Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Education Secretary pledges safe schools for LGBT students

(Washington) Education Secretary Arne Duncan has told a gay student advocacy group that he intends to make schools safe for every student, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

Duncan made the pledge during a meeting with representatives of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and a delegation of students and teachers.
It is the first time that a Secretary of Education has met with LGBT advocates. The Bush administration rejected calls to meet.

“It was moving to witness these students and teachers sharing their personal stories of pain, rejection, resilience and hope with the nation’s top education official,” said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard who attended the meeting.

“Secretary Duncan showed great compassion for their experiences, respect for their perseverance and dedication to identifying effective responses to school climate issues. I am confident that we will see growing engagement with these issues at the Department of Education and truly positive change.”

Duncan also expressed an interest in finding ways to highlight the problem of bullying and harassment in national discussions about education, and requested further data on a number of proposed interventions.

GLSEN’s biennial National School Climate Survey has repeatedly shown that LGBT students experience extreme harassment. Forty-seven percent of junior/middle high school students identified bullying, name-calling or harassment as somewhat serious or very serious problems at their school. Additionally, 69 percent of junior/middle high school students reported being assaulted or harassed in the previous year and only 41 percent said they felt very safe at school.

Monday’s meeting with Duncan occurred a day before today’s Safe Schools Lobby Day, where participants are asking their legislators to support the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would establish a federal anti-bullying policy.

The act would enumerate categories often targeted for bullying, including sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

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