Arkansas School Board Member: “The only way im wearin (purple)…is if they all commit suicide”

Two news items from yesterday:

1) The Department of Education sent out a letter to schools that “clarifies the relationship between bullying and discriminatory harassment,” observing that since homophobic bullying is gender-based, it violates the law, and schools must address and prevent it.

2) A school board official in Arkansas (Clint McCance) declared on Facebook that wearing purple to honor GLBTQ youth is stupid, because all “queers” should commit suicide.

The first item is great news.  I’m not a legal expert so I don’t know what it means in terms of pending anti-bullying legislation, but the letter is crystal-clear that regardless of state bullying laws or school policies, anti-gay bullying is illegal.

“Title IX prohibits harassment of both male and female students regardless of the sex of the harasser—i.e., even if the harasser and target are members of the same sex.  It also prohibits gender-based harassment, which may include acts of verbal, nonverbal, or physical aggression, intimidation, or hostility based on sex or sex-stereotyping.  Thus, it can be sex discrimination if students are harassed either for exhibiting what is perceived as a stereotypical characteristic for their sex, or for failing to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity.

Although Title IX does not prohibit discrimination based solely on sexual orientation, Title IX does protect all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, from sex discrimination.”

The letter further clarifies this with an example of a bullying situation where a young gay man experienced harassment and homophobic slurs. In the example, because the student was gay/out, the school saw it as homophobic bullying, not a violation of civil rights:

“As noted in the example, the school failed to recognize the pattern of misconduct as a form of sex discrimination under Title IX.”

The Department of Education describes a more comprehensive plan of action which would put the school in compliance with the law:

In this example, the school had an obligation to take immediate and effective action to eliminate the hostile environment.  By responding to individual incidents of misconduct on an ad hoc basis only, the school failed to confront and prevent a hostile environment from continuing.  Had the school recognized the conduct as a form of sex discrimination, it could have employed the full range of sanctions (including progressive discipline) and remedies designed to eliminate the hostile environment.  For example, this approach would have included a more comprehensive response to the situation that involved notice to the student’s teachers so that they could ensure the student was not subjected to any further harassment, more aggressive monitoring by staff of the places where harassment occurred, increased training on the scope of the school’s harassment and discrimination policies, notice to the target and harassers of available counseling services and resources, and educating the entire school community on civil rights and expectations of tolerance, specifically as they apply to gender stereotypes.  The school also should have taken steps to clearly communicate the message that the school does not tolerate harassment and will be responsive to any information about such conduct.

Interesting. The Department of Education says that homophobia violates Title IX. On the SAME DAY, the news breaks that a school official thinks GLBTQ young people should kill themselves (further commenting that he likes when “fags give each other AIDS and die”). I’d say this is a headache for the Midland School District of Arkansas, but it’s not, is it. It’s simply a very clear cut case of needing to get rid of the charming Clint McCance, in order to be in compliance with the law. The penalty for NOT complying with Title IX is the loss of federal funds.

I’m calling on the Midland School District and the State of Arkansas to come into full compliance with Title IX according to the Department of Education’s Dear Colleague letter, including a full-scale response similar to the one described above — and if they don’t, I am calling on the Department of Education to cut their funding.  [EDIT: Also,  I am signing petition demanding Clint McCance's resignation, and I urge you to do so as well.]

GLSEN has found that 2/3 of harassed GLBTQ students do not report the problem, believing educators will do nothing, and that 1/3 of those who do report find that the school does nothing in response. The Department of Education is sending a clear message that it is time to stop turning a blind eye to the deadly problem of homophobic bullying.

Oh, and a message to the GLBTQ students of Arkansas:  Don’t listen to this Clint McCance person. Each of you has more personal worth as a human in your little finger than this guy does in his entire body.

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