Responses of Tommy Wells to GLAA 2002 Questionnaire
for DC Board of Education Candidates
1. Do you recognize the right of our public school students to organize clubs to promote lesbian and gay civil rights, to combat homophobic violence and prejudice, and to provide socializing opportunities for lesbian and gay youth?
I recognize and support the right of public school students to organize clubs to promote lesbian and gay civil rights, to fight homophobic violence and prejudice, and to provide socializing opportunities. That is why I made it a priority to meet with members of the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL) soon after my election to explore ways for public schools to be more welcoming and supportive of gay and lesbian student organizations.
2. Do you recognize the right of students to bring dates of the same sex to school proms and other official public school social functions?
I recognize the right of students to bring dates of the same sex to school proms and other official public school social functions.
3. Will you oppose efforts to restrict or censor books or other materials in our public school libraries that discuss homosexuality in a positive and supportive manner?
I oppose efforts to restrict or censor books and other materials in our public school libraries that discuss homosexuality in a positive and supportive manner. Two of the most important lessons schools can teach are tolerance and understanding among all populations, and libraries are a critical resource for students to obtain information and insight. Moreover, the inclusion of such materials signals to gay and lesbian students that they are not in any way alien to their school's community.
4. Do you support the efforts of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) to provide gay positive books to DCPS school libraries?
I support the authority of DCPS librarians to manage their libraries according to professional standards to provide a breadth of resources. To the degree that DCPS policy allows librarians to accept donations of materials from the community, I oppose any discrimination against PFLAG.
5. Do you favor training programs for professional development of teachers, counselors, and other school system staff, such as those offered by the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL), to help these professionals to nurture positive identity formation for lesbian and gay students?
Because I favor training programs for teachers and other DCPS staff to help education professionals nurture positive identity formation for lesbian and gay students, I have worked for such training in the implementation of the anti-harassment policy I spearheaded last year. DCPS currently is working with stakeholders, including GLAA, to develop a policy implementation approach that includes training, to be finalized by December 2002. (See question 12.)
6. From time to time, D.C. public school teachers have invited openly gay men and women to speak in their classes and to answer students' questions about homosexuality. Do you support the right of our teachers to continue inviting such speakers?
I support the right of teachers to invite openly gay men and women to speak in their classes and answer students' questions about homosexuality as a matter of social tolerance and human rights. However, I would be sympathetic to concerns raised about adults of any sexual orientation, including heterosexual, discussing personal sexual matters in a classroom setting that are better left to parents and families.
7. Do you support the condom availability program established in 1992, and operated by the Department of Health, in our public schools?
I support the condom availability program, operated by the Department of Health in our schools. In fact, I partnered with the federal government in establishing a student health care clinic at Eastern High School that ensures this program and other health care initiatives are available to students and hope to replicate the clinic throughout the city.
8. The DC Department of Health recently received a federal grant of $750,000 to fund abstinence only education programs which will teach that condoms are unreliable and should not be used as barriers to disease or as birth control. Will you work to create a comprehensive sex education program in the DC Public Schools that promotes the use of birth control and especially condoms as an effective means of preventing disease and pregnancy?
I support DC Board of Education Rules (Title 5, Section 2305) which provide for a comprehensive sex education program including anatomy, contraception, homosexuality, and discussion of the process of making personal decisions in matters of parenting and sexuality.
9. Will you work to create a comprehensive sex education program in the DC Public Schools that teaches homosexuality is part of the normal range of human sexuality?
I will support a comprehensive sex education program aimed at protecting student safety and health. However, I would object to a program "that teaches homosexuality is part of the normal range of human sexuality" simply because I do not believe it is the role of our schools to determine what is and is not "normal." It is this penchant for defining "normal" that created bias and intolerance toward gays and lesbians in the first place.
10. The DC Human Rights Act prohibits the District from conferring any "benefit" or "advantage" to any group not fully in compliance with the DC Human Rights Act. Currently DCPS provides recruiting opportunities, school programs, and direct sponsorship of scout troops despite the finding of the DC Human Rights Commission that the Boy Scouts' discriminatory policy against gay people is illegal. Will you work to end the special benefits that the Boy Scouts receive and require that they be treated as any other outside group?
I will work to end the special benefits that the Boy Scouts receive and require that they be treated as any other outside group, in compliance with the DC Human Rights Act.
11. Do you oppose legislation or initiative that would authorize organized prayers in our public schools and that would thereby encourage the harassment of students and teachers who decline to participate?
I oppose legislation or initiatives to authorize organized prayer in our public schools, in keeping with the U.S. Constitution.
12. Recent federal court rulings and DC law recognize that harassment against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students is illegal with the school system liable if harassment continues. Do you support the recently adopted DCPS policy designed to stop harassment and sexual harassment?
I not only support the recently adopted DCPS policy designed to stop harassment in schools; I wrote it. The policy emerged from the findings of the first hearing I held as co-chair of the school board's committee on special education and student services, titled "Is It Safe to Be You in DC Schools?" This policy is the most stringent in the nation, where only eight states have adopted anti-harassment policies at all. Although GLAA's Agenda 2002 (page 14) states that "training for DCPS employees on the harassment directive. . . has been promised since the spring of 2000," this policy was only enacted in 2002 and the training to implement it will be in place this year.
13. In past searches for new Superintendents of D.C. public schools, the School Board invited representatives of GLAA to serve on its community advisory board and to suggest questions for the finalists. Will you ensure that a GLAA representative is included among those allowed to monitor the Board's interviews with finalists in future Superintendent searches?
Because I cannot guarantee the process for monitoring the board's interviews with finalists in future searches for school superintendents, I cannot ensure that a GLAA representative will be included among the monitors. However, I certainly will support the inclusion of a GLAA representative or a similarly qualified representative of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender concerns.
14. Do you oppose the congressional imposition of a voucher program for private and sectarian schools in the District?
I oppose the Congressional imposition of a voucher program for private and sectarian schools in DC. Not only do I oppose Congressional imposition of any education policy, but I oppose private school vouchers because they undermine our ability to fund and maintain strong neighborhood schools to serve every child in DC.
Your record is part of your rating. Please list any actions that you have taken that may help illustrate your record on behalf of lesbians and gay men.
In addition to my leadership on the board of education in ensuring a safe and supportive environment for gay and lesbian students and teachers, I have advanced gay and lesbian issues in my role as director of the DC Consortium for Child Welfare. My organization has actively advocated for gay adoptions and recruited and supported gay and lesbian adoptive and foster parents. In addition, the Consortium employs gay and lesbian social service staff.