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June 30, 2015

The Time Is Now: Bringing LGBT Topics into the Classroom

Wikicommons/InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA

Wikicommons/InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA

Over the past few years, our country has made enormous strides on marriage equality and as of June 26, 2015, marriage equality is the law of the land in all 50 states. On that day, the Supreme Court of the United States held that that the 14th Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize marriages lawfully performed in other jurisdictions. Sixty-one percent of Americans support marriage equality.

Has our country reached the tipping point?  Are we ready to bring LGBT topics into our curriculum and classrooms?

Consider the numbers. According to the 2010 Census, there are approximately 594,000 same-sex couple households living in the U.S. and more than 125,000 of those households include nearly 220,000 children under age 18.  Further, there are as many as 6 million American children and adults who have an LGBT parent. With the Supreme Court ruling, all U.S. residents live in a state with marriage equality.

In addition to the children of same-sex couples attending our schools, there are students who themselves identify as lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual and/or who don’t conform to traditional gender norms. Many of these students suffer teasing, bullying, harassment, violence and internalized oppression that can lead to risky behavior and even suicide. Almost half of all elementary students say they hear comments like “that’s so gay” or “you’re so gay” from other kids at school and 75% of LGBT middle and high school students report being verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation. The good news is that these students also report better school experiences when pro-active supports and resources are in place.

There are gay and lesbian educators in our schools but many don’t feel safe to be “out” to their students and the school community. LGBT teachers do not have the same privilege that heterosexual teachers have to talk about their partners/spouses and other core aspects of their lives and the school climate can be downright hostile towards them. There have been recent cases of teachers getting fired because of their sexual orientation. Some states have laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity but most do not. Federal legislation (ENDA) has been proposed to address this problem but it has stalled in Congress. Even teachers in states with legal protections aren’t necessarily comfortable coming out because administrators can find ways to fire them.

For children and teenagers, just knowing a gay teacher can be a powerful experience; it gives them the opportunity to know, admire and care about someone who is LGBT.

Given that our schools are populated with children of same-sex family households, LGBT students and gay and lesbian teachers, it is time to bring this topic into our nation’s schools and classrooms in a comprehensive way.  It is an opportunity to expand young people’s concepts of family, discuss marriage equality, infuse the curriculum with LGBT people and their history and accomplishments and address bias-based bullying for kids who identify as LGBT or are perceived as such.

For young children, family is central to the curriculum; therefore, discussing same-sex household families should be integral to the conversation. This “normalizes” instead of marginalizes children in same-sex households.  Children in those families need to feel comfortable talking about their own families and when those families are not represented in classrooms, teachers can share their stories through children’s books and discussions.

As children move into upper elementary and middle school, teachers can incorporate conversations about gender, gender norms, kinds of families and LGBT people and identity. Students can be taught about marriage equality and the road to the Supreme Court ruling.

Bullying, especially identity-based bullying for LGBT or gender non-conforming students, should be discussed not only when an incident occurs but regularly. Children’s literature continues to be a positive way to understand and empathize with LGBT people and families.

In the middle and high school years as students emerge into adolescence, the conversations about identity can continue and stories of LGBT people can be explored and infused into the everyday teaching and learning. Reading young adult books with LGBT characters and integrating the accomplishments of LGBT people into social studies are encouraged. During the teen years, bullying around sexual orientation can be brutal and teachers should maximize opportunities to discuss it directly.

In 2011 California passed a law requiring educators to teach gay and lesbian history. On the other side, eight states currently have “no promo homo” laws which forbid teachers from discussing LGBT people and issues in a positive light and some prohibit discussing the topic at all. Because schools are central to any community, addressing LGBT topics will make our schools safer and more inclusive and will begin to curb the marginalization of LGBT people for the present and for future generations.





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June 17, 2015

White House Hosts Conference on Combating International LGBT Hate Crimes


On June 12, the White House hosted a “Conversation on Combating Bias-Motivated Violence against LGBT Persons Around the World.”  Bias-motivated violence against LGBT individuals remains disturbingly prevalent, as documented by a May 2015 report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics Act report.  The problem is compounded by inconsistent definitions of hate crime and inadequate hate crime data collection efforts, according to a 2013 ADL/Human Rights First report on hate crimes in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) region.

Randy Berry, the State Department’s Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons,announced a number of new Administration initiatives at the conference, which fell during LGBT Pride Month.  He highlighted existing partnerships and pledged to expand international law enforcement training and technical assistance, as well as efforts to empower civil society and LGBT education and advocacy organizations. The Administration will continue to draw on existing expertise across the US Government to enable organizations and agencies abroad to request assistance to launch new local and national initiatives.

The White House program included panels focused on the impact of community-based organizations, the role of law enforcement and the judiciary, and government actions and best practices – which was moderated by ADL Washington Counsel Michael Lieberman.  The meeting built on a December 2011 Presidential Memorandum on “International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons.” Federal agencies – especially USAID, the Justice Department, and the State Department – have done a lot of work on the issue.  The State Department released a report in May 2014 detailing its progress on carrying out the President’s Memorandum.

ADL works to address discrimination and violence against LGBT individuals in the United States and abroad, filing amicus briefs in Supreme Court cases, conducting workshops and training for educators and law enforcement officials, and encouraging the collection of hate crime statistics that help local and federal law enforcement track and address this issue. ADL representatives also helped craft the seminal OSCE publication, Hate Crime Laws: A Practical Guide, and maintain relationships with many human rights groups to track anti-Semitism, hate crimes, and violence and discrimination against LGBT persons at home and abroad.  ADL Washington Office Director Stacy Burdett, who also attended the conference, leads that work.

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May 19, 2015

The Distorted Image of Israel

Anti-Israel pundits continue to invent new ways to use distortions and half-truths to attack the Jewish state, presenting Israel in a negative light as racist, inhumane and entirely objectionable. These Israel haters will often invert a positive aspect of Israeli society, flipping it on its head in an effort to delegitimize the Jewish State.

This most well-known of these tactics is dubbed Pinkwashing by its inventors. It takes Israel’s proud record on LGBT issues and the openness Israeli society demonstrates towards the LGBT community, and absurdly argues that Israel uses this issue to deflect attention away from its treatment of Palestinians.

Ken Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch, recently engaged in a similar “deflective” practice with Israel’s life-saving efforts in Nepal following the devastating earthquake.  In response to Israel’s announcement that they were sending a delegation to provide medical and search-and-rescue assistance, Roth cynically tweeted: “Easier to address a far-away humanitarian disaster than the nearby one of Israel’s making in Gaza. End the blockade!”
Ken Roth

Another avenue used by Israel-hating activists is the so-called “Buzzfeed model” of trying to mainstream distorted and overly simplified lists of Israeli transgressions.

In a recent posting for Alternet, anti-Israel writer Zaid Jilani concocted a list of “6 Crazy Things Israel Has Done to Maintain Racial Purity.” The title is a dead giveaway of the tactic – trumpeting the hyperbole and distortions in the article to follow. And while there are grains of truth to each of the examples listed, they all lack full context, and are spun in the most negative of ways to accomplish outlandish offence towards Israel.

One of the examples listed is that only Jews are entitled to the right-of-return law, which provides for automatic Israeli citizenship. This law does give special immigration status to Jews and is generally championed as a positive initiative by Israel, enabling Jews from around the world, and their descendants up to four generations, to call Israel their home. Many of the Jews, especially in the early years of the State, were survivors of the Holocaust and refugees from violent expulsion by hostile Arab countries. During the 1980s and 1990s, over a million Jews from the Soviet Union and tens of thousands from Ethiopia were able to escape oppressive conditions and build new homes in Israel, thanks to this law. As the historic homeland of the Jewish people, Israel rightfully and proudly sees this law as one of its most important and positive contributions to the safety and well-being of Jews from around the world. Other immigrants to Israel are required to apply for citizenship, pursuant to laws that are similar to those in other democracies, and are not guaranteed automatic citizenship status.

Israel is not a perfect county. Like all Western democracies, it is faced with its fair share of domestic and international challenges. But it has also accomplished a great deal in its short history, and is home to a thriving progressively-minded society.

It is sad that Israel can do no good in the eyes of the Pinkwashers and people like Roth and Jilani. No matter Israel’s accomplishments and contributions to the world, these voices, cloaked in a marble of righteously promoting a human-rights agenda, seem bent on inventing new ways to use hate-filled rhetoric hate-filled to upend Israel’s positive contributions to society and the world to unjustly vilify the Jewish State.

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