BY BTL STAFF
Updated Saturday, Sept.10, 2016
The State Board of Education voted 6-2 to adopt a guidance on how Michigan schools can create safe learning environments for all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“This guidance is the result of months of hard work by pro-equality advocates and organizations from across Michigan working together and speaking with one voice. It’s one more example of what our community can accomplish when we stand united in support of full equality,” said L. Michael Gipson, Deputy Director at Equality Michigan in a statement.
“At a time when far too many politicians are trying to score political points at the expense of the LGBTQ community, Equality Michigan commends the State Board, particularly President John Austin, for their unwavering support of this important guidance. When our opponents tried to threaten and intimidate these pro-equality public officials, they stood strong. The importance of their commitment cannot be overstated. As far too many of you are all too aware, anti-LGBTQ bullying, harassment, and violence are pervasive in our schools.”
The State Board of Education and the Michigan Department of Education developed the guidance at the request of schools and educators asking for recommendations of best practices in creating more supportive learning environments for LGBTQ students, who are at greater risk of suicide, and are not succeeding academically absent a supportive school environment.
The guidance received thousands of comments when it was first published, and resulted in hours of public, sometimes contentious, meetings of the State Board of Education. The controversy drew in lawmakers from both sides of the aisle as well.
Twenty-five Democratic lawmakers submitted a joint letter to the board on Tuesday evening.
After noting the horrendous health disparities between LGBTQ youth and their peers — which the lawmakers said “demand… action” — they went on to chastise those who opposed the guidance.
“Sadly, we watched as people who put political agendas before student safety rushed to condemn your proposed guidelines,” they wrote. “It must be noted that these fears are based on imagination, not fact. Local ordinances protect transgender people in more than 30 Michigan cities and townships, and there is no record of these laws resulting in unsafe bathrooms for cisgender (non-transgender) people. Concerns that your proposed policy would harm students are unfounded. We stand with the Board of Education and your proposed guidelines. Every student deserves to thrive and succeed in an environment that demonstrates care and inclusion in their everyday educational experiences. This policy further increases the engagement and support students with marginalized identities deserve to ensure they are learning and growing in a healthy environment.”
In March, House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant) told MLive.com the draft guidance would “eliminate parental authority,” as well as cause “privacy and safety concerns” for other youth in schools.
Not happy with just challenging the guidance, the GOP controlled House Appropriations Committee voted to strike all funding for the Board of Education for the budget, said Progress Michigan, a progressive advocacy group.
Gary Glenn, a Republican lawmaker from Midland and president of the virulently anti-LGBTQ equality, told the board Wednesday that the answer to safety concerns for transgender youth was the implementation of separate bathroom and other facilities.
“If a child is suffering from the delusion they are of the opposite sex, then I think the compassionate thing to do is allow them to use a restroom in privacy or a locker room in privacy,” Glenn said, according to the Detroit News, “rather than allow the 99 percent of children who don’t suffer this delusion to be confronted with something that will put their modesty and privacy in question.”
State Rep. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) applauded the passage of the guidance. Then chastised opponents.
” Despite fear-mongering on the part some of the proposal’s detractors, these guidelines will increase — not decrease — student safety. It’s important for all LGBT students in our state to know that their safety and dignity are as important as any other student’s.”
The guidance document, according to the board, would not be mandated and local school districts would be making their own decisions on their local policies. The guidance would merely offer options for districts to consider, if they choose to. Local school districts each would decide to do what they believe is appropriate and helpful for all of their students.
The guidance shares best practices already in place at many schools across Michigan as they work to address concerns of academic achievement and safety for the nearly nine percent of Michigan students who identify as LGBT. Twelve percent of these students did not go to school in the past year, because they felt unsafe – twice the rate of straight students. Forty-six percent had grades that consisted mostly of C’s, D’s and F’s, again nearly double the number of heterosexual students with similarly poor academic performance. And most disturbingly, 29 percent of LGB students have attempted suicide in the last year, 4.5 times the rate for non-LGB students.
“Today’s vote sends a clear message about the kind of state Michigan is going to be,” said State Board of Education President John Austin. “The board members supporting this guidance showed that we’re serious about improving learning and life outcomes for all our school children, including LGBT children. We’re providing a roadmap for schools across Michigan to ensure that all our kids are safe in school and put in a position to succeed.”
The broad policy, first introduced in March and revised in August, includes guidelines on things such as allowing students to use restrooms based on their gender identity, ensuring staff are trained to address the issues facing such students, and supporting the creation of clubs such as gay-straight alliances. Educators also would be urged to allow students to be referred to by the name and gender of their preference while at school.
“This evening, we’re celebrating this important win, but there’s a great deal of work left to be done. We’ll need to work hard to ensure that these recommendations are implemented in local school districts across Michigan. We’ll need to remain vigilant and prepared to respond to legislators who oppose LGBTQ equality and who have already introduced two North Carolina-style bathroom inspection bills here in Michigan. We’ll need to build on today’s success to grow support for other pro-equality policies, including an all-important amendment to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to ban anti-LGBT discrimination,” said Gipson.
“I want to thank each and every one of you who sent an e-mail, made a call, or drove to Lansing to speak in support of this safe schools guidance. We could not have done this without you and you can be sure that we’ll be looking to you for that same energy and commitment in the fights to come.”