Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Thoughts on the Dignity for All Students Act and the School Safety Act

First, I was quoted by The Advocate (online, August 19, 2008) in an article by Kerry Eleveld discussing the Safe Schools for All Students Act that was introduced by the Republican-controlled New York State Senate Rules Committee – notable for the first time any Republican-sponsored bill in New York has sought to protect people on the basis of “gender identity or expression.”

See the full article here.

Here's the part that quotes me:

Trans activists overall are pleased by the progress that has been made in the senate. “As a signal from the Republican leadership, the inclusion of gender identity or expression in the Safe Schools bill could be a ray of hope,” said Joann Prinzivalli, state director of the New York Transgender Rights Organization.

But Prinzivalli said one “disturbing” difference in the Republican bill is that it provides protection from disciplinary action or professional misconduct for school employees who know of, but do not report, acts of bullying. “This is not a feature in the [assembly’s] Dignity bill, and it makes the Safe Schools bill much less palatable as an alternative,” she added.

From a quite different viewpoint, the following comes from the Lunatic Fringe at (Out of) Focus on the Family:

New York Considers Special Rights for 'Transgendered' Students

The Republican majority in the New York Senate has introduced a measure that would make the state among the first in the nation to grant special protections to "transgendered" students, including those who cross-dress.

The Log Cabin Republicans, a gay-activist group, is taking credit for the so-called Safe Schools for All Students Act. Disguised as an anti-bullying effort, it would add special protections based on sexual orientation.

“While efforts need to be made to stop the bullying of any child, we believe it’s wrong for schools to have mandates pushed on them by homosexual-advocacy groups," said Candi Cushman, education analyst for Focus on the Family Action. "These groups have been bragging about a 'coup' in New York and have a clear agenda of promoting their sexual lifestyle to children. “It is not wise to push those types of agendas onto young kids who are still figuring out who they are. Plus, it puts teachers who have deeply held religious convictions in jeopardy.”

North Carolina lawmakers rejected a similar bill in July.

Aside from the fact that the folks at (Out Of) Focus On The Family Action are always trying to push their anti-Christian, anti-humanitarian, anti-science, anti-human rights anti-justice anti-fairness agenda, one other thing these people don’t get is that this Republican-sponsored School Safety bill would add special protections for “teachers who have deeply held religious convictions.” If they bothered to read the bill carefully, the (Out Of) Focus folks might have seen this.

Both the Dignity for All Students Act (S1571, sponsored by Democratic State Senator Thomas K. Duane, and co-sponsored by eleven Democratic Senators, the Republican Rules Committee bill (S8739, the Safe Schools for All Students Act) require that school employees report incidents of harrassment/bullying of which they are aware or have reason to suspect. Both bills protect those school employees who report harrassment/bullying in good faith. But the Republican bill goes farther, adding:


It appears to be possible that the Republican senators really are trying to protect those (Out of) Focus “teachers who have deeply held ‘religious’ convictions” whose strange version of religion involves a belief that bullying and harassment of gay, transgender, tomboy and sissy kids is somehow a good thing.

The fact that “gender identity or expression” is properly included (under the definition of gender) as a protected class, in addition to sexual orientation, race, color, religion, disability, national origin, military status, sex, gender, age or marital status is lost on the bully-protecting folks at (Out of) Focus, who seem to think that it’s just fine for a schoolyard bully to pick on that nerdy sissy kid with glasses because in their warped sense of “religion” that’s what they think Jesus would have done (though I am quite sure Jesus would differ with that viewpoint, as they’ll find out when they get judged at the Final Judgment - see Matt. 25), or because bullying the sissy kid will somehow “make a man out of him.”

I had my own painful personal experience as a child with bullying and harassment, from the 5th grade until I got out of high school. It wasn’t a “sexual orientation” thing. It wasn’t even visibly a “gender identity or expression” thing – or maybe it was.

Essentially, I transferred into a new school in the middle of the school year, and somehow, the school bumped a very popular kid from the “A track” class to the “B track” class in order to fit me in. On top of that, when it came to schoolyard activity, it became obvious that I “throw like a girl.” This caused a great deal of resentment and led to a lot of harassment. I didn’t complain about it, but apparently teachers and administrators noticed, which prompted them to set up a meeting with my parents and the principal.

The proposed solution? My father was told that he and I should play catch after school every day. This was along the lines of “it’ll make a man out of him.” Of course, this turned out to be a very frustrating exercise for both my father and myself. No matter what I did, it *hurt* my elbow when I tried to “throw like a boy.”

The problem with this picture is that the traditional solution in these cases is to blame the victim, something the (Out of) Focus folks seem to want to continue as the solution.

The (Out of) Focus folks and the New York State Senate Republican-controlled Rules committee don’t seem to understand that teachers (and other school employees) who want to hide behind their so-called “religious beliefs” to justify bullying and harassment don’t belong in the schools, just like a teacher who believes in “Young Earth Creationism” shouldn’t be protected for teaching this religious belief in a science classroom.

One thought about this disturbing language in the Republican Senate bill (language perhaps intended to pander to (Out Of) Focus and its ilk) is that it was put there intentionally as a “poison pill” with the idea being the Senate could pass this bill and then kill a compromise with the Assembly Dignity for All Students Act bill (A3496 – the same as S1571) by insisting on protecting those teachers, school officials and employees who want to continue to turn a blind eye toward harassment and bullying. In this very cynical view, the Republican senators could trumpet about how they voted for (or even supported, if the bill doesn’t come to a vote) a “school safety” bill in their bids for re-election.

Most people wouldn’t even notice that the bill has a fatal flaw that eviscerates the coverage it would only seem to provide – the folks at (Out of) Focus On The Family Action didn’t notice that their so-called “concern” on the issue was already addressed by the Republican Rules committee.