This year’s National Coming Out Day is especially poignant, after the tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi and the other teens who were recently bullied into taking their own lives.
For all those concerned about these tragedies, here’s a valuable new book: “The Right to Be Out: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in America’s Public Schools,” by Stuart Biegel.
The author, a law professor at UCLA, places this right firmly on the grounds of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. He shows, in the first half of his urgent book, how there has been a “clear and unequivocal transformation” in the law over the past two decades. This transformation not only recognizes the right to be out, he argues convincingly, but imposes an affirmative obligation on public schools to establish policies and protocols aimed at inclusion, safety, and a climate of “equal respect and equal dignity.”
Biegel’s book offers specific recommendations for best practices for school districts, school administrators, and teachers. Among these: an emphasis on anti-bullying and suicide prevention, “the dissemination of information regarding gay and gender-nonconforming persons,” the establishment of “safe zones,” and the fostering of gay-straight alliances.
A chapter on the homophobia of public school sports is especially enlightening. “It is highly recommended,” he writes, “that school leaders coordinating LGBT-related initiatives gain the active assistance of key personnel involved in campus athletic programs. Ideally, this would include coaches and team leaders, as well as school-site administrators who are former coaches or former athletes.”
Biegel discusses the right not only of students to be out, but also teachers, which is a message that Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Carl Paladino ought to study before spouting off next time. Biegel notes that public attitudes have changed from the Dark Ages on this issue, but I was still amazed to read that about 30% of adults still believed that gays and lesbians shouldn’t be allowed to teach.
Despite the recent tragedies in the news, Biegel strikes a hopeful note: “Increasingly, LGBTs do not have to feel stigmatized because of who they are or to live in constant fear, as many once did, of being found out. And legal protections have begun to reflect these watershed events.”
May it be so.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his article "Obama Late to Worry about Left."
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