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Organizational Strategies for Having "Sexual Orientation" Added to a Local Non-Discrimination Policycontinued

Appendix #4 - Second communication with petition signers:
Dear Citizen for Equal Rights,
    Last spring, you signed a petition in support of the local School Board adding "sexual orientation" to its non-discrimination policy. The Non-Discrimination Group, a group of concerned parents, teachers, and community members, contacted you after that, offering ways in which you could further support the inclusion policy. Some of you offered to write letters to the CDT and School Board members, and we thank them for having done so. Others offered to attend the Public Issues Forum and other meetings. The issue has been dormant for some months, but we are now on the brink of the activities which will most influence the School Board members in their deliberations. Your support is urgently needed at this time.
    The first event is the Public Issues Forum is being held on Saturday, February 27th at 8:30 A.M - 2:30 P.M. at the Park Forest Middle School. A Public Issues Form is a structured, moderated discussion on a particular issue that invites people from approximately four different points of view to discuss an issue and try to find common ground. The four points at this one can be summarized as:
    1. "In order to provide a safe, secure and nurturing environment for all students the schools should take strong action to prohibit harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation. The necessary policies must be widely publicized and strictly enforced."
    2. "Sexual orientation is not an appropriate focus for public school policy. They acknowledge that sexual orientation may be a concern of individual students and staff, but suggest that it is a private matter and not a valid subject for the classroom or the school policy manual. Private matters should be kept private."
    3. "Underlying the fears of lesbian, gay and bisexual staff and students is a widespread lack of understanding and respect for one's sexual orientation as a legitimate and positive component of individual identity. In society, this lack of understanding and respect has manifested itself in brutal physical attacks, repressive legislation, and public stereotyping and maligning of lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals.
    The schools need to aim for more than preventing discrimination and harassment. As part of building communities in which differences are respected, schools should take the lead in building a more respectful climate for all sexual orientations within the school and the community at large."
    4. "It is appropriate and necessary for the public schools to teach, model and encourage the traditional family values and heterosexual norms of the local community they serve."
    We would like to encourage you to be a part of this conversation by registering at the State College Area School District Community Education Office, by calling 231-1062.
    The second event is a Public Hearing called by the SCASD School Board. This event is scheduled for Monday night, March 15th at 7:30 in the Mt. Nittany Middle School Auditorium. This is essentially a three minute per speaker "open mike" event, but in order to speak for 3 minutes, you must register your request in writing by March 5th to the Board's secretary.
    You may accompany your three minute speech with written comments of any length.
    Both of these events will be advertised in the CDT (and perhaps the Collegian), so please be vigilant for those ads in case there is any change in time, date, or place of venue.
    Below are some suggestions that will help to make public discourse more effective. Most of them are common sense, but we mention them here to underscore them, as it is easy to lose perspective when confronted by divisive and emotional issues:
    Present your case succinctly.
    Be friendly, sincere, and respectful.
    Listen as well as speak.
    State your criticisms in a positive way. Threats and intimidation are never appropriate.
    Be neither acquiescent nor argumentative. Present your case, listen, and give counterpoints, but stay calm and don't argue.
    Don't back or get backed into an unyielding position.
    Being right doesn't mean you are going to win.
    Much time has elapsed since the issue came to light in this community. The opposition has had much time to organize. If you feel strongly about this issue, it is urgent that you participate in either or both of these public debates. The School Board must understand that the pulse of this community beats for justice, human rights, and non-discrimination for all.
    Thank you for your continuing support.
    Sincerely,
    Core, Non-Discrimination Group

Appendix #5 - testimony at the public hearing from a teacher:
    As a teacher at the State College Delta Program, I would like to testify to the frequency and severity of the harassment and discrimination experienced by gay students in our district. Because Delta is small and known for its zero tolerance for disrespectful conduct, several gay students have come to us to seek refuge from harassment and discrimination in other buildings.
    Students have told me of verbal abuse, physical harm, and destruction of their personal property because of their real or perceived sexual orientation. They have also told of casual homophobic remarks dropped by teachers in their presence. These young people have unquestionably been harmed.
    Many students are reluctant to seek redress on these occasions, because they don't know if they can trust all of the adults at their schools; consequently, they feel unsupported and that their plight is invisible. Many are not ready to seek help, because it would prematurely have them "come out", while they are struggling to find their own identities as young adults.
    Adding "sexual orientation" to the non-discrimination policy would validate their personhoods, make students accountable for harassing or discriminatory behavior, and make staff accountable for living by and enforcing equitable treatment and respectful behavior toward gay and lesbian young people.
    A recent graduate tells it most poignantly, and I quote: "Remember those dreams you had in high school? You walk into the classroom or cafeteria, crowded with your peers, and realize that something is wrong. You are not one of them. You are in the wrong class, the wrong school. You are an outsider in their eyes, and you are all alone.
    When I came out as a gay high school student in SCASD, that dream became my waking reality. I was alone - I was the only gay student I knew. Every class was touched with that isolation and fear, as familiar as the number on my locker. Ironically, I was the good student - praised for being mature and articulate. Looking back, I wish I could take more credit for those compliments, but mostly it was what I did to survive.
    Maybe it was maturity that kept me staring straight ahead through the faggot and dyke jokes in hallways and classrooms. Articulate words were all I had when a teacher attacked me for being gay in front of her entire class. There was no system to turn to, no way to say "Stop!" - or "Help!." It was a lesson that stayed with me.
    Years later, I watched my friends joyfully return to visit with old teachers and classmates. Painful memories kept me from even walking through the school doors. I have no nostalgia about what it took for me to survive.
    Even so, I count myself among the lucky ones. In Massachusetts, where I now live, 35% of gay teens will attempt suicide.
    I almost wish that this debate could be about politics, or rhetoric, but it is not. For gay youth, words and threats maim, silence and isolation kill. You have the opportunity to stand up for the students you are charged to educate and protect. For gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth, it takes incredible courage to walk through the school doors every morning. It is time that we are all equally as courageous."

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