BY PAUL SCHINDLER | As Andy Humm's reporting on last week's tragic shooting death of a gender-variant, gay 15-year-old in a Southern California school makes clear, political leaders and education officials have considerable unfinished business when it comes to protecting LGBT youth, and others stigmatized by hatred, prejudice, and ridicule.
It is shocking that, in an era when crimes like the murder of Lawrence King continue to occur, neither New York City nor the state has implemented a comprehensive program to combat bias-motivated harassment, bullying, and violence in the public schools.
In Albany, the problem continues to be the intransigence of Senate Republican leaders against accepting gender identity and expression as legitimate grounds for offering specific protections, an absurd objection given what everyone knows – that transgendered and gender-variant young people are among the most vulnerable groups in our society. As we move toward elections this November, the Democrats, who are hoping to win control of the Senate, must shame Majority Leader Joe Bruno and his band of GOP bigots into finally taking action on the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA).
Though the senseless slaughter at Northern Illinois University has no apparent link to bullying, it is impossible to fathom how any responsible public official can resist any reasonable steps to protect our young people from violence and harm.
Yet resistance is absolutely the posture that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has adopted in response to a version of DASA that several years ago was enacted by the City Council over his veto. Unfortunately, given a ruling from the state's highest court in early 2006 significantly curbing the City Council's power to bring into law this sort of measure in the face of a mayoral veto (incidentally on the issue of requiring companies doing business with the city to offer their gay employees domestic partner benefits equivalent to those offered married spouses), Speaker Christine Quinn, a longtime champion of the city DASA, has no easy legal recourse to force Bloomberg to implement the law.
Instead, Quinn's office has worked with both the schools chancellor and the Staten Island borough president to launch pilot programs to combat bullying and encourage tolerance and respect in the schools. The speaker is no doubt calling on the best advice in structuring these initiatives, but she candidly conceded to Gay City News' Andy Humm this week that the number of school officials brought into the fold on these efforts has to date been small.
We well understand the constraints Quinn has operated under since the adverse high court ruling two years ago, and we encourage advocates of safe schools to chip in to help grow the initiatives that are now underway.
But as the speaker considers the possibility of a run for mayor in 2009, we urge her in the strongest possible terms to make school safety and the welfare of vulnerable populations – LGBT and questioning youth, the disabled, immigrant students, and others who find themselves on the outside – central themes in her campaign.
As LGBT adults, it is the least we owe our youth.
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