Strategies for Having "Sexual Orientation"
Added to a Local Non-Discrimination Policycontinued
#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
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
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
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
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
· Being right doesn't mean you are going
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.
Core, Non-Discrimination Group
#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
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
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
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
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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