Thursday, June 14, 2012

School District 11 grants anti-discrimination protection to transgender status, gender identity and gender expression

Posted By on Thu, Jun 14, 2012 at 5:20 PM

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Rhetoric ran convoluted and dense at last night's Colorado Springs School District 11 Board of Education meeting. The board's discussion, which concerned a proposed revision to the district's anti-discrimination policy to explicitly protect gender expression and transgender students from various forms of bullying, occasionally became highly technical — or veered off-topic entirely. Although an unvoiced political dimension seemed to overshadow some of the conversation, the result was what Shawna Kemppainen, executive director of Inside Out Youth Services, called "a great outcome."

And to be sure, the motion passed, but not without a lengthy and sometimes tense discussion on its wording, and what it did and did not include.

The successful motion will change the first paragraph of Policy AC: Nondiscrimination/Equal Opportunity to the following, with the new addition in bold:

The Colorado Springs School District 11 Board of Education [...] is committed to a policy of nondiscrimination in relation to race, creed, color, sex, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, disability, sexual orientation, transgender status, gender identity, and gender expression [...]

C.J. Pascoe, Colorado College assistant professor of sociology
  • C.J. Pascoe, Colorado College assistant professor of sociology

The point of contention came with an amendment proposed by board treasurer Nora Brown and board president Janet Tanner in an attempt to appease all board members and yield a unanimous passage of the motion. That amendment would have added an extended citation from Colorado Revised Statute 2-4-401, which specifically defines terms like "gender expression" and "gender identity." This would-be addition was not without its opponents, however. "I don't think it's up to District 11 to educate the community on what gender orientation is," said board member Sandra Mann. "It's up to the community to take it upon themselves."

With the insertion of the state statute verbiage, the amendment also would have removed "transgender status, gender identity, and gender expression" from its proposed (and eventual) place enumerated among other protected classes, something to which board member Rev. Al Loma had expressed opposition. "The definitions are [already] clear, it's under 'sexual orientation,' it's been under our policy already," said Rev. Loma. "To enumerate it is just a political ploy that's always been a part of the progressive movement, and they're bringing it to the school district, and I find it offensive."

Several board members expressed concern about removing the enumerated language. The need to enumerate "transgender status, gender identity and gender expression" in addition to the existent "sexual orientation" had been emphasized by several citizen commentators.

"I feel it's necessary to include gender expression under your policies, to not only cover against physical verbal and emotional harassment that transgender students face in schools and classrooms, but also the simple things that are often not addressed, such as pronouns, bathroom usage, dress code, and even the nurse's office," said Kim Devore. "Including it here will allow many people to learn more about transgender people, as well as for transgender people to feel safer to go to administrators, or to feel more open about who they are, and allow for a healthier and safer school environment."

Board member Rev. Al Loma
  • Board member Rev. Al Loma

In support of the motion, Colorado College assistant professor of sociology C.J. Pascoe argued that gender expression — regardless of actual sexual orientation — is the most common cause of bullying, especially between males. "This is not just a policy that protects GLBT [sic] kids, this also protects straight kids," said Pascoe. "We're all profoundly worried about the fact that boys are dropping out of school at record rates ... One of the reasons for this is that schools have become incredibly hostile environments for boys."

Rev. Loma, however — who ultimately provided the sole "No" vote on the original motion — revealed some of the broader political and cultural issues at stake when he responded to Pascoe's commentary, saying, "Boys are not dropping out of school because it's unsafe, boys are dropping out of of school because schools are becoming feminized, but that's another topic."

The amendment ultimately failed, and the motion passed 6-1 in its original form — but lacking the unanimous support that many present had expressed hope to garner.

In a written statement, Kemppainen said of the decision:

The District 11 School Board told LGBT students and families last night that they are visible, and that they are worthy of the same protections as all other students. We can stop violence in schools, but we can only accomplish that by identifying and effectively protecting students who are the most targeted. There is little or no value in “comparing” who gets discriminated against “worse.” Any bullying of any student is wrong. What data show is that 9 of 10 LGBT students are harassed in school because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, compared with around 4 of 10 students who experience harassment in general. That 4 in 10 students are victimized in school is a clear sign that we must stand up and say violence should no longer be a right of passage, and if we effectively address violence against the most targeted victims, we will be addressing violence against all students.

Anton Schulzki of the Safe Schools Coalition, and history teacher at Palmer High School, provided some background for the discussion:

"Starting in 1999, the previous District 11 school boards and superintendents denied civil rights to groups of students. Specifically they sought to block the formation of and recognition of the Gay Straight Alliance [GSA] at Palmer. The district and the board spent untold numbers of dollars in an effort to legally block this policy. Fortunately in 2005, a change in policy allowed for the GSA and other clubs to become part of the school culture. It took the insight of a number of people on a school board that at that time was far less cohesive than the current school board is. The Palmer High School GSA was quickly formed, and adopted the motto [...], "everybody welcome." Nearly seven years later this board of education has an opportunity to again move the district forward to a more inclusive district for all students, and for staff."

Palmer High School history teacher Anton Schulzki
  • Palmer High School history teacher Anton Schulzki

According to the Board of Education's website, the meeting will be broadcast both Saturday and Sunday at 6 p.m., on Comcast Channel 16 and Falcon Broadband Channel 73.

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