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Posts for September, 2012

Bad, But In Some Ways Better: GLSEN School Climate Survey Shows Mixed Results

Jim Burroway

September 5th, 2012

Moments ago, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) released its 2011 National School Climate Survey, which includes responses from 8,584 students from all fifty states and the District of Columbia. GLSEN has been conducting the survey now for over a decade, and this latest survey has found, for the first time, decreased levels of biased anti-LGBT language and decreased levels of student victimization based on sexual orientation. The survey also found increased levels of student access to LGBT-related school resources and support.

But a quick look at the survey when compared to 2009 shows that the situation is a classic glass-half-full/half-empty situation. Despite the improvements, LGBT students continue to experience hostile climates in the schools. According to the 2011 survey, 81.9% of LGBT students said they were verbally harassed, 38.3% were physically harassed and 18.3% were physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation. (In 2009, those same figures were 84.6%, 40.1% and 18.8% respectively.)

In addition, 63.9% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 27.1% were physically harassed and 12.4% were physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender expression. Those figures are virtually unchanged from 2009. The 2011 survey also found that 63.5% reported feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and 43.9% felt unsafe because of their gender expression. Those numbers are actually higher from 2009. About a third reported skipping class and a third reported skipping an entire day because of safety concerns.

The survey found that having a Gay-Straight Alliance, an LGBT-inclusive curriculum and anti-bullying policies which specifically addressed sexual orientation correlated with an improved school environment. The presence of teachers and other school personnel who were visibly supportive of LGBT students also resulted in higher grade point averages and lower absenteeism among LGBT students. Unfortunately, only slightly more than half could identify six or more supportive teachers, less than half attended schools with GSAs, and only about 7.4% attended a school with an anti-bullying policy which specifically addressed sexual orientation and/or gender expression.

Kevin Jennings, “Brewster,” and the Closet

Jim Burroway

October 3rd, 2009

(I’ve been extremely busy with work lately, which is why I haven’t been able to comment on this extremely important story. My apologies for my tardiness.)

Numerous anti-gay web sites have been hyperventilating about the appointment of Kevin Jennings, the former Executive Director for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), to be the Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools at the U.S. Department of Education. The loudest cries have centered on a story that Jennings has told many times in many forms, about an incident that happened when he was just starting out as a schoolteacher. There are several versions of the story floating around, but the one that anti-gay activists have fixated on goes like this:

And in my second job I wasn’t sure how I wanted to deal with that. And I was in my first month on the job and I had an advisee named Brewster. Brewster was missing a lot of classes; he was in the boarding school so I said to his teacher, his first period teacher, I said, “next time Brewster misses a class I want you to tell me that he’s missed that class and, uh, I will go find him.”

So I went and found Brewster one morning when she had called and he was asleep in his dorm room. And I said, “Brewster, what are you doing in there asleep?” And he said, “Well, I’m tired.”

And I said, “Well we all are tired and we all got to school today.”

And he said, “Well I was out late last night.”

And I said, “What were you doing out late on a school night.”

And he said, “Well, I was in Boston…”

Boston was about 45 minutes from Concord. So I said, “What were you doing in Boston on a school night Brewster?”

He got very quiet, and he finally looked at me and said, “Well I met someone in the bus station bathroom and I went home with him.” High school sophomore, 15 years old. That was the only way he knew how to meet gay people.

I was a closeted gay teacher, 24 years old, didn’t know what to say. I knew I should say something quickly so I finally said, My best friend had just died of AIDS the week before. I looked at Brewster and said, “You know, I hope you knew to use a condom.”

He said to me something I will never forget, He said “Why should I? My life isn’t worth saving anyway.”

For most people, this story, taking place as it did in the late 1980s, would be about how critical it is for LGBT students to have someone they know they can turn to in safety and confidence. It is also a story that illustrates how a young man can be made so desperate coming of age in a culture that condemns everything about him. But for some, this was a story has become about an underage fifteen-year-old student having sex with an adult, and Jennings’ failure to report this “statutory rape” or “molestation” to authorities.

The problem with this story, like many stories in which the storyteller wishes to protect someone’s anonymity, is that many minor details end up being altered to ensure that the people in the story can’t be identified. And sometimes these alterations change with different tellings. Typically, you try to alter details which are immaterial to the purpose of the story (the student’s name, for example). Unfortunately, some of these alterations can be interpreted by some in ways which turn out to be materially important, but in ways that the storyteller may not have anticipated (like Brewster’s age). That appears to be what happened here.

In Jennings 2006 memoir Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son Brewster appears to be a boy name Robertson. In an essay Jennings wrote for Mitchell Gold’s Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America, the boy’s name is Thompson. His name is unimportant, and clearly we have a case where Jennings is changing the student’s name in different tellings in order to hid his identity.

But it turns out that this detail about his age has ended up being important to those who want to use this story for a different purpose than Jennings intended. Sixteen is the age of consent for Massachusetts, although state law provides an exception of the two are close in age. In this version of the story I just cited, Jennings gave the student’s age as fifteen, but we don’t know the age of that “someone” at the bus station (who is assumed to be an adult).

But it appears that the student’s age might have been one of those details that Jennings was changing to protect the student’s identity. In most versions of the story, the student is simply identified as a sophomore and his age is not given. In other versions, and particularly in an important 2004 clarification by Jennings’ lawyer (PDF: 927KB/2 pages) when his issue first arose, the student’s age was given as sixteen. Furthermore, the story was clarified to indicate that Jennings had little information to believe that the student was actually having sex with an older man.

Now neither the student’s name nor his age were important elements to the story in terms of what that story was meant to illustrate (the importance of LGBT students having someone they can trust to turn to, the need for teachers to be able to deal with the special needs of LGBT students — more on that later). But one of those unimportant elements suddenly became vitally important for those who sought to take this story outside of its context.

Which is exactly what right-wing media has done. Fox News and The Washington Times have latched onto just one particular version of the story, the fifteen-year-old-Brewster version, as though it were gospel, while ignoring all the other versions including his 2004 clarification. And they ignored both its context and what seems to me a rather obvious attempt to hide the student’s identity by changing some of the details.

Fortunately, Media Matters for America has been able to track down “Brewster” and they obtained an image of his drivers license. That I.D. shows his birth date as July 31, 1971. Since the conversation took place in the fall of 1987, this would have made “Brewster” sixteen at the time and a legal adult. But more relevant than all that is this: a statement by “Brewster” himself:

Since I was of legal consent at the time, the fifteen-minute conversation I had with Mr. Jennings twenty-one years ago is of nobody’s concern but his and mine. However, since the Republican noise machine is so concerned about my “well-being” and that of America’s students, they’ll be relieved to know that I was not “inducted” into homosexuality, assaulted, raped, or sold into sexual slavery.

In 1988, I had taken a bus home for the weekend, and on the return trip met someone who was also gay. The next day, I had a conversation with Mr. Jennings about it. I had no sexual contact with anybody at the time, though I was entirely legally free to do so. I was a sixteen year-old going through something most of us have experienced: adolescence. I find it regrettable that the people who have the compassion and integrity to protect our nation’s students are themselves in need of protection from homophobic smear attacks. Were it not for Mr. Jennings’ courage and concern for my well-being at that time in my life, I doubt I’d be the proud gay man that I am today.

As they say, all’s well that ends well, but that doesn’t put this issue entirely to rest. There is still the matter of the particular advice that Jennings tossed off — “I hope you knew to use a condom.”

I think we can agree that this closeted, 24-year-old teacher’s advice was abysmal. “Brewster” really needed — and should have gotten — much better advice than that. I think we can all compose a large list of topics that they should have discussed.

That closeted teacher handled that situation very badly, but that shouldn’t have been surprising. Closeted people rarely handle situations touching on sexuality very well. I should know. I was closeted for the first forty years of my life, and in those years I said and did things that I am not at all proud of, things that I would never dream of doing today. The closet is a very insidious situation to be in.

And if people had paid attention to all of the versions of this story, they would have noticed that this was one of the principle lessons behind Jennings’ story. He screwed up and gave lousy advice, an admission he reinforced in a recent statement:

Twenty-one years later I can see how I should have handled the situation differently. I should have asked for more information and consulted legal or medical authorities. Teachers back then had little training and guidance about this kind of thing.

I think it’s important to know that “this kind of thing” isn’t just general information about sexual conduct among students which many teachers were trained on, but the particularly unique situations that LGBT students were in during that time. The year 1987 was at the very height of the AIDS crisis, and all of the hysterial that accompanied it. Politicians and popular pundits alike thought nothing about advocating that people with AIDS should be rounded up and quarantined. Homes of children with AIDS were being firebombed in Florida and people were regularly shunned everywhere else. Couple that with the presumption that everyone who was gay had AIDS (a presumption that persists in some quarters today), this placed an added stigma to everyone who was struggling to come to terms with their own sexuality.

And just to add to that, sodomy was a crime in Massachusetts in 1987, a “crime” that both the student and Jennings were potentially guilty of regardless of age of consent laws.This fact was very much on the minds of all LGBT people, especially closeted ones. I remember well in the late 1980s that Texas’ sodomy law was cited by the Dallas police department as justification for their ban on hiring LGBT officers. I remember that because I held a security clearance at the time, and worried about how that might affect my job. I needn’t have worried; by then sexual orientation wasn’t much of a factor in granting security clearances, but I didn’t know that. I wasn’t willing to take the risk of asking. One cannot discount the fears that these conditions placed on all LGBT people at that time, especially those in the closet. No wonder “Brewster” thought his life wasn’t worth saving.

When I was in high school, there was absolutely not one person I could trust to talk about what I was going through at that time — not one teacher, guidance counselor, or any other trustworthy adult. The climate was simply too hostile. And to demonstrate the depth of my sense of isolation, let me tell you a story where I’ll have to change someone’s name (but nothing else).

A good friend of mine in high school who was later diagnosed with schizophrenia was sent to see a psychiatrist because of his behavioral problems. That psychiatrist, noting that Will had not had any girlfriends yet (and is that any wonder, given the nature of his illness?) concluded that his problem was latent homosexuality. That psychiatrist then embarked on the blame-the-parents-based therapies that were popular at that time in order to try to cure him — even though by then, homosexuality was not considered a mental disorder. Not surprisingly, that course of treatment was futile because the diagnosis was completely wrong. Will isn’t gay and he never was. But I saw the disruptive effect that response had on his family, and I saw that Will only got worse when it was all said and done.

So not only could I not trust any teachers, but I knew I couldn’t even trust the so-called “experts.” For that day and time, I don’t think my situation was all that unique.

Which is why, as bad as Jennings’ advice was, I still think “Brewster” was lucky. The bad advice he got was far better than the alternative that he was likely to get from anyone else at that time. Better still, Jennings himself later came out of the closet and and founded GLSEN, and he has dedicated the rest of his career to making sure teachers today are better able to work with the “Brewsters” of the world. As hostile as this climate still is, LGBT students are better off in more schools today than we ever thought they would be two decades ago. And much of it began because of some bad advice given by a frightened, closeted teacher twenty-two years ago.

Anti-Gays Scam Insurance Providers

Timothy Kincaid

March 27th, 2009

Maple Grove High School fought like the dickens to keep its gay students from meeting.

Although the Equal Access Act provides that schools have to allow all non-curricular student groups the same access, Maple Grove thought they knew better.

Their ingenious legal argument? That Straights and Gays for Equity (SAGE) was not a curriculum based organization but that cheerleading, Spirit Club, synchronized swimming, and the Black Achievers all were.

Nice try, but no first year law students would bet that outcome.

New York Law School Professor Arthur S. Leonard wrote, “The result in this case was quite predictable, because to date no school system anywhere in the country has ultimately prevailed in its attempt to exclude a gay-straight alliance while allowing other non-curricular student organizations to continue operating at their schools, and federal judges have uniformly rejected by attempts by the schools to mischaracterize social groups as “curricular” in order to escape the requirements of the statute.

But why did they go to court? And, having lost once, why did they appeal?

And isn’t all this futile legal work expensive? You bet it is. The Minneapolis – St. Paul Star Tribune reports just how expensive.

Osseo schools got hit with a king-size legal bill — $460,143 — in its fight to keep a Maple Grove High School student-run gay-rights group from having the same privileges as other, officially approved, school clubs.

OK. That’s a WOW moment. In this age of shrinking budgets and tightening purse-strings, 460 grand is a lot of money to me. But it didn’t cause the School Board to blink.

Asked about the legal fees, [Osseo schools spokeswoman Barbara] Olson replied:

“The district must pay those costs. It just so happens that all the costs are being reimbursed by our insurance.”

That’s right.

The school can go through nearly a half-million dollars on a lawsuit it knows it’s going to lose, all for nothing other than spiting its gay students. Because it’s insured and if it causes all the insurance rates to go up, well at least it got its day in court to besmirch and denigrate gays.

It is time that insurance companies cease to be the pawns and patsies of these anti-gay frauds.

They certainly wouldn’t fund a lawsuit for a principal seeking to place the cafeteria off-limits to black students or a lawsuit for a school board that wanted to force Jews to pray to Jesus. These are surefire losers and a predictable waste of money.

So too are legal efforts to ban gay students from equal access.

These school insurers need to look these principals in the eye and say, “Sorry, Bub, but if you want to run up legal bills to defend discrimination and bigotry, you’re going to have to do it on your own dime.”

For-Profit Fundraisers Rip Off Non-Profits and their Donors

Jim Burroway

July 6th, 2008

Private, for-profit companies which contract their services to non-profit organizations for fundraising have become a major rip-off, according to the Los Angeles Times this morning.

For-profit campaigns, which often employ telemarketing, mass mailings or one-time events, account for a small fraction of $223 billion in charitable giving each year in the United States. But they collect significant sums and help shape public perceptions of charities. Pairing computer-controlled dialing systems with low-wage workers, such firms can reach a large number of people in a short time.

But after these companies bills are paid, what’s left over? Often nothing. And yet the fundraising business is growing. Since 2000, the number of campaigns and amounts raised by for-profit firms has risen by about two-thirds in California alone.

To see how did your favorite LGBT charity do in California, here’s the list. GLAAD did the best, keeping a little over 70¢ of every dollar collected. Lambda Legal was very close behind at nearly 68¢. The Gay and Lesbian and Straight Education Network appears on the list twice, once under its full name, and once again under its initials. Combined, the two entities kept a little more than 59¢ of every dollar earned. Losers include the Horizon Foundation (8.6¢ of every dollar) and NGLTF (13.5¢ of every dollar, when combined with the NGLTF Foundation).

There is one caveat to these figures — they do not include fundraising which is conducted in-house.

Hutcherson and Barber Talk About the Day of Silence and Reveal Hutch’s Paranoia

Timothy Kincaid

April 24th, 2008

Rev. Ken Hutcherson spoke with Matt Barber on a Concerned Women for America podcast about Hutcherson’s protest of the Day of Silence. Barber and Hutcherson both make some claims that do not seem to be fact based and, in Hutcherson’s case, appear to demonstrate paranoia:

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Barber claims

  • GLSEN is an “adult homosexual activist group” that uses children as “pawns to futher their very deceptive agenda”.
  • some Christians are taking a “very soft approach” to the Day of Silence rather than “challenge it head on” because they want “the path of least resistance”. [I assume this refers to the Golden Rule pledge]

Hutcherson claims

  • kids who are kept out of school on the DOS may make up an excuse rather than “stand up”.
  • he was invited to speak at Mt. Si because it was “a great time to ambush the Christian”.
  • he’s been labeled the “number one homophobe in the United States”. He told “them” that as long as Dr. James Dobson is alive then Dobson’s number one and he’s is number two. [I can’t find any reference anywhere to Hutcherson being labeled as the number one homophobe, much less that he responded in any way to “them”]
  • there is a million dollar award out for information that would destroy his ministry.
  • the minute his daughter introduced him on MLK day, white teachers booed [although news reports indicate that one teacher booed, Hutcherson repeated referred to “white teachers”, plural]
  • the school promised him that there would be nothing controversially done about his appearance
  • four or five teachers run the whole school, along with the principal and assistant principal and they are all afraid of the homosexual agenda
  • if you look through the Bible you cannot find one word in the Bible that relates to tolerance
  • the reason Jesus didn’t condemn the woman at the well was because was “set up to sin” and the man she committed adultery with wasn’t also brought. He implied that otherwise Jesus would have condemned both of them.

Barber also seems to imply that Hutcherson should engage in violence against the school authorities. Hutcherson said, “now you’ve got an angry dad”, to which Barber replies, “I don’t blame you and I seem to recall that you played a little football”. [Hutcherson played in the NFL in the 70’s].

All in all, I have to conclude that Hutcherson is either paranoid or not particularly concerned about the accuracy of his statements.

(hat tip to Good-As-You)

Larry King Speaks Up For Lawrence “Larry” King

Jim Burroway

April 23rd, 2008

Mark Malkin talked to GLSEN president Kevin Jennings about Larry King’s Public Service announcement:

GLSEN president Kevin Jennings tells me that King immediately agreed to participate when they contacted him. “Larry King helps us reach the kind of mainstream audience he speaks to every night,” Jennings said. “I don’t necessarily see this as a YouTube phenomenon, but I see this reaching a much more traditional audience.”

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Click here to read the transcript.