Posts Tagged ‘LGBT’

“I’ve just concluded that, for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

—President Barack Obama, May 9, 2012

Earlier this week, President Obama became the first sitting president to declare his personal support for same-sex marriage, telling an interviewer that he saw it as a matter of equality. AAUW applauds the president’s announcement. Our member-adopted Biennial Action Priorities affirm our commitment to “freedom in definition of family and guarantee of civil rights in all family structures,” and our Public Policy Program confirms our “opposition to all forms of discrimination and support for constitutional protection for the civil rights of all individuals.”

AAUW opposes any attempt to use the Constitution or federal law as a vehicle for enshrining discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) persons. No Americans should be denied the full range of civil rights and civil liberties due to sexual orientation or gender identity. Such rights and liberties include freedom from discrimination in the workplace, the right to marry, the guarantee of spousal or partner benefits — including the ability to care for dependent children — and the opportunity to serve one’s country in uniform.

While the president’s statement is significant and will have political reverberations, it has no legal impact. Yet the administration has already made significant strides toward promoting LGBT rights and equality, all of which AAUW has supported. These included repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and deciding to no longer defend challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act, which forbade federal recognition of same-sex marriages. The administration also recently endorsed the Student Nondiscrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would protect all students, including LGBT students, from bullying and harassment. Additionally, the Department of Education has declared that student bullying and sexual harassment are civil rights issues that could be punished under Title IX protections. AAUW commends the administration for taking these steps toward equality for all Americans and urges the president to work toward laws protecting LGBT persons from discrimination.

AAUW opposes all forms of discrimination, and we are glad to see the president expressing his support for same-sex marriage. All Americans are equal under the Constitution and the law and should be treated as such.

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Daniel Schwen [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Last summer, National Student Advisory Council member Odunola “Ola” Ojewumi was an intern at the White House, where she hosted a briefing on the importance of youth mentorship in low-income communities. Ojewumi, who is herself passionate about disability rights, recently spoke with White House Director of Priority Placement Rebecca Cokley about her work as an advocate for disabled youth.

As a woman living with a disability, what experiences sparked your interest in advancing the lives of disabled youth?

When I was in junior high school, a younger friend of mine at another school was thrown into a dumpster by some bullies at lunchtime and could not get out. No one in the school reported him missing from class, and it wasn’t until later that evening when he didn’t come home from Boy Scouts that his parents went to look for him. The next day, he carried an 18-inch baseball bat to school to defend himself and was expelled for harboring a weapon. When his parents reached out to a number of advocates — including my mom — to mediate with the school, the principal responded that “boys will be boys” and that my friend “should just get used” to the teasing.

The teachers and administrators at the junior high school I went to would never have tolerated that type of behavior, and it blew my mind that there were people in the world working with children who thought it was OK to treat young people with disabilities horribly.

I was lucky — until I got to high school and my guidance counselor told me, “Kids like you don’t go here.” I was enrolled in honors classes, was already taking steps toward becoming a nationally recognized [disability] advocate, and had been planning on ending up on the U.S. Supreme Court someday, and here was this man telling me that he didn’t think people like me should attend his school. Unlike most youth with disabilities, both of my parents had the same disability as me, and both were college-educated advocates in their own right. My mother quickly stepped in and appealed to the principal, who was embarrassed and apologetic for the behavior of his staff member. But I never got over the idea that an adult, a leader in the school, just by looking at me decided that I wasn’t eligible.

You are a mother, a wife, and a key member of the Obama administration. How do you juggle all of these roles?

When I had first joined the administration and wasn’t yet pregnant, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice was hosting a conference call, and someone asked her about balancing work and family. And she responded that if you want a family, you have to make it a priority — you can’t wait until the time is right, because there’s never a time that’s right. In a lot of ways, this really spoke to me and in some ways gave me permission to start a family. I also have a completely amazing husband who is truly my best friend and champion. He makes me a better person in every respect, and from the moment I found out I was pregnant, he has worked to make his life more flexible. It also helps that I have a boss who has children of her own.

What are your responsibilities and goals as White House director of priority placement?

The president has asked us to create an administration that reflects the diversity of America. It matters who sits at the table. My role is reaching beyond the Beltway to communities that often don’t get a seat at the table and bringing those voices into the administration. The best part of my job is reaching out to a candidate who has submitted their information on whitehouse.gov and telling them that I’m calling from the White House and would like to talk to them about a potential role in the administration. Most of the time people think that I’m prank calling. But to reach out to someone who truly believes in the work that we’re doing and wants to improve the lives of all Americans and say “hey, we want your voice in this discussion” — it’s amazing.

As a youth development specialist for the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth, you created new avenues for employment. What does equal employment opportunity mean for the thousands of young people who are living with disabilities?

Equal employment means — to me — going beyond a functional shift and resulting in a philosophical shift in the expectations of young people with disabilities so that in elementary school when students present what they want to be when they grow up, no one will say that a kid with a disability cannot be an astrophysicist, a lawyer, a chef, or whatever they may want to be. Equal employment opportunities mean that youth with disabilities do not have to limit themselves to working in the eight F’s of disability employment: food, filth, filing, flowers, fetching, folding, friendly, or festive. That’s not to diminish those important jobs, and it doesn’t mean that if that’s what you want to do that you shouldn’t pursue those paths. But you should not find your goals limited to just those things.

July 2010 was the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. How has the ADA impacted your life?

A few years before the ADA passed, my mom was on the tenure track at the college she worked at. She ended up being denied tenure, and one of the reasons she was denied was that she was only able to use the bottom six inches of the chalkboard. My mom had worked her whole life to improve the lives of students with disabilities, and here she was being directly discriminated against because of her own disability. Post-ADA, she received tenure.

How is the Obama administration working to increase the presence of people with disabilities in the American workforce?

The president believes that the government must serve as an example. In 2010, he signed Executive Order 13548, which was designed to make the federal government serve as a model employer for people with disabilities. Agencies are developing training programs for their [human resources] staff, and agencies are to develop model recruitment and hiring strategies. I think the president also understands how important it is for the public to see people with different types of disabilities in his administration.

What do you believe is the largest obstacle facing youth with disabilities?

False expectations — from our families, from society, and from ourselves.

What words of wisdom or advice can you give our readers, some of whom are among the thousands of disabled young women and girls the White House is advocating for?

My desire for you is that you be successful in whatever you want to do in your life. You don’t need to be officially working as an advocate at a disability organization or a center for independent living. We need people with disabilities succeeding everywhere in the public and private sectors. If you want to be a chef, then go for it, but I better see you being awarded Michelin stars. That’s how you lead — by serving as an example and being successful in something you love to do and not conforming to anyone’s expectations of what they think you should do. I’d also encourage you to look for mentors outside of your community. In joining the Obama administration, two of the best mentors I’ve had are leaders in the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] community. They’ve taught me so much about being an effective political appointee, working with diverse communities, and how to maneuver the challenges of leadership. I don’t doubt I am more effective in my job because of both of them.

As an Obama administration official, which of your accomplishments has been most meaningful?

I feel like we accomplish something extraordinary every time we appoint someone to a position in the administration who brings a new voice to the table or a new set of personal experiences that contribute to the carrying out of the president’s vision for America.

When did you decide to become involved in public policy?

I grew up with a passion for politics. I remember being a little kid and getting to stay up late on election night watching the returns come in. I came to Washington in 2004 in large part because I felt that I hadn’t done my part in the 2000 election and wanted to make a change.

When a family friend, Paul Miller, was appointed as the deputy director of the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs and White House liaison to the disability community in the Clinton administration, it really struck home that someone like me could be asked to serve the president. And when I’d hear Miller talk about it, he’d sound so matter of fact about it when speaking to crowds but among friends was so excited about the chance to serve, the chance to show his colleagues on a daily basis that people with disabilities could and should fully contribute alongside their non-disabled peers.

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council member Ola Ojewumi.

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On Friday, May 13, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held Peer-to-Peer Violence and Bullying: Examining the Federal Response, a daylong public hearing. Participants looked at bullying and other types of violence in which students are targeted due to their race, national origin, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, or perceived orientation.

AAUW is pleased that the commission held a hearing on this important and timely issue. We support policies and programs that address relational aggression, bullying, and harassment to ensure students’ overall health, safety, and well-being. Simply put, children cannot learn if they don’t feel safe.

Hostile HallwaysAlmost a decade ago, AAUW’s research revealed that 83 percent of girls and 79 percent of boys reported experiencing sexual harassment, with over one in four experiencing harassment “often.” More recent research shows that bullying affects nearly one in three American children in grades six through 10. The Girl Scout Research Institute reports that girls in particular are concerned about bullying. One-third of girls surveyed considered speaking or participating in class a threat to their emotional safety.

Bullying and harassment significantly affect GPAs, school attendance, dropout rates, and the likelihood of obtaining a postsecondary education. In addition, bullying and harassment can lead to even greater safety problems. Many high-profile cases of school shootings have involved students who were bullied and harassed in school. Whether based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, religion, gender identity, or any other characteristic, bullying and harassment interfere with students’ ability to learn.

To address this issue, the U.S. Department of Education issued an opinion letter in October clarifying that bullying can be a Title IX (discrimination based on sex), Title VI (discrimination based on race, color, or national origin), or Section 504 (discrimination based on disability) violation. Although the letter reminded schools that they could be held responsible for violating students’ rights if they failed to recognize and address discriminatory harassment or treatment, many loopholes remain. Because of this, AAUW supports the adoption and enforcement of federal law to deter and address bullying and harassment, which will help ensure a safe learning environment for all students.

If you’d like to learn more about this issue, join us for AAUW’s 2011 National Convention panel, Safe Schools: Bullying and Sexual Harassment in America’s Middle Schools. Additionally, the AAUW website offers excellent tools for students, administrators, parents, or anyone interested in making campuses safer for students:Drawing the Line

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By Peter Fitzgerald (self-made, tracing done from PD satellite imagery) [CC-BY-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsTo mark the first International Anti-Street Harassment Day, my partner and I took part in the Washington, D.C., Community Safety Audit. The audit was one of the first to be conducted in D.C., the city where I live and work. My friend and colleague Holly Kearl organized the event through her fab Stop Street Harassment website with help from Shannon Lynberg and Chai Shenoy from Holla Back DC!, an anti-street harassment organization and AAUW Community Action Grantee.

The audit was designed to assess the safety of our city’s public spaces for everyone, because street harassment limits the access of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people to public spaces. Volunteers for the day consisted of teams of people who live or work in D.C. The teams spread out in the city’s eight wards, paying attention to the groups and individuals hanging out in public spaces. Were they mostly men? Mostly women? A mix? Families? Younger people? Older people? We also noted any unsafe or inaccessible spaces as well as our general feelings about the safety of our surroundings. We looked for anything from harassing behavior toward women and LGBT folks to the accessibility of public spaces and transit for people with disabilities.

My team swept parts of Ward 3 — specifically, the Cleveland Park, Woodley Park, and Adams Morgan neighborhoods (if you’re unfamiliar with D.C. geography, you can check out a map here). We even swept through a Metro (the subway in D.C.) station. While we did not see any harassing behavior, we did note that the station was not accessible to everyone. Not very surprising for D.C., three of the escalators were out of service. However, on a good note, the station had four station managers, so it would be possible to find someone if you needed help.

Overall, the group consensus was that it was a pretty safe environment — we didn’t witness any harassing behavior, and due to our proximity to the National Zoo, there were lots of families around. We did note a couple places along the route that would have felt a bit unsafe at night or if we were there alone, but we thought that on a Sunday afternoon, the area was amenable to most people to be out and about. That being said, I recognize this may not have been the experience of other audit teams. I’m also pretty sure there will be different feedback when another audit is conducted at night (currently scheduled for the first week of May).

It was a really cool experience to be part of something historic — one of the first community safety audits in Washington, D.C. I look forward to hearing about the experiences of the other teams, seeing what comes from the nighttime safety audit in May, and learning what recommendations the teams will be making to improve safety and accessibility so that all individuals feel welcome to D.C.’s public spaces.

This post was originally published at Gender across Borders.

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Last Thursday, I was one person in a crowd of over 1,000 supporters at a rally for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality at the Minnesota State Capitol in Saint Paul. Minnesota has been somewhat supportive of LGBT rights, passing legislation that makes it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Like many other states, however, civil rights for the LGBT community — including marriage and parenting rights and partner benefits — are in jeopardy and consistently fall short of equality.

The overwhelming sense of community, solidarity, love, respect, and commitment to equal rights at the rally really stood out to me. The program was filled with an abundance of stories — some discussed loss or difficulties experienced, others told of great courage and determination — that spoke to the need for LGBT equality. The stories really demonstrated how the discrimination that LGBT individuals face doesn’t just affect individuals. Such inequity affects everyone, and all of us can do something to advocate for equal rights.

If you need any convincing that LGBT equality faces constant attacks, tune into any media source and you will find people who are adamantly against equal rights. Some of this, I believe, is based on fear. A prime example is the media’s reaction to the J.Crew advertisement featuring a mom painting her young son’s toenails pink. Many media figures have criticized or at least questioned the mother’s parenting skills and allude to fears that the son will grow up either confused about his gender or gay.

Another reason that people argue against equality is denial about the inequities and discrimination LGBT individuals face. That’s why efforts like the April 15 Day of Silence are so important — every year, this event raises awareness of LGBT bullying and harassment. Unfortunately, some reacted to this event with disapproval and denial.

AAUW believes that discrimination against any class of people, including the LGBT community, has no place in our country. My experience at the rally for LGBT equality and the recent string of anti-equality media have reiterated how important it is not only to believe in equal rights but also to unite with others in advocating for a better world.

This post was written by AAUW National Student Advisory Council member Kerry Diekmann.

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Looking back, I cannot think of a single event in my life during which I was sexually harassed. I don’t want to delve too much into definitions; I’m operating on the notion that if it would make me feel uncomfortable the way that I’d expect sexual harassment to do, it is sexual harassment. And I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way.

Now, perhaps it’s significant to point out that I’m a guy, but perhaps it isn’t. My lack of experience with harassment could be as much an effect of my upbringing, my friends, or my various hometowns as my gender.

Whatever the cause, I spent several hours on Monday night looking through an amazing online project called Hollaback!, reading others’ stories about being sexually harassed. Hollaback! provides a space for people to talk about their run-ins with sexual harassment in public — whether it’s verbal harassment, sexual assault, stalking, or threats. More often than not, it is women or LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning) individuals voicing their stories, and usually the stories leave me feeling angry and disgusted. Despite some media-types and academics claiming that sexism is dead, it appears that a significant number of people believe it is perfectly acceptable to direct abuse against women as long as it is sexual in nature.

The reason that reading these stories is a powerful experience is because as a man, one who hasn’t experienced sexual harassment and hasn’t felt that abuse directed at him, Hollaback! is my way of “getting it.” I wonder if the perpetrators of the harassment discussed would “get it” if they read about these experiences, or if members of the 111th Congress would have done more for gender equity if they read these stories and could “get it.”

Musings aside, Hollaback! absorbed me, moved me, and was yet another learning experience for a guy working at a women’s rights organization — one which, I’m proud to say, supports the D.C. outlet of this organization with an AAUW Community Action Grant.

If you’re interested in learning more, visit www.ihollaback.org. And if you’re in the Washington, D.C., area, join AAUW staff and friends next Tuesday, December 14 at our monthly Cocktails and Convos happy hour, where we’ll be talking with AAUW’s own Holly Kearl, author of Stop Street Harassment: Making Public Places Safe and Welcoming for Women.


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My friend’s son used to love all things Tinkerbell and wanted to dress as a fairy for Halloween. Some parents might have steered their sons to a “boy costume,” but instead she constructed a pair of glittery wings as the showpiece of a dazzling costume for one very happy little boy.

I was reminded about this after reading on the Grio about 5-year-old Dyson Kilodavis. When he was younger, his mother went to pick him up from day care one day and found that he had chosen a red, sequined dress and pink plastic heels in which to play dress up. The following day it was a yellow dress. His parents were alarmed and uncomfortable at first, but they began to embrace their son’s dress-up choices and chronicled the experience in My Princess Boy, his mother Cheryl’s story of love, tolerance, and acceptance. The book is now being used as an anti-bullying tool for schoolchildren.

I was uplifted by their story but came crashing back to earth when I saw the barrage of hateful and negative comments that accompanied the article.

They started pretty basic:

“Dead wrong!”

Then they moved on to threatening:

“That’s a damn shame! I’d woop his ass! Woop not wip!” (their spelling, not mine).

And, finally, the commentary morphed into an attack on sexual orientation:

“It’s better to correct a child than to fix a broken adult.”

“If you let him do it, then you’re supporting an unhealthy lifestyle with him.”

“[A]dding to the obvious sexual identity crisis of this child is NOT good or trendy!!”

Broken? Unhealthy? Identity crisis? Girls in pants aren’t regarded as abnormal or dangerous, although this wasn’t always the case. But phrases such as “tomboy” and “wear the pants” that are used to reference women and girls who dress in boys’ or men’s clothing presume that they’re seeking masculine-associated characteristics and experiences such as adventure, courage, power, and strength. Even in the current political discourse, male and female candidates this election season have used sexist slurs to demean their opponents by calling them feminine, and women candidates continue to be scrutinized for what they wear.

Society values traditional gender roles and the masculine over the feminine. From Some Like It Hot and Tootsie to modern-day depictions such as Tyler Perry’s Madea and Kenan Thompson’s impressions on Saturday Night Live, grown men have played women and worn dresses for laughs and profit, but they seemingly wouldn’t get the same praise if their cross-dressing was for personal expression.

Regardless, Dyson’s detractors make a giant leap to connect this child’s expressing himself to judgments about his sexual identity. This type of sexualization and stereotyping leads to the bullying we see at increasingly younger ages, especially for marginalized groups.

Bullying of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) teens has garnered increased media attention recently since at least nine teens have committed suicide in the past few months because of presumptions about their sexual identities. Studies show that between 15 and 25 percent of U.S. students are bullied with some frequency, and gay teens are four times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers. Anti-bullying resources including the It Gets Better Project and My Princess Boy are fighting to raise awareness and to help teach respect and acceptance.

In a week where selfesteem seemed to go viral, Dyson’s story of unconditional love was a welcome addition.

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