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LEDE: Illinois, Ontario, London, and Baltimore County are some of the places where school districts are taking positions on school bullying by pouring resources into campaigns that discourage young people from engaging in intimidating behavior and personal putdowns. Despite certain government and community attempts to address bullying, many youth advocates say that certain types of bullying are accepted by teachers and school administrators. Often verbal harassment that disparages a student’s sexual orientation and gender identity goes unchallenged or is encouraged by those in power at the school level. However, studies conducted in the last 8 years are stating that homophobic harassment is hurting the development of youth in the U.S.

Making Contact Pacifica correspondents, Selina Musuta and Darby Hickey reports from the Nation's capitol, where community organizations are taking steps to ensure that DC's Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender, and Queer youth have access to safe learning environments.

[...(claymation video clip on teasing) uh, you're ugly, like very ugly...you're ugly too like bad...you burn my eyes...well, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me] That's a clip from a one minute claymation video by Jack Evans and Kit Hall featured on a website called YouTube.com. The video is supposed to be humorous and sarcastic, but for many working to combat bullying in schools… taunting is no laughing matter. [TR 00:18]

"It makes us angry, bitter, and harassment causes misunderstanding"

In fact, school health officials say… victims of bullying can suffer severe mental and physical breakdowns.

And it’s an even bigger problem… for students who identify or are perceived as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or Queer, also known as LGBTQ. They’re often subjected to severe verbal and physical harassment. [TR 00:20]

"I was visiting one of my friend's classrooms during my lunch break. One of the football players in the class told me to get out of there and said " you fag you leave," and he proceeded to stand up walk towards me and push me and I ended up getting into a fight with him. "

And LGBTQ youth advocates, say many LGBTQ students find little protection in schools across the U-S. But the District of Columbia Public Schools, or D-C-P-S is trying to change that. How? Bullying based on sexual orientation is addressed under D-C-P-S school sexual harassment policy.

However, many LGBTQ youth service providers say DCPS has failed to implement that policy which became law in 2000. In fact, it seems many DC students are unaware of their right to confront harassment using their own school system’s policy. Darlene Nipper, director of the Office of LGBT Affairs of the DC city government says that because of DCPS's independent relationship with the City, it has been a challenge to address the issue of harassment at the school level. [TR 00:48]

"when you have a complete system within a system, you just build up layers of barriers and more people to talk to and more direction that needs to be given and you're doing it from the outside even though people are saying it's the DC Public School System, you're working under the Executive Office of the Mayor but you really have to understand the Mayor did at one point tried to bring the leadership under his purview, which it didn't happen and it is quasi under his purview so we have that dance to have with the school board and administration... Track 1 11:14"

Nipper has only been on the job since January and has spent that time reorganizing the LGBT Affairs office. In her reorganization, the need to create safe public and private spaces for LGBTQ youth has been identified as a major priority.

26 year old, Jillyenne Harris, a LGBTQ youth advocate, agrees with Nipper. Harris is also the “Safe Schools Coordinator” for the Metro DC chapter of a national organization called “Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.”

She’s spent the last half year eating lunch, twice a week, with LGBTQ youth at two D-C high schools, Roosevelt and H-G Woodson. A out lesbian herself, Harris spends time with the teens facilitating various discussions on topics like …coming out… to dating… and sometimes about bullying. [TR 00:35]

"When you speak to people, they don't even know the policy exists and they don't know they are protected Track 1 3:00 00:13"

Harris says it's not safe to advertise openly about the lunchtime meetings, so most of the students only know about them by word of mouth. And although it’s her job to promote safe and affirmative school environments for LGBTQ youth in the greater metropolitan area… Harris says it isn’t easy.

That’s because it's been difficult to get school principals to call her back. Harris says they are reluctant to pour the time and resources into working with her to create support groups for queer youth. Why? She believes it’s because of the constant pressure school administrators and teachers are under to restore what some call a failing public school system. But for Harris, creating safe schools for students can only help support their academic lives. [TR 00:40]

"...Most of the principals are concerned with improving their test scores but the thing they need to realize is that safety and grades are tied together because if I'm afraid to go to school because I'll be bullied I'm not going to go, I'm not going to focus on my studies... Track 1 7:00...00:20"

Harris is also in the process of creating a safe schools coalition with other youth groups that serve DC's LGBTQ youth. One of those groups… the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League or SMYAL. SMYAL is dedicated solely to supporting DC area's LGBTQ youth, which is mostly black and Latino.

It’s director… Bruce Weiss.

And when Weiss tells LGBT adults where he works, many say they wish that a group like SMYAL was around when they were kids. Because of the lack of visibility of LGBTQ Youth in DC, Weiss says few adults understand the challenges that today's youth face. [TR 00:34]

"...I don't think the general community at large understand how difficult it is for LGBTQ youth in the district, African Americas today and the challenges they are facing and Latino and Latina and Latino youth who are some years behind in terms of a community ... 00:15..."

More than two-years ago, Weiss wanted to help remedy that lack of visibility. So he organized a youth forum with the National Black Justice Coalition, National Youth Advocacy Coalition, and the Human Rights Campaign. Out of that forum came a document called “Confronting the Crisis: Issues Facing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Youth Especially Youth of Color.” [TR 00:20]

"...We oughta have a simple document that makes the case clear, here are the issues, here is what needs to happen to resolve these issues .00:15 Track 1..5:20"

Before they created the document, Weiss organized two focus groups--one for youth and one for the SMYAL staff--in order to identify the most important issues facing DC's LGBTQ youth. [TR 00:10]

"...At the top of the lists there were concerned about violence in the schools, youth dropping out of school because they were afraid to go, becoming homeless because of parents throwing them out, and lack of jobs and job opportunities because of discrimination...00:20 Track 1 6:30"

Located in Southeast DC, SMYAL occupies 2 adjacent row houses for a Youth Center as well as administrative offices. [....youth hanging out....] They offer support groups for youths age 13 to 22. One hour before support group sessions begin, youths can hang out, use the computer, listen to music, or watch movies. At SMYAL, youths say they get support from adults, something they say is missing at many of their schools. This… despite DCPS’ sexual harassment policy that mandates the schools provide go-to people for students faced with incidents of harassment. [TR 00:20]

Weiss says many youths who endure daily violence at school end up fighting or bringing weapons to school for protection. As a result, they often find themselves suspended or… in trouble with the law. [TR 00:10]

".. We've had youth that have been thrown out of school because they carried knives to school because they were told by people "we're going to get you""we're going to kill you" and they would bring weapons and they were caught and they were expelled, you know it's unfortunate that the choice was go to school and arm yourself or drop out 00:20 Track 1 8:50..."

[…music…Gnarles Barkley—bluesy hip hop—“Just a Thought””]

I interviewed a newcomer to SMYAL, Maureen Curtis, who just recently moved from Memphis, Tennessee to D-C. Curtis recounted his principals’ reaction at an incident at his Memphis school where Curtis got into a fight with a football player after the football player made homophobic remarks and told him to get out of the class.
[TR 00:08]

"We were both sent to the principal and it was right before thanksgiving break and he said he'd deal with it after we came off of break but I didn't hear anything else about it and I think he didn't want to kick the student off the football team."

Support groups for LGBTQ students at schools are rare. There are only two gay straight alliances in DC. But a recent graduate from Seed Preparatory Boarding School in DC wants to change that. 19 year old Devon Jenkins has spent the last three months at SMYAL gathering advice on how to start a gay straight alliance at his school. Unlike many who end up at SMYAL, he is openly gay to his parents and classmates and wants to create an atmosphere of acceptance… where more of his peers can be out. [TR 00:25]

[...the importance of a gay straight alliance...]

Few surveys have been conducted on how bullying affects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer students. Less has been done on transgender students. One group that has consistently researched LGBTQ youth is the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN. GLSEN recently put out two surveys in the last year documenting the experiences of students who identify as LGBTQ in U-S schools. In their 2005 National Climate School Survey Biennial report, GLSEN surveyed 1,700 LGBTQ identified youth and found that not much has changed for students since their 2003 report. Students continue to face hostile school environments. [TR 00:35]

"..So passing a policy is the end of the beginning of what you need to do not the beginning of the end, you need to train your staff to be supportive and creating gay straight alliances for students to find support ...Track 6:10

That was Kevin Jennings, the founder and Executive director of GLSEN. Jennings says that one of the problems in addressing bullying in schools is that there must be better data to illustrate whether LGBTQ students are being negatively affected disproportionately. Students across the U-S took part in a Centers for Disease Control “Youth Risk Behavior Survey”… something given to students once every two years. But this survey did/does NOT include questions concerning sexual orientation. [TR 00:23]

"..It's important like states and polities like the District of Columbia make sure that when they use instruments like the youth risk behavior survey that they include sexual orientation and gender identity in order to see whether LGBT students experience disproportionate harassment, the states that have done that like Massachusetts have found that LGBT students are having a harder time in schools than non LGBT students and have helped them take steps to address that achievement gap..Track 1 4:30"

The 2005 Risk Behavior Survey is expected to be released in June. [TR 00:05]

Meanwhile, DCPS will continue to take steps toward moving the sexual harassment policy off the shelves and into the hands of teachers, principals, school administrators, and students. In March, DC Superintendent Clifford B. Janey sent a memo to all DCPS e principals stating they must adhere to the sexual harassment policy. That means… in the upcoming months, principals must identify 2 go-to people for students and advertise the sexual harassment policy to their student bodies. [TR 00:30]

[…music “sticks and stones”—pop music…]

LEDE: Political asylum, an important legal tool for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) immigrants to use for stabilizing their status in US, has been steadily eroded recently with changes to immigration laws and policies. In current debates about immigration reform, the issue has not gotten much attention.

LGBT rights groups hesitancy to focus on immigration issues characterizes the xenophobia and racism within LGBT communities, say LGBT immigrants, which is compounded by open homophobia within immigrant groups. But, as Making Contact correspondent Darby Hickey reports from Washington DC, LBGT advocates are organizing within these human rights movements, and on their own, pushing for comprehensive social justice,


[0.00|0.08] ACT - Mi nombre es Dilcia Molina, y vivo en este pais en asylo politico por opcion sexual. Soy lesbiana con dos hijos... - fade under

[0.08|0.15] NAR – Her name is Dilcia Molina… A lesbian mother of two. A political activist living in political asylum . For Dilcia, telling the story of her journey to the U-S is difficult. That’s because to recount it… means reliving the past…A past filled with anger, fear and torture.

[0.23|0.11] ACT - fade up ...para mi fue terrible por que venia con dos hijos que han sido torturados... bueno, todavia, blah... es dificil y... oof creo que me habia superado (starts to cry) and fade under

[0.34|0.32] NAR - Dilicia is from Honduras…where she encountered an almost deadly combination of homophobia and government repression because of her advocacy for the human rights of lesbians, gays, transgenders, and others. In November of 2001, while she was out of the country, Dilcia says paramilitaries affiliated with the Honduran government broke into her house and tortured her 6 and 8 year old sons, and their caretaker. The paramilitaries demanded to know her whereabouts and threatened to rape and kill her when she returned. A week later, Dilcia and her sons traveled to the U-S on a tourist visa, where they applied for, and eventually received, political asylum in the United States.

[1.06|0.11] ACT - fade up ...es doloroso tener que revictimizarnos para poder convencer a un funcionario de migracion al gobierno de que vivimos crimenes en nuestros paises... fade under

[1.17|0.23] NAR - Although she's glad for the opportunity, Dilcia says that seeking asylum was difficult because she felt re-traumatized by the process of having to prove to a U-S government official that her torture and persecution were real. Chris Nugent, an attorney for “Holland and Knight” in Washington, DC, who has worked on many political asylum cases, agrees. Nugent says LGBT and HIV-positive asylum seekers face a particularly difficult emotional, as well as legal, challenge.

[1.40|0.21] ACT - These experiences and their fears strike at the very core of their identities. When I work with political dissidents who have spoken out against a government, they feel entitled to vindicate their rights, even if they've been tortured. But when it's GLBT or HIV, they somehow feel, "maybe I deserve this."

[2.01|0.20] NAR - Despite the challenges, asylum remains an important tool for LGBT immigrants. This is a giant leap from the past, when quote-unquote "homosexuals" were barred from entering the U-S. That ban ended in 1990. During the Clinton Administration, the option of political asylum opened up for the LGBT community, says Bill Strassberger, public affairs officer for US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

[2.21|0.19] ACT - In 1994 then-Attorney General Janet Reno made a decision that homosexuality could be grounds for asylum, so then it was just a matter of having to establish that the person had in fact experienced persecution or had a well founded fear of persecution based on the homosexuality.

[2.40|0.05] ACT - When he found out I am gay, my father said he was going to set me on fire.

[2.45|0.18] NAR - Fear of persecution is real for Farahperi, a 21 year old lesbian from the Congo in Central Africa. After living for seven years in the U-S, under the abusive hand of her father… the young woman took matters into her own hands. She applied for political asylum, and got it, which inspired her mother to do the same. Farahperi says part of the challenge is learning to no longer live in fear.

[3.03|0.12] ACT – I actually have the freedom to do what I want, but it’s scary sometimes. I’m just taking things slow, I’m not trying to rush myself into anything.

[3.15|0.45] NAR - LGBT immigrants like Farahperi can apply for political asylum, because of their fear of persecution as a "member of a social group." The other qualifying categories are race, religion, national origin and political opinion.

An immigrant in the U-S, documented or not, can make an affirmative application for asylum and present his or her case to an asylum officer with the Department of Homeland Security. Immigrants who are already in the midst of deportation proceedings may make a defensive application, by petitioning the immigration judge to be allowed to stay in the U-S. If that claim is rejected, and any appeals are turned down, the applicant is deported back to their nation of origin, the place where they were persecuted.

Throughout this process, LGBT asylum seekers often encounter homophobic attitudes, says Dilcia Molina, who now has helped two dozen other immigrants to gain asylum.

[4.00|0.11] ACT - Como yo no califico entre los estereotipos como lesbiana, me costo convencer que si es cierto, y peor que tengo dos hijos, eso era lo peor, entre comillas - NEEDS TRANSLATION (Since I didn’t fit the stereotypical image of a lesbian, it was more difficult to convince the officials that I am gay, and the worst was that I have two sons, that was the worst!)

[4.11|0.43] NAR – Attorney Chris Nugent says applying for asylum is now harder than ever due to recent changes in immigration standards, including the increase in evidence required from asylum petitioners.

Congress addressed asylum issues with the “Real I-D Act of 2005,” signed into law by President Bush last May.
Viewed by many as a precursor to the creation of a national ID card, the act adds yet another layer of bureaucracy and potential legal roadblocks for LGBT refugees.
Placing an applicant’s asylum status into the hands of immigration judges, individual biases and opinions are given the final word in, what are for some, life or death decisions.

And the asylum road stops there for many. As prior to the Real I-D Act then-Attorney General John Ashcroft changed the asylum appeals process, for the worse according to immigrant advocates.

[4.54|0.05] ACT - fade up ...ambient sound of floor debate... fade under

[4.59|0.25] NAR – As the debate on immigration has raged from corner stores to Capitol Hill, Nugent says the U.S. Congress’ emphasis on strengthening enforcement of new immigration policies are a particular problem for LGBT immigrants.
Those immigrants with HIV and prior prostitution arrests
are usually barred from legal avenues of immigrating to the US, an issue that disproportionately impacts the LGBT asylum seekers.
And once deportation proceedings begin … it’s difficult to stop the wheels from turning.

[5.24|0.05] ACT - fade up ...ambient sound march... fade under

[5.29|0.10] NAR – Dilcia Molina, an organizer with “Mujeres de la Madre Tierra” in Northern Virginia… says LGBT immigrants’ rights have not been addressed by the larger immigrants’ rights movements.

[5.39|0.15] ACT - Son terriblemente homofobicas, verdad. Creo que pueden hacer algo, pero no es una prioridad en la agenda. Bueno, creo que tampoco es un punto en la agenda, ni en el ultimo punto de la agenda! - NEEDS TRANSLATION (The groups working for immigrants rights are terribly homophobic. I think they could do something to address our issues, but it’s not a priority in their agenda. Actually, I don’t think it’s even on their agenda, even at the bottom of the list!)

[5.54|0.13] NAR - On the flip side, mainstream LGBT groups have not made connections to the immigrants' rights movement says Ruby Corado. She’s a leader in Washington DC's transgender community who emigrated from El Salvador in the late 1980s and was granted asylum.

[6.07|0.16] ACT - You know we have a great LGBT movement, but it's a separate movement. There are other movements in this country, why aren't we finding common ground with those movements to strengthen our movement.

[6.23|0.27] NAR - Cristina Finch, senior counsel with Human Rights Campaign, an organization working on LGBT issues at the federal level, says they are addressing the issues of LGBT immigrants. Finch says they’re monitoring legislation in Congress, ready to oppose any measures deemed harmful, while pushing a bill that would add the phrase "permanent partner" alongside "spouse" in immigration laws. For Jaime Contreras, chair of the National Capitol Immigration Coalition, any changes to immigration laws should be comprehensive and address the lives of all immigrants, including those who are LGBT.

[6.50|0.21] ACT - A fair immigration reform would have to deal with people who are coming here fleeing persecution or to express their freedom of speech or religion or sexual rights and immigration reform will have to recognize there are real human beings with real needs,

[7.11|0.07] Ruby Corado says that despite the homophobia of many mainstream immigrants rights groups, many LGBT immigrants are the movement’s unacknowledged leaders.

[7.18|0.20] ACT - After they have endured a lot of pain a lot of discrimination, a lot of violence, one of the things we do is we bring a real human perspective on a lot of issues and I think there's a lot of people who go to work on social justice issues.

[7.38|0.20] NAR – And whether for Farahperi from Congo or Dilcia from Honduras, fighting for social justice can’t just be about escaping persecution, but about ending it.