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.