Summersgill testifies at School Board on youth issues
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance
July 16, 2001
Testimony before the DC Board of Education
Committee on Special Education and Student Services
Mr. Wells, members of the committee and fellow citizens:
My name is Bob Summersgill and I am the President of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, DC.
Thank you for the opportunity to discuss the climate in DC Public Schools. In answering the question "Is it safe to be who you are?" we find the DC Public Schools to be not nearly as good as they might be. However, a few key policies are in place.
GLAA was founded in 1971. Our first major accomplishment was to persuade the DC School Board in 1972 to add "sexual orientation" to the DCPS non-discrimination policy. It was later incorporated into the DC Human Rights Act.
Last year, at GLAA's urging, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman issued a Directive on harassment and sexual harassment. It is policy number 314.5 issued on March 29, 2000. This was a very good policy that protects all students based on the 13 categories of the education section of the DC Human Rights Act.
Meetings began on the policy implementation were discontinued with the departure of Ms. Ackerman as well as the departure of the representatives of GLAA and the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL). Those meetings to implement the harassment policy need to be resumed. Additionally we have learned that the sexual harassment policy is not adequately implemented. In an informal survey conducted by Young Women's Project students and teachers are unaware of their rights under the policy and Title IX as well as how to file a complaint. These are in themselves violations of Title IX.
The harassment directive is not only not implemented, but it is actually being ignored. The Student Disciplinary Guidelines published in the February 23, 2001 DC Register fail to include the harassment policy. We were told, when reviewing the Student Disciplinary Guidelines, that the policy on harassment would be added as a paragraph H of section 2503.2 - following the section on sexual harassment - by DC school administration staff including General Counsel Veleter Mazyck.
We would like the DC School Board to amend the regulations to include the policy on harassment as delineated in the Superintendent's Directive.
Students must be aware that harassment and sexual harassment are forbidden, and they must know how to seek relief from other students. As the School Board revises the sexual education curriculum, it would seem like a good idea to make sure that all students are given yearly reminder of DCPS policies on harassment and sexual harassment, their rights under the policy and the laws, and their resources inside and outside of the schools for protection and relief.
We would very much like to resume the meeting on implementation of the policies with the addition of representatives from the Young Women's Project, the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Gay, Lesbian and Straight Educators Network and other organizations as appropriate.
Unfortunately, DCPS is giving its support to discrimination against gay students by sponsoring the Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops. The Boy Scouts have argued in court that they not only discriminate, but that they have a right to discriminate. The DC Human Rights Commission has found that they are a public accommodation in violation of the DC Human Rights Act.
In that ruling we learned that the DCPS sponsors Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops despite the Boy Scouts of America policy of discrimination against gay people. The list of schools sponsoring Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops is relatively short, but any sponsorship sends a message of officially sponsored intolerance and tacit approval of harassment of gay students. Unfortunately we do not have an up-to-date list of which schools sponsor Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops as Superintendent Paul Vance has not yet responded to Councilmember Jack Evan's letter of June 22, 2001 with this information.
As troop sponsors, the DC Public Schools are in violation of the DC Human Rights Act and must immediately sever ties with the Boy Scouts. The DCPS should in no way give preferential treatment to any group that violates our laws and school policies. It should be noted that the Girl Scouts are a distinct organization that does not have a policy of discrimination. DCPS sponsorship of the Girl Scouts does not raise any questions of illegality or appropriateness. Additionally, Boys and Girls Clubs, Campfire Girls, 4-H Clubs and other groups also do not discriminate. In this, the Boy Scouts stand alone.
Thank you, I am available to answer any questions that you may have.