In Mangus case in NY, GLSEN may have much informing material
Gnosis Arts Multimedia/ Press news release Feb. 15, 2010Another upstate New York school district case so parallels that of Michael's, as to make one blink in astonishment.
The case of Rhonda Mangus and her teen gay son, Michael - overseen pro bono by Chicago's high profile politician, power attorney, human rights advocate, and playwright Jay Paul Deratany - can be viewed also through the lens of GLSEN guidelines
Another upstate New York school district case so parallels that of Michael's, as to make one blink in astonishment.
GLSEN (Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network) has been quoted in the Mohawk School district case in which the United States Department of Justice has become involved. The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) filed a federal lawsuit against the Mohawk Central School District in Herkimer County, Upstate New York. The school district has been charged with failing to ensure the safety of a student, a minor, one Jacob B, a gay teen.
The parallels to the Mangus case are astonishing: Upstate New York (Mangus was at North Tonawanda High in Niagara County); gay teen males, both supposedly "provoked" students by wearing eyeliner; both received death threats. Yet while the wheels of justice seem to be turning in favor of Jacob, Michael's mother remains in the data base of offenders, charged for keeping her son out of the school in which his life had been threatened.
High profile Chicago attorney Jay Paul Deratany has said to press at the Windy Times that schools "have a duty" to ensure the safety of gay teens.
Certainly, GLSEN has charged in the case of Jacob B that::
"Schools have a legal obligation to make sure their students have access to an education, and ignoring or encouraging anti-gay behavior deprives students of their right to an education."
In a GLSEN press release on the Mohawk story, it was asserted that, "Homophobic comments by teachers are, sadly, quite common. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of LGBT students said they had heard such remarks from teachers or other school staff, according to GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey on the experiences of LGBT students in school."
The brief also noted a lack of safe schools policies and resources for GLBT youth, including gay-straight alliance clubs (GSAs). The GLSEN release also observed that a number of similar cases nationwide have been settled in favor of harassed GLBT youth. (Source: GLSEN blog/press)
Michael Mangus had attempted to start a gay-straight alliance club at age 14, and was rebuffed and even mocked.
After a decade of virtually no enforcement, the Department of Justice has once again taken an interest in issues of sex and gender discrimination in schools. The Department of Justice intervened in the case of Sullivan v. Mohawk Central School District et al., which was originally brought by the NY Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a 14-year-old gay boy named Jacob who attended the Mohawk Central School District in New York.
Jacob suffered a pattern of harassment and abuse by fellow students and even teachers, including verbal harassment, assault and physical harm, and destruction of his property. Although Jacob and his supportive family reported this abuse to his school principal and other school authorities promptly and regularly, no action was taken to protect Jacob. For a complete account of the harassment perpetuated on Jacob and the school administration’s refusal to act, you can read the affidavits of Jacob and his father.
The Department of Justice is pursuing this suit under Title 9 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which does not allow students “on the basis of sex, [to] be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a). While this law explicitly covers sex discrimination, DOJ lawyers argue that the law also covers discrimination based on gender stereotypes — that is to say, boys who are beaten up for being effeminate. While some courts have ruled that Title IX covers gender expression and sexual orientation, the law is uncertain in this area. This case may help to establish this principle more generally.
Of course all children are entitled to a safe and nurturing space in which to learn. Unfortunately, the type of bullying and harassment from which Jacob suffered is all too common for LGBT students in schools around the country. GLSEN’s research shows that 60.8% of LGBT students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and only about a third of students who reported incidents of victimization to school staff said that the problem was addressed effectively.
While the Department of Justice intervention shows a renewed interest in protecting the rights of LGBT students, Jacob’s case again demonstrates the need for anti-bullying policies and legislation so that schools can take steps to prevent this sort of harassment in the first place.