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The 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) took place on February 9-11 at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington D.C. The annual gathering is sponsored by the American Conservative Union and features high-profile conservative lawmakers and political commentators. I observed 2011 CPAC last year (see here and here), but unfortunately could not attend this year. For more information on CPAC, visit cpac2012[dot]conservative[dot]org
LGBT issues were one of the topics on the CPAC agenda, specifically in a February 10th workshop entitled "In the Name of Tolerance: Countering Sexual Identity Politics in Schools." The workshop began with a presentation by Candi Cushman of Focus on the Family's True Tolerance project, followed by talks from a mother and Austin Nimocks, Senior Legal Counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund. Candi Cushman is listed as an problematic anti-LGBT commentator by GLAAD's Commentator Accountability Project, along with homophobic voices such as Scott Lively, Maggie Gallagher, and Bryan Fischer.
Bullying in schools has received much-needed attention in recent years, and our national conversation about bullying is long overdue. Several high-profile LGBT youth suicides have drawn attention to homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools. The White House has hosted conferences on bullying prevention and anti-LGBT bullying, suggesting that our leaders are taking the issue seriously. Unfortunately, some Religious Right groups view homophobic and transphobic bullying in a different light.
As Candi Cushman began her talk, she showed an image on-screen from the TrueTolerance.org website, which read, "Concerned about homosexual advocacy in your child's school? You've come to the right place. TrueTolerance.org helps you respond in a loving and fact-based way." She claimed that her organization has been contacted by parents who have complained of the "pressure cooker" situation in public schools and the alleged disregard for parental rights.
At the 1:55 mark of the video, Cushman described the mission of True Tolerance.
"When you're just one family, or one parent or one student going up against a well-funded bureaucratic school system, it can really be quite intimidating and feel isolating and a lot of them feel lonely, and so we wanted to come alongside them, so to speak, and help balance out that equation, and that's really what inspired us to create TrueTolerance-dot-org to lift up the parents' voices, the families' voices and really equip and empower them to make their voice heard in a fact-based and loving way to their school officials and lawmakers."At the 2:28 mark, Cushman argued that the "real" meaning of tolerance is respect for different opinions, including those with a religious or conservative tint.
"In essence, we're challenging schools to practice the real meaning of tolerance, especially when they bring in these subjects in the name of tolerance. And in an academic environment especially, true tolerance should really equate to the free exchange of ideas. It should include a respect for different viewpoints, including socially conservative and religious ones. It should not equate to silencing certain viewpoints because they're politically incorrect or unpopular."Cushman spoke disapprovingly of a Fort Worth high school incident in which student was suspended for saying homosexuality was wrong. She also cited Jennifer Keeton's suit against Augusta State University and Julea Ward's suit against Eastern Michigan University as examples of alleged intolerance toward differing views.
At the 5:39 mark, Cushman claimed that protecting children was important, but insisted that bullying prevention efforts constituted an alleged affront to free speech and "thought control"
"We can all in this room agree that we do need safe schools. Those efforts are worthwhile. We need to protect kids, including those who identify as gay and lesbian. That's absolutely true. But these incidents are crossing way beyond simple safe school efforts, crossing way beyond bulling prevention into all-out thought control types of programs and gross free speech violations."Predictably, Cushman blamed "sexual advocacy groups" for driving an allegedly "politicized" agenda in schools. She highlighted GLSEN as an example of organizations that were promoting a "narrow" approach to bullying, thereby allegedly ignoring other facets of the problem. She had this to say at the 6:11 mark.
"We're letting a legitimate issue in this nation -- school safety, protecting kids -- be driven primarily in many instances by sexual advocacy groups, instead of a more objective framework of maybe child health or safety groups. It's become more narrow and politicized."First of all, it isn't just so-called "sexual advocacy groups" that are concerned about the plight of bullied LGBT youth. (Even if it were, would the situation be any less serious?) UNESCO, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Education Association, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, among other groups, have taken note of homophobic and transphobic bullying. Devoting special attention to a community that is being disproportionately victimized isn't "narrow and politicized"; it's responsible policy.
Second, I wonder if Cushman would feel this way if she reflected on these troubling statistics.
- In study of 7,376 students published in a 2009 issue of Journal of Youth and Adolescents, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning youth were more likely to report high levels of bulling and homophobic victimization than heterosexual youth.
- A 2010 article in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that in a study of 7,559 adolescents and young adults, gay males, bisexual females, and lesbians were more likely to report being bullied that heterosexual respondents.
- According to a 2011 report, those who expressed gender nonconformity or a transgender identity during grades K-12 reported high rates of harassment (78%), physical assault (35%) and sexual assault (12%). Bullying and harassment drove 15% of respondents to leave at least one school.
- A 2012 GLSEN report indicates that students who do not conform to traditional gender norms are more likely to be teased or bullied than other students (43% versus 20%) and more likely to report reluctance to go to school because they feel unsafe or afraid (35% versus 15%).
- In another 2010 report on LGBT youth, 39.9% felt unsafe at school because of their gender expression, and 61.1% because of their sexual orientation. 84.6% were verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation, and 63.7% because of their gender expression. 40.1% were physically harassed, and 18.8% were physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation, while 27.2% were physically harassed and 12.5% were physically assaulted because of their gender expression. A startling 62.4% of respondents who were harassed or assaulted at school did not report the incident because they believed little or not action would be taken.
Returning to the presentation, Cushman heaped more criticism on GLSEN, claiming that the organization wanted to draw young people into "a realm of indoctrination and really transforming students into lobbyists for a political advocacy cause." To boot, she lamented that GLSEN wanted "nothing short of admiration, appreciation, nurturance even advocacy" for LGBT people. The horror.
At the 11:20 mark, Cushman claimed that True Tolerance wants to protect all children regardless of their identity. She neglected the fact that many students are being bullied precisely because of their real or perceived sexual and gender identities, and that groups receiving disproportionate bullying might deserve special attention.
"We're concerned about the message that it sends to our children when we tell them they're only worth being protected because of how they identify or what social subgroup they belong to. We really believe that they should be protected from harm, whoever you are and however you identify sexually and otherwise, because you are a sacred creation of the living God, and therefore you have innate dignity and worth, and we feel like that is a healthier and a loving message to send to all of our children in schools."Finally, Cushman expressed concerned that anti-bullying policies were being used to undermine "parental rights," an issue that she used to introduce the next panel speaker, Tammi Shultz. Shultz, the mother of four adopted children, was alarmed by materials in her children's school promoting acceptance of LGBT people. Eager to know what her children were being taught, she filed for Freedom of Information with the Alliance Defense Fund. At the 21:16 mark, she described her reaction as such.
"The Illinois Safe Schools had had this training, and one of the obstacles that the teachers reported were family values and faith systems, and that to me was just a red flag because all of a sudden, my values and my faith systems were considered an obstacle in children's classroom, and ... I just felt like the enemy in my school. I suppose I ended up feeling more like I was being bullied out of my school as a result of this."She found it upsetting that teachers were being taught terminology such as "transgender" and "bisexual" with her tax dollars, she said. She and other parents complained, and the school board added program parameters (i.e., a social worker had to be present during the program, parents could opt-out). After Schult spoke, Alliance Defense Fund Senior Legal Counsel Austin Nimocks talked about definitions or bullying, model anti-bullying policy, and the work of his organization.
As I listened to the presentation, I sighed. Anti-LGBT bullying in schools is very real, and because LGBT youth report disproportionate victimization, they deserve attention. Sadly, some voices continue to decry the attention devoted to anti-bulling efforts meant to help LGBT youth.
Striving toward safe learning environments for LGBT kids does not constitute "indoctrination," "silencing" free speech, or "politicizing" the issue bullying. It's sound policy. As more and more people learn about homophobic and transphobic bullying, support for LGBT-supportive policies will grow. In the end, that can only help LGBT youth, I'm convinced.
Hat tip to Truth Wins Out. For additional commentary on True Tolerance, visit the following links.
Elizabeth Esther: True Tolerance": How Focus on the Family is missing the point
The Progressive Puppy: The Bully-Enabling Deceit of "True Tolerance"
Right Wing Watch: Does Focus On The Family Stand By Its Campaign Against Anti-Bullying Initiatives?