Education » ADL Blogs
March 1, 2016 2

The Most Basic of Rights: Transgender Students Are Entitled to Respect and Dignity

600px-Bathroom-gender-signIt is the most basic need any stu­dent has dur­ing the school day: using the restroom safely and com­fort­ably when you need to. It is the first sign of inde­pen­dence before young chil­dren enter preschool and it fol­lows them through­out their whole schooling.

And yet, that almost became more dif­fi­cult for trans­gen­der stu­dents to do in South Dakota. The state’s leg­is­la­ture recently passed a bill that would require pub­lic school stu­dents to use bath­rooms and locker rooms that cor­re­spond to their gen­der assigned at birth, defined in the bill as “a person’s chro­mo­somes and anatomy as iden­ti­fied at birth.” South Dakota’s Gov­er­nor Den­nis Dau­gaard vetoed the bill but if he had not, trans­gen­der stu­dents would have been forced to use bath­rooms and locker rooms that do not cor­re­spond to their gen­der identity.

South Dakota is the first state in the coun­try to come close to pass­ing this leg­is­la­tion but it sets a dis­turb­ing prece­dent for other states and there are many on the hori­zon. More bills like South Dakota’s are mak­ing their way through state leg­is­la­tures.  A Human Rights Cam­paign (HRC) report reveals that 23 of the 44 anti-transgender bills filed this year are aimed at trans­gen­der chil­dren in schools and involved in school sports.

The state’s law is in direct con­flict with the U.S. Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion and Depart­ment of Justice’s inter­pre­ta­tion of Title IX law which pro­hibits dis­crim­i­na­tion on the basis of sex in any edu­ca­tion pro­gram or activ­ity that receives fed­eral funds. “Treat­ing a stu­dent dif­fer­ently from other stu­dents because his birth-assigned sex diverges from his gen­der iden­tity con­sti­tutes dif­fer­en­tial treat­ment on the basis of sex under Title IX.”  Even pro­po­nents of the South Dakota bill acknowl­edge that school dis­tricts that imple­ment it will prob­a­bly be sued.

It’s not all bad news.  In 2013, Cal­i­for­nia enacted the first com­pre­hen­sive statewide lawto pro­tect trans­gen­der stu­dents’ right “to par­tic­i­pate in sex-segregated pro­grams, activ­i­ties and facil­i­ties” based on their gen­der iden­tity.  In 2014, the New York City Pub­lic Schools insti­tuted a set of com­pre­hen­sive Trans­gen­der Stu­dent Guide­linesinclud­ing pri­vacy, discrimination/harassment, offi­cial records, names and pro­nouns, restroom and locker room acces­si­bil­ity, etc.

All stu­dents need a safe, respect­ful and inclu­sive learn­ing envi­ron­ment where they can learn and thrive emo­tion­ally, socially and aca­d­e­m­i­cally.  This means—at the minimum—that young peo­ple and school staff inter­act with each other in respect­ful ways; that there are writ­ten poli­cies to address harass­ment and bul­ly­ing and those poli­cies are equi­tably and con­sis­tently enforced; that stu­dents are embraced for who they are and their iden­tity is reflected and respected in a vari­ety of ways dur­ing the course of their school­ing expe­ri­ence. And it should go with­out say­ing that their basic needs and rights should be taken care of.

When it comes to trans­gen­der and gen­der non-conforming stu­dents, these bath­room poli­cies do the polar oppo­site and put these stu­dents at increased risk of attack, abuse and bul­ly­ing. Thomas Lewis, a trans­gen­der high school stu­dent in South Dakota, says that the bath­room law “cre­ates more stigma” and con­veys this mes­sage to stu­dents: “You’re so dif­fer­ent, in a bad way, that you need your own bath­room, your own locker room, your own shower sit­u­a­tion.” We know that through­out their school day, trans­gen­der stu­dents are more likely to hear neg­a­tive remarks about their gen­der expres­sion (90%), to be ver­bally harassed (89%),  to be phys­i­cally harassed in school (53%) and to skip class or a whole day because they feel unsafe or uncom­fort­able (47%).  These num­bers should star­tle all of us.

To pro­tect the rights and safety of trans­gen­der stu­dents, we need to go way beyond their bath­room needs. The best and most com­pre­hen­sive laws, poli­cies and guide­lines focus on three gen­eral areas: (1) harass­ment and bul­ly­ing of trans­gen­der and gen­der non-conforming stu­dents, (2) deal­ing with gender-segregated spaces in school such as bath­rooms, locker rooms, and line for­ma­tions and (3) deal­ing with records and rules such as names/pronouns, offi­cial records, iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, pri­vacy and dress codes.

As a coun­try, we need to be push­ing our­selves and our schools to enact poli­cies and prac­tices like these to pro­tect and affirm our trans­gen­der students.

 

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January 6, 2016 1

Empowering Jewish Youth to Respond to Anti-Semitism

USYLast week, over 700 Jew­ish teens from across the United States and Canada gath­ered in Bal­ti­more, MD as part of United Syn­a­gogue Youth’s Inter­na­tional Con­ven­tion.  The Anti-Defamation League par­tic­i­pated in the con­ven­tion as a pro­gram part­ner to edu­cate and empower the stu­dents to respond to anti-Semitism. At a time when global anti-Semitism is on the rise, col­lege cam­puses are rife with anti-Israel bias and Jew­ish youth reg­u­larly hear insen­si­tive com­ments about Jews and Judaism, this work is more impor­tant than ever.

Eighty teens par­tic­i­pated in three work­shops over the course of two days, shar­ing their own expe­ri­ences with anti-Semitism, learn­ing the his­tory behind anti-Semitic stereo­types and myths, and prac­tic­ing new strate­gies to respond to anti-Semitism in their every­day lives.  Hear­ing from their peers around the coun­try, stu­dents were able to gain aware­ness about the preva­lence of anti-Semitism.  As one stu­dent com­mented, “I learned that there is more anti-Semitism in schools than I thought there was.”

Stu­dents shared sto­ries of pen­nies being thrown at them, swastikas appear­ing in their schools and hear­ing anti-Semitic “jokes” from their peers.  Through inter­ac­tive exer­cises, role play­ing sce­nar­ios and con­ver­sa­tions with their peers, the stu­dents gained strate­gies to respond and explored what it means for them as Jew­ish teens to stand up for them­selves in the face of anti-Semitism. They also dis­cussed and devel­oped strate­gies to respond to anti-Semitism as it relates to Israel and talked about how these sit­u­a­tions are sim­i­lar to and dif­fer­ent from tra­di­tional forms of anti-Semitism.

At the end of the pro­gram, the stu­dents shared one thing they will do dif­fer­ently as a result of par­tic­i­pat­ing in the work­shop. Col­lec­tively, their responses demon­strate the com­mit­ment and power of teens to make a dif­fer­ence in the fight against anti-Semitism:

  • “I will tell friends that anti-Semitism is unacceptable.”
  • “I will be a big­ger advo­cate for the Jew­ish peo­ple and Israel.”
  • “Inform my friends about the facts and what’s really going on”
  • “Point out and explain anti-Semitism when I see it”
  • “I will stand up for the Jew­ish peo­ple if some­thing anti-Semitic is said.”
  • “Respond calmly and in an infor­ma­tive man­ner to anti-Semitic stereotypes”
  • “I will edu­cate oth­ers on how to com­bat anti-Semitism.”
  • “Speak up against insen­si­tive jokes”

The work­shops drew upon the Anti-Defamation League’s edu­ca­tion pro­gram­ming to address anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias with teens and young adults across the United States.   Since the pro­gram was first offered in the 1980’s, ADL has reached over 55,000 teens with knowl­edge, skills and resources to respond to anti-Semitism.

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December 7, 2015 1

When Injustice Goes Unchecked and Concealed, What Message Does This Send to Children?

LAQUAN_McDonald_Chicago_memorial_from_protestorsThir­teen months after Laquan McDon­ald was shot and killed by Chicago police offi­cer Jason Van Dyke, the recorded inci­dent was released to the pub­lic. The day before its release, Van Dyke was arrested for first-degree mur­der. The dis­turb­ing video shows seventeen-year-old McDon­ald being shot for fif­teen seconds—the major­ity for which he was down on the ground. At the time of the shoot­ing, a spokesper­son for Chicago’s police union said that Police Offi­cer Van Dyke had fired his gun after McDon­ald lunged at him with a knife but the video shows he was first shot while veer­ing away from the offi­cers. An autopsy revealed that Van Dyke shot McDon­ald a total of six­teen times.

Pub­lic offi­cials and the police depart­ment have known about the video for 400 days. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that the video was not released ear­lier because of con­cerns it could taint a fed­eral and state inves­ti­ga­tion; how­ever, Jus­tice Depart­ment offi­cials said that the depart­ment never requested that the city with­hold the video. Because a jour­nal­ist work­ing on the case sued for release of the video, a county judge ordered the city to make it pub­lic. In the wake of these pub­lic rev­e­la­tions, the Police Super­in­ten­dent has been dis­missed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The back­drop and con­text of this inci­dent can­not be ignored. For the last six­teen months, this coun­try has been engaged in a pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion about high-profile cases of African Amer­i­can and Latino men being killed at the hands of the police: Fred­die Gray, Wal­ter Scott, Michael Brown, Eric Gar­ner and oth­ers. The Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment has gal­va­nized issues of implicit bias and the racial dis­par­i­ties in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, shin­ing a light on the prob­lem and offer­ing pol­icy rec­om­men­da­tions. The McDon­ald case stands out in par­tic­u­lar because of the hor­rific nature of the video, the arrest of the offi­cer for first-degree mur­der and finally—and maybe most importantly—the length of time it took for the video to see the light of day and in what many peo­ple are call­ing a “cover up.”

In the midst of dis­turb­ing media reports and videos cov­er­ing these inci­dents, it is crit­i­cal to remem­ber that the major­ity of police offi­cers chose a career in law enforce­ment because they want to do good in their com­mu­ni­ties and aim to per­form their respon­si­bil­i­ties with honor and integrity. They put their lives on the line every­day as they aim to pro­tect the pub­lic and uphold the law.

As par­ents, edu­ca­tors and oth­ers who work with chil­dren, how­ever, we need to care­fully con­sider the mes­sage this lat­est inci­dent con­veys to young peo­ple about what to do when they wit­ness injus­tice. Anti-bias edu­ca­tion teaches young peo­ple what bias is and then how to address it; the over­ar­ch­ing mes­sage is that we all have a respon­si­bil­ity to con­front racism and all other forms of big­otry and that there a myr­iad of ways to inter­vene and be an ally. We teach stu­dents how to do something.

Although bul­ly­ing and bias in schools is not the same as an alleged mur­der such as in this case, there are some use­ful lessons in what we tell chil­dren about how to behave when faced with bias. We say that being a bystander is not enough. We pro­mote the con­cept that when you see bias and dis­crim­i­na­tion, you should do some­thing. And we teach them that there are many ways to be an ally.

One way is to not par­tic­i­pate. If we use that con­cept and apply it to this inci­dent, we see that there were peo­ple in author­ity who, instead of not join­ing in, par­tic­i­pated in the injus­tice by not speak­ing up about the inci­dent and not tak­ing action when the alleged mur­der was com­mit­ted. Fur­ther, it took the city more than a year to arrest the per­pe­tra­tor of the crime and some have said that many offi­cials were actively involved in a “cover up.”

We teach stu­dents that another way to be an ally is to tell the aggres­sor to stop. We don’t see any indi­ca­tion from the video—on the part of the other offi­cers stand­ing by—that Offi­cer Van Dyke was told to stop what he was doing to Laquan McDon­ald. After the inci­dent, the other police offi­cers did not come for­ward to bear wit­ness to what they saw. And again, it took thir­teen months for the video to be seen by the public.

“Get to know peo­ple instead of judg­ing them” is another crit­i­cal inter­ven­tion strat­egy. While we don’t know what was in the hearts and minds of Offi­cer Van Dyke, the other police offi­cers or the offi­cials who kept the video under wraps all that time, it seems pos­si­ble that implicit bias played a part and that the pat­tern of African Amer­i­can men being more likely to be killed by police offi­cers is germane.

Fourth, we encour­age young peo­ple to inform a trusted adult. The fun­da­men­tal idea is that if a child tells a trusted adult about an inci­dent of bias, bul­ly­ing or dis­crim­i­na­tion, that adult will do some­thing about it. In this case, the “trusted adults” would be the pub­lic offi­cials and police depart­ment (who had the video) because they are author­ity fig­ures with power. One of the rea­sons dash­cams exist is to pro­vide evi­dence when police offi­cers use unnec­es­sary or exces­sive force and once they had this infor­ma­tion, they should have done some­thing imme­di­ately rather than wait­ing for a court order to force them to make it public.

The col­lec­tive shock and dis­may around this case, the protests that have been tak­ing place in Chicago, the fir­ing of the Chicago Police Super­in­ten­dent and the arrest of Police Offi­cer Van Dyke will not bring Laquan McDon­ald back. If pub­lic offi­cials and the police depart­ment had acted the way we tell young peo­ple to act, things may have turned out very dif­fer­ently. Per­haps if we can glean some­thing instruc­tive from this case, namely our respon­si­bil­ity to be an ally in con­fronting injus­tice, we will finally begin to turn this around.

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