Michigan Board of Ed Protects Transgender Student’s Rights

“Schools should be a place that you go to learn, not a place to fear.” —Corey Maison, 14-year-old trans girl

The Michigan State Board of Education has taken a major step toward protecting the rights and safety of LGBT students. In September, the board voted 6-2 to approve a new set of statewide policy recommendations for the inclusion and support of LGBT students at K-12 public schools, including a slate of recommendations focused specifically on transgender students.

The document covers a wide range of topics, including supporting inclusion of LGBT content in classrooms, encouraging faculty to engage in learning and training on LGBT students, protecting students from harassment, and collecting data on LGBT students’ achievement. More controversially, the document also makes clear recommendations that transgender students be allowed access to bathrooms and locker rooms congruent with their gender identity. It also includes provisions for protecting the identities of transgender students by classifying their birth name and transgender status as protected information, strongly encouraging staff to respect students’ choice of names and pronouns, and protecting students who are not yet out in their home environment.

The measure was approved after the board heard testimony from members of the public, including several opposed to the measure as well as a number of transgender K-12 students who would be potentially affected by the recommendations. Emily Dievendorf, interim president of the Lansing Association for Human Rights and former executive director of Equality Michigan, who attended the hearing, said it was painful to hear a parade of vitriolic speakers attacking the measure. “We endured hours of the same vile hate speech today that we have in past meetings of the Michigan State Board of Education, and from a multitude of speakers claiming to represent faith, love, and acceptance. It was painful for the LGBTQ in attendance, many of whom were youth, and those allies who came to support us.” Dievendorf also spoke of how important the vote is for transgender students in Michigan. “The guidance this document offers our schools is one big step toward stronger, safer kids who are better able to learn and toward a more equal future.”

“At a time when far too many of our leaders in Michigan and across the country are focused on scoring political points at the expense of the health and safety of transgender students, our State Board of Education put the needs of students first,” said Equality Michigan executive director Stephanie White.

While adopting the recommendations is voluntary for school districts, the vote represents one of the first major statelevel policy victories for LGBT advocates in Michigan. The move has been widely opposed by conservative state legislators. In fact, Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette was among the officials from more than 20 states currently suing the Obama administration over federal Department of Education interpretations of Title IX, the federal law banning sex discrimination in education, recommending that schools allow transgender students access to bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their expressed gender identity.

—Mari Brighe

When a Family Honors Orlando Victims

Melinda and Kelly Person were excited to buy their first home three years ago, creating many happy memories in their house in Guilderland, a suburb of Albany, New York. They are looking forward to many more with their three young sons, three-year-old twins and a four-month-old. But an aggressive and homophobic neighbor is infringing on their dreams and unnerving the family.

Following the heinous attack in which dozens of LGBT people were murdered by a lone gunman at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in June, in a show of solidarity and mourning, Melinda and Kelly hung a rainbow flag outside their home on their quiet suburban street. Some neighbors showed support. “We had two or three neighbors stop by and say they liked our flag,” Melinda said. But their next-door neighbors, an older couple, took issue with the LGBT pride symbol, putting up “No Trespassing” signs in the backyard along the border separating the properties. Later, they spray-painted the word “Trump” on a tree facing the Persons’ home.

“I think Trump has given closeted bigots a sense of empowerment and they now feel the freedom to express their hate,” Melinda said. The Persons do not have any political signage anywhere on their property.

“I’m sad that my kids have to grow up next to this hate,” said Kelly.

Men Supporting Men: The Movie

Men need men. They need more than just drinking buddies and acquaintances to go to the game with. Men need to be in community with other men. Men need a place where they can feel vulnerable, supported, and authentic—a place where they can seek advice, give advice, and work through the deep emotions that all men (like all people) have, but that all too often they are forced to hide.

That’s the premise behind the new film Welcome to the Men’s Group, a dramedy that follows the men in a group that meets once a month for breakfast and deep conversation. When a new man considering joining the groups arrives for a test drive, emotions run high. The result is a rare film all men would benefit from seeing—humorous, touching, and at times over-the-top ridiculous. Welcome to the Men’s Group is an enlightening experience.

The film hopes to “inspire millions of men to start untangling their inner lives so that they may live happier, more fulfilling lives, resulting in a better world for everyone,” according to writer-actor Joseph Culp. Welcome to the Men’s Group has completed production and is in the final stages before distribution. Culp and producer Scott Ben- Yashar are actively crowdfunding in order to cover pre-distribution and marketing costs. To view the trailer, or to support distributing the film, visit: http://www.themensgroupmovie.com/supporters.

Ride Safety Takes Off In South Africa

Sonke Gender Justice and the South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO) took a giant step toward gender justice in August, launching the Safe Ride program, a year-long pilot program to provide taxi drivers and other personnel with training on sexual assault prevention, and offering women and children information about reporting harassment and abuse.

Recognizing that the “[taxi business] is a male-dominated industry,” SANTACO president Phillip Taaibosch said, “We believe the campaign is going to contribute immensely to advocacy for the respect of women and children and for other citizens of the country.”

Trine Rask Thygesen, the Danish ambassador to South Africa, announced that his country was supporting the initiative. “Fighting gender-based violence is a human right and the Safe Ride campaign gives hope that the scourge of gender-based violence in South Africa will be eradicated,” the ambassador said.

Sonke programs reach some 25,000 men and women a year. Sonke’s community mobilization manager Nonhlanhla Skosana describes the organization “as a platform where we can talk to men about these issues and also to say to those who aren’t perpetrators that they can’t turn a blind eye; their silence means they are taking part in violence against women.”

Frat Boys Shut Down

A Virginia fraternity was suspended after an email sent by one of its members was released by the campus newspaper. The Collegian at the University of Richmond obtained an email about an upcoming party that was sent by members of the campus Kappa Alpha Order to nearly 100 students. “Lodge season has finally arrived…” it read in part. “[O]ur theme for the night is AmeriKA. Roll through in your best red, white, and blue (or be naked for all I care just make sure your ass makes it out tonight)…This is gonna be one for the books. Both [of us] have the night off so we’re looking forward to watching that lodge virginity be gobbled up for all y’all. See you boys tonight. If you haven’t started drinking already, catch up. Tonight’s the type of night that makes fathers afraid to send their daughters away to school. Let’s get it.”

After The Collegian published the email, university administration immediately announced they had “suspended all chapter operations, activities, and events pending a thorough investigation. We have also contacted the national Kappa Alpha Headquarters, which promptly suspended the chapter while it conducts its own membership review and investigation.”

The email was published just days after two UR students wrote on Huffington Post about having been sexually assaulted on campus and the university’s mishandling of their cases (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-other-girl_us_57d229bae4b0eb9a57b7a565?timestamp=1473429730217). The university is also being investigated for a Title IX violation aligned with a survey conducted last spring by The Collegian that revealed more than 12 percent of female students at UR have experienced sexual violence (http://www.thecollegianur.com/article/2015/10/university-of-richmondtitle-ix-sexual-assualt-survey).

Guns Don’t Kill People: Usually Men Do

Are women who carry firearms safer than those who don’t? Of course not. If you listen to the National Rifle Association, though, every woman in America should carry a gun so she can protect herself from domestic abusers, dangerous strangers and potential rapists (http://www.huffingtonpost. com/entry/the-nras-new-ad-has-a-twistedidea- about-how-to-empower-women_us_ 5787b207e4b0867123e00abf). Despite research clearly showing that women toting firearms are actually more at risk than those who don’t, the NRA clings to its propaganda as tightly as Donald Trump once clung to Barack Obama’s Kenyan birth certificate.

A new study from the Violence Policy Center should expose that the NRA is in LaLa land once and for all. In September, the center released “When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2014 Homicide Data,” an annual report that analyzes incidents in which one man kills one woman (often a sign of domestic violence homicide), and ranks states on the rate of women murdered by men http://www.vpc.org/press/more-than-1600- women-murdered-by-men-in-one-year-newstudy- finds-2).

More than 1,600 women were killed by men in 2014, according to the report— and a gun was the most common weapon used. During that same time period, there were only 15 instances of women using firearms to kill a man in self-defense. Fifteen vs. 1,600!

“Women are almost always killed by someone they know, and the majority are victims of domestic homicide. Local, state, and national policymakers must make preventing domestic violence a priority,” the Violence Policy Center’s legislative director, Kristen Rand, reported. “Guns in the hands of abusers can escalate domestic violence to homicide in the blink of an eye. Removing guns from a domestic violence situation is crucial.”

The report concludes that “women face the greatest threat from someone they know, most often a spouse or intimate acquaintance, who is armed with a gun. For women in America, guns are not used to save lives, but to take them.”

For more information, contact Julia Wyman at States United to Prevent Gun Violence, julia [at] ceasefireusa.org; 401-644-9040.

Obama: I’m a Feminist

“Growing up without a dad, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who I was, how the world perceived me, and what kind of man I wanted to be. It’s easy to absorb all kinds of messages from society about masculinity and come to believe that there’s a right way and a wrong way to be a man. But as I got older, I realized that my ideas about being a tough guy or cool guy just weren’t me. They were a manifestation of my youth and insecurity. Life became a lot easier when I simply started being myself… .

“[W]e need to break through these limitations. We need to keep changing the attitude that raises our girls to be demure and our boys to be assertive, that criticizes our daughters for speaking out and our sons for shedding a tear.

We need to keep changing the attitude that punishes women for their sexuality and rewards men for theirs.
“We need to keep changing the attitude that congratulates men for changing a diaper, stigmatizes full-time dads, and penalizes working mothers.

“We need to keep changing the attitude that permits the routine harassment of women, whether they’re walking down the street or daring to go online. We need to keep changing the attitude that teaches men to feel threatened by the presence and success of women… . It is absolutely men’s responsibility to fight sexism… .”

-Excerpted from an article by President Obama in the September issue of Glamour.