”

However, Caldera told the San Francisco Chronicle that the quotes were either taken out of context or misrepresented. According to Caldera, the stalking comment was a joke. She also defended their work, saying students lead the conversation and they provide honest and fair answers to their questions.
In addition, a spokesperson for the California Teachers Association criticized the group bringing the lawsuit forward, according to the Associated Press: “We are concerned about a political climate right now in which outside political forces fuel chaos and misinformation and seek to divide parents, educators and school communities for their own political gain, which is evident in this complaint. The Center for American Liberty is concerned with pushing its own political agenda through litigation and has filed multiple lawsuits against various school districts and communities.”

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GOP majority city council to repeal LGBTQ+ law in Pennsylvania

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move […] This issue should not be politicized”

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Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (Photo Credit: Borough of Chambersburg)

The council of this central Pennsylvania borough (town) will meet on Monday, January 24 for a likely vote to repeal an ordinance passed this last October that safeguards residents against discrimination based on their sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender identity.

Opposition to the ordinance is led by newly installed borough council president Allen Coffman, a Republican. In an interview with media outlet Penn Live Saturday, Coffman said, “All of us that ran in this election to be on council we think we got a mandate from the people,” he said. “People we talked to when we were campaigning did not like this ordinance at all. I don’t know what the vote will be, but I have a pretty good idea.”

The political makeup of the council changed with the November municipal election, which ushered in a 7-3 Republican majority.

The ordinance, which extends protections against discrimination to gay, transgender or genderqueer people in employment, housing and public accommodations, was passed in October by the then-Democratic majority council, Penn Live reported.

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move,” said Alice Elia, a Democrat and the former Chambersburg borough council president. “This issue should not be politicized. It’s an issue of justice and having equal protection for everybody in our community. It shouldn’t be a political or a Democratic or Republican issue. This should be something we are all concerned about.”

Coffman told Penn Live that the ordinance serves no purpose and is redundant. He points out that Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission handles discrimination complaints from residents across the state.

“There are no penalties, no fines,” he said. “There’s nothing that the ordinance can make someone do. The most they can hope for is that the committee request the two parties to sit down with a counselor or mediator and talk about it. Quite frankly there is nothing that compels them to. There’s no teeth in this.”

Penn Live’s Ivey DeJesus noted if Chambersburg succeeds in repealing the ordinance, it would mark the first time an LGBTQ inclusive law is revoked in Pennsylvania. To date, 70 municipalities have ratified such ordinances.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of the 27 states in the nation that have no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

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Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

Equality Florida quickly condemned the measure

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The Florida State Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

The Republican majority Florida House Education and Employment Committee on Thursday passed House Bill 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advancing the measure to the full House.

HB 1557 and its companion bill, Senate Bill 1834, would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, erasing LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves.

The bill also has provisions that appear to undermine LGBTQ support in schools and include vague parental notification requirements which could effectively “out” LGBTQ-identifying students to their parents without their consent.

“The Trevor Project’s research has found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23 percent lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year. This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” said Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project. “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”

In an email to the Los Angeles Blade, Brandon J. Wolf, the press secretary for Equality Florida noted; “Governor DeSantis’ march toward his own personal surveillance state continues. Today, the Don’t Say Gay bill, a piece of legislation to erase discussion of LGBTQ people from schools in Florida, passed its first committee and became another component of an agenda designed to police us in our classrooms, doctor’s offices, and workplaces. Make no mistake — LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than 42 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85 percent of transgender and non-binary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66 percent) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 56 percent of transgender and non-binary youth said it made them feel angry, 47 percent felt nervous and/or scared, 45 percent felt stressed, and more than 1 in 3 felt sad.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, the Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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