As children all across America head back to school, far too many will face yet another year of discrimination and harassment based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Every student deserves the opportunity to attend school and learn free of fear; however, this is not the reality for many LGBT young people in schools across the country. The ACLU's own work advocating for equal protection for LGBT students is replete with examples of those who have suffered discriminatory treatment at the very hands of those tasked with providing them with an education and ensuring their safety within schools.
In a comprehensive 2007 study of 6,209 middle and high school students spearheaded by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, nine out of 10 LGBT students reported that they had experienced harassment at their school in the past year. Additionally, three-fifths felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and about a third reported that they had skipped a day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe. Such toxic environments deny LGBT students their right to an equal education and contribute to unacceptably high rates of absenteeism, dropouts, adverse health consequences, and academic underachievement.
Despite all of this, the ironically named Focus on the Family is pushing back against even the most modest protections in schools for LGBT students and programs that promote tolerance. A Focus education "expert" stated that, "We feel more and more that activists are being deceptive in using anti-bullying rhetoric to introduce their viewpoints…"
While Focus on the Family might not like it, there are in fact students in schools all across this country who are LGBT and deserve the same chance of an education free of discrimination and harassment as any other student. There is nothing deceptive or agenda-pushing about it.
However, there is indeed a deceptive agenda at work, it just so happens to come from the same side as Focus on the Family. In March, the very deceptively named American College of Pediatricians, a fringe group of anti-LGBT doctors (including the now infamous rentboy.com client and professional homophobe George Rekers) not to be confused with 60,000-member American Academy of Pediatrics, sent a letter to every school district superintendent in the country containing gross misinformation about sexual orientation and gender identity and promoting unscientific and harmful "reparative therapies" that supposedly turn gay kids straight. As an interesting aside, Rekers, along with Focus on the Family founder James Dobson were two of the original founders of the anti-gay Family Research Council in 1981.
Among other outrageous claims from the American College of Pediatricians is that "most students (over 85 percent) with same-sex attractions will ultimately adopt a heterosexual orientation if not otherwise encouraged," and that "sexual reorientation therapy has proven effective for those with unwanted homosexual attractions."
The American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association and other mainstream mental health and medical groups have denounced approaches like reparative therapy, stating that there is no evidence that they actually work and in fact may be deeply harmful to those who undergo it.
Indeed, these are just the types of twisted approaches that have caused needless harm and suffering for so many LGBT young people across the country. These students have a right to be themselves.
Thankfully, there is legislation pending in Congress to protect LGBT students from discrimination and harassment in public schools throughout the country — the Student Non-Discrimination Act. Please join with the ACLU in urging your representatives and senators to support this long-overdue legislation. Let it be known that Focus on the Family does not speak for you or your family.