With the goal of empowering and informing advocates on the ground about the federal resources available to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) community, White House officials joined federal and local partners at the first LGBT Conference on Safe Schools and Communities on March 20th at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Over 400 attendees participated in sessions led by community organizations, the Departments of Justice, Education, Health and Human Services and the FBI. Topics ranged from civil rights and cyber bullying to family acceptance, domestic violence and safety and inclusion on college campuses.
Acknowledging the fear of reporting crimes and harassment in the LGBT community, Ft. Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead said, “We will do everything we can to keep you safe.” He noted how important it is to build relationships with the school, school security and the police, as well as LGBT community liaisons.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan addressed the group with a video message, saying when students are harassed or bullied it directly affects their work in the classroom and their desire to stay in school.
“These are serious, serious problems at schools and colleges, especially for LGBT youth,” he said, adding that we must dispel the myth that bullying is a normal rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up. “We have a collective obligation to ensure that all schools are safe for all children. Every single student deserves the opportunity to learn and grow and achieve their potential without the threat or reality of harassment.”
ED’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Michael Yudin said to the participants that the measure of success for all students is that they are on track to graduate high school ready to succeed in college or a career, but “we cannot get there if they don’t feel safe.” He added, “Our job is to ensure that schools are proactive in their approach to provide a safe, welcoming environment to learn for all kids.”
According to a study conducted over 10 years, 9 out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment in school. Moreover, students with LGBT parents may not feel that their parents are welcome at school activities. Additionally, those students who do not conform to what are considered gender norms are more prone to being bullied. Geographically, LGBT students in the Midwest and South are more likely to be bullied than students in other regions.
Yudin outlined resources at www.stopbullying.gov and technical assistance available for schools, as well as the department’s guidance to schools for LGBT issues. The Centers for Disease Control of the Department of Health and Human Services also provides resources for the LGBT community. ED is currently working with the Department of Health and Human Services on a common definition of bullying.
–Helen Littlejohn is the Director for Communications and Outreach for the Western States, based in the Denver Regional Office