Anti-LGBT Discrimination Hurts South Dakota Kids

Discussing the new report on discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in American schools that Human Rights Watch released in Sioux Falls yesterday, SDPB’s Kealey Bultena said today that, when she can’t say on public radio some of the awful words that students (and sometimes teachers) throw at LGBT kids, those words shouldn’t said in public schools.

Yet, as the passage from which the report derives its title explains, silence can be a weapon as brutalizing as words and other overt forms of bullying:

For LGBT youth, isolation and exclusion can be as detrimental as bullying and can aggregate over time to create an unmistakably hostile environment. In recent years, psychologists have drawn attention to these types of incidents—or “microaggressions”—and the way they collectively function to adversely affect development and health.

“Incidents build up and eventually you blow up. I think microaggressions are seen as not important or damaging as violence, but they are, just in different ways,” Kayla E., a 17-year-old lesbian girl in Pennsylvania, said. As Polly R., the parent of a gender non-conforming son in Utah, described the effects of a hostile environment in schools: “It’s like walking through a hailstorm. It’s not like any one piece of hail that gets you, it’s all the hail together” [“Like Walking Through a Hailstorm”: Discrimination Against LGBT Youth in US Schools, Human Rights Watch, 2016.12.07].

Microaggressions… hailstones… that’s a pretty good explanation.

In a 2012 survey, 75% of LGBT youth said that “most of their peers do not have a problem” with non-traditional sexual orientations and gender identities. But that leaves plenty of jerks. Here’s a sample of what Human Rights Watch heard from (psuedonym-protected) South Dakotans:

Julian L., a 15-year-old transgender boy in South Dakota, described being threatened during his freshman year by a senior: “At one point he was like ‘What do you have between your legs,’ and I said, ‘Why do you need to know that,’ and he was like, ‘I need to know if I can rape you.’”

…Annette D., an administrator at a residential school in South Dakota, recalled incidents where administrators outed students to parents after discovering they were LGBT: “In one situation a girl was left homeless because they wouldn’t accept her choices. And I remember one situation where a girl was beat up by her mom.”

…Patrick J., a teacher and GSA [gay-straight alliance] advisor in South Dakota, said the GSA had been told it could not hold a fundraising bake sale, although he noted “student council is selling root beer floats tomorrow. And the sports teams sell food like that.”

…Zachary J., a 19-year-old transgender man in South Dakota, recalled a teacher’s run-in with his friends who were dating: “[S]he stopped them in the hallway when they were holding hands, and she brought them into her classroom and had this whole conversation about how being lesbian was a sin.”

…Nathan J., an 18-year-old student in South Dakota, said: “There’s a lot of rampant homophobia in locker rooms. It’s weirdly homophobic statements said so casually” [HRW, 2016.12.07].

Human Rights Watch grounds its analysis of these human rights violations in international law… which of course means that Al Novstrup and other New World Order-fearing Republicans will ignore or ridicule the report… much as they treat LGBT South Dakotans.

The strongest argument this report makes for cracking down on anti-LGBT discrimination in our schools lies in the plain risks to the learning and welfare of these young South Dakotans:

In many schools, LGBT students are deterred or effectively excluded from participating in school events, extra-curriculars, or everyday activities because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. As a result, they are deprived of the full education that their heterosexual, cisgender peers enjoy.

…Data showed that an alarming 42.8 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth respondents had seriously considered suicide in the previous year, and 29.4 percent had attempted suicide, compared with 14.8 percent of heterosexual youth who had seriously considered suicide in the previous year and 6.4 percent of heterosexual youth who had attempted suicide [HRW, 2016.12.07].

Our state constitution says our public schools shall be “equally open to all.” If our schools aren’t equally open to LGBT South Dakotans, those don’t just have a hard time learning; they have a hard time living.

Dare I say that if you call yourself “pro-life”, you have to oppose bullying of LGBT students?

South Dakota passed a law in 2012 requiring every school to enact an anti-bullying policy. However, Human Rights Watch notes that our anti-bullying law, SDCL 13-32-14, includes a clause prohibiting schools from naming in its anti-bullying policy any “protected class of students.” I’d like to believe that just saying, “Don’t bully anyone, period,” is enough, but HRW points to research showing that “laws and policies that enumerate sexual orientation and gender identity as protected grounds are more effective than those that merely provide a general admonition against bullying.” There’s an irony in having to single out specific groups to protect them from bullying, but apparently we must call out LGBT-specific bullying to more effectively stop it.

Whatever your hangups about sex and gender, LGBT kids are still South Dakotans, just like the rest of us. They deserve a good education in a safe school. If we’re willing to put guns in classrooms to protect kids from a threat that happens less often than lightning, we should put policies in place to protect kids from bullying that happens every day.

9 Responses to Anti-LGBT Discrimination Hurts South Dakota Kids

  1. Porter Lansing

    … hailstones

  2. Roger Cornelius

    With a Trump administration we can anticipate more hate and discrimination against the LGBT children and adults alike.

    Trump has or will issue a license for haters to do as they as they please or plan to do. We should all fear for our LGBT friends and neighbors.

  3. Joe Nelson

    The anti-bullying laws in SD are pretty straight-forward, and I think would be effective if actually enforced. If there are incidents of bullying, harassment, or intimidation, it needs to be reported. Teaches and superintendents need to be held accountable to enforce the rules, and if that means some bullies start getting expelled or teacher fired/put on admin leave, so be it. I am also highly in favor of documenting and reporting at all levels. Type up the who/what/when of the incident, and send it to the principal, the superintendent, as well as the local law enforcement. Greater awareness, and a few heads rolled, will help reduce the amount of incidents.

    Cory, can you directly speak to this? What training have you received as a teacher in SD to handle bullying/teasing/harassment? What methods are to be used when you have an unruly student being disrespectful like this? Even if you have not encountered LGBTQ bullying, how have you effectively handled bullying in general?

  4. Well, Joe, as you know, I lost a job sixteen years ago when I mishandled a bullying situation, so I’m either the last person you want to ask those questions or the first.

    I’m pretty sensitive to bullying. I don’t recall dealing with an instance of bullying targeting LGBT status.

    It’s been a while since I’ve sat through a professional development meeting. At Spearfish, most of our in-service time was dedicated to getting ready for Common Core. One of the challenges of calling for training is that there are only so many hours in the school day. If adequate training in anti-bullying techniques and LGBT issues is not already in the schedule, we need to make time for it, and that means either spending less time on other training, adding time to the school day/school year for more training, or adding staff so we can give teachers more prep periods during which they can conduct training.

    My general anti-bullying methods as a sub rely first on prevention. I establish through mere presence and preparation (depending on regular teachers to leave me detailed plans) that we’re here to get things done, that I know what I’m doing in a classroom, and that I will be active and vigilant throughout the class period. The vast majority of kids who want to learn and/or just get through the day get the message that they are going to be safe; the few who might be inclined to take advantage of the sub get the message that they don’t get to take free shots while their regular teacher is gone. Establishing the right atmosphere from the start keeps many discipline problems from arising.

    When trouble does break out, I need to nip it in the bud. Shrugging off even one instance of bullying signals the bullies that they can do it again and signals the victims that they are screwed. On sub duty, I’m inclined to give maybe one verbal warning, but I’m also on a hair-trigger for sending bullies to the office. As a sub, I tell kids I don’t have time for any behavior that gets in the way of learning, and bullying is a huge barrier to learning. Rather than wasting classroom time with an ineffective lecture on being nice or, worse, waiting until the end of the class period and thus leaving the victims trapped in the room under the sneering gaze and other continued harassment of the bully, I’d rather just hit the eject button. And yes, I will write up the incident in detail and make sure that information goes to the regular teacher and, if I involve the office, the principal.

    Of course, it’s hard to apply anti-bullying methods when we’re talking about the isolation and exclusion I mentioned at the top. I can tackle overt aggression. If the regular teacher prescribes group activities, I can recognize if a group is not allowing all members to participate and encourage them to get everyone in the game. But (and here’s a personal issue that may interfere with my effective classroom management) I don’t like group work that much, and I have great sympathy for students who prefer to work alone. If there’s a group assignment and I see one student remaining alone at her desk to work, I can’t leap to the conclusion that she’s LGBT and her group mates are excluding her. I’ll go to her desk to make sure she’s working, but if she’s doing her part of the project (and groups can divide tasks and work individually) and if her other group members aren’t complaining, I don’t have solid grounds for intervening.

    That’s one of the inescapable problems teachers face. Just like law enforcement, we can’t act without evidence. If I don’t see the grope or hear the slur, or if the aggressions are so micro that no one besides the bully and the target know it’s happening, I can’t leap to action. If I handle a bullying situation incorrectly, the incident becomes all about the bad teacher, the bully wins an extra victory by deflecting the school’s administrative force away from him and onto the teacher, and the real victim is forgotten.

    My day would be a lot easier if all of our kids would learn to be nice to each other. We’d also learn a truckload more algebra.

  5. Porter Lansing

    Thank-you, Mr. Heidelberger for this “inside baseball” lesson in your technique. Fascinating.

  6. Here’s our draft law:

    Section 804. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trangender (LGBT) Students

    It is the policy of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Education Agency to give schools and other educational institutions the guidance and information needed to create a safe, supportive, and nondiscriminatory learning environment for all students on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. LGBT students often experience verbal and physical harassment or assault in school, are at higher risk for suicide, and may perform poorly academically when they are harassed or bullied. All local schools and alternative educational institutions must therefore develop LGBT antidiscrimination policies that:

    • Protect students and staff from harassment, violence and discrimination based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression.
    • Provide professional development opportunities on issues affecting LGBT students to all staff and school board members.
    • Provide appropriate and meaningful family engagement and support.
    • Encourage respect for the human and civil rights of all people, including those who are LGBT, throughout the curriculum.
    • Provide developmentally appropriate information about LGBT issues in school libraries and in student and faculty resource centers.
    • Designate a staff member who is knowledgeable about issues related to sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

    Further, the policy should include, and provide training for staff and school board members on the following practices:

    • School staff should address students by their chosen name and pronouns that correspond to their gender identity, whether or not there has been a legal name change.
    • When requested, schools should make a good faith effort to change unofficial student records with the chosen name and appropriate gender markers to promote consistency among teachers, substitute teachers, school administrators and other staff.
    • Students should be allowed to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity, and whenever possible, alternative options such as an all-gender or single-user restroom should be made available. For example, a staff bathroom can be repurposed as a single-user restroom.
    • A student should not be forced to use a locker room that is aligned with their gender identity. Locker room usage should be determined on a case-by-case basis.

  7. Porter Lansing

    That’s outstanding, Margaret. Once again, it’s glaringly apparent that Native Americans tower above the majority German-American culture of South Dakota on every level. In case no ones told you today. You Rock.

  8. Porter Lansing

    SCHOOL VOUCHERS Wouldn’t it be appropriate for liberals to spend their soon to come, end of the public schools as we know it, school vouchers on sending their kids to a reservation school? It would be a win/win for us and a stick in the eye to those who see vouchers as a way to prop up their Catholic schools. Rez schools could charge the same rate and the money would be better spent.

  9. Thanks for sharing that draft, Margaret. You say draft: not enacted yet? What’s the schedule for enacting that draft? What sort of support does it have?