Federal bullying summit: A civil rights movement in disguise
It was “deja vu all over again” this week as gay rights, civil rights, and other activists gathered for the second “Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Summit” in Washington D.C.
Special interest activist groups part of invitation-only federal bullying summit
For the second time in less than a year, participants included an invitation-only group of what one gay rights advocacy group described as:
“…a mix of student activists and supportive adults — many of whom came to learn from the experiences of youth and experts, like GSA Network, on how they can make it better for young people.”
The GSA Network (Gay-Straight Alliance Network) is one of a number of invitation-only special interest groups writing and tweeting about their involvement at this week’s federal summit orchestrated by the U.S. Departments of Education, Justice, and Health & Human Services:
- Gay-Straight Alliance Network: Every Tool They’ve Got: A Recap of the 2nd Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Summit
- Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN): Whose executive director Eliza Byard messaged on Twitter: @glsen partners w/OCR, DoJ and supporting agencies on anti-harassment prevention, enforcement and compliance monitoring. #edbullyingsummit [The conference hashtag was actually #edbullysummit]
While the public agenda itself appears to be the typical bland federal conference held at a Washington DC hotel and organized by another beltway conference consultant contractor, it is the “agenda behind the agenda” that is often the bigger story. Although a number of education organizations were also reportedly in attendance, the list of attendees less publicized by the feds can be equally — if not more — interesting.
At President Obama’s White House Summit on Bullying in the Fall of 2010, the White House refused to release a list of attendees in spite of multiple requests to their press office. I was still able to put together from open online records an interesting list of participants that suggested the summit was as much (if not more) a gay rights and civil rights event as it was an event on bullying.
Obama Administration politicizes school safety & bullying, panders to political base
This week’s second federal bullying summit continued to reflect the Obama Administration’s politicizing of school safety by pandering to its political special interest base under the guise of bullying. It also reflected the political efforts to enact into law new federal civil rights protections under the label of bullying :
- Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ opening remarks emphasized several references to LGBT bullying.
- Education Department Secretary Arne Duncan’s speech includes multiple references to his department’s reframing of bullying as a federal civil rights issue and his issuance of official federal support for Gay Straight Alliance groups in schools.
- Thursday session opening keynote by Congresswoman Linda T. Sanchez of California who continues to push her Safe Schools Improvement Act proposed federal anti-bullying law which would enumerate into federal law civil rights protections for sexual orientation and gender identification. [See more on this act in my September 7, 2010, blog post.] As noted by the GSA Network attendee, ”This federal anti-bullying bill specifically includes protections for LGBTQ youth who are targeted at schools.”
One theme repeated in a number of this week’s summit reflections is an effort underway to get the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to create a standard common federal definition of bullying. One has to wonder if the special interest groups are not focusing hard on influencing this official federal definition, and the subsequent federal data collection, for this new CDC bullying definition.
Federal dollars awarded to gay rights special interest group that is partner in federal bullying partnership summits
The Obama Administration is also pushing out federal dollars to at least one special interest group that is a partner in the federal bullying partnership summit.
The Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which was founded and directed by Obama’s now-former Assistant Deputy Secretary for Safe and Drug Free Schools Kevin Jennings, announced in June of 2011 that the CDC’s Department of Adolescent and School Health (DASH) has awarded GLSEN up to the maximum of $285,000 per year for each of five years:
“…to increase the percentage of schools that identify and maintain “safe spaces” for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth. During the five-year project, GLSEN will partner with 20 targeted school districts across the country, including the 16 DASH-funded districts, to implement a comprehensive evidence-based program to help keep LBGT students safe and healthy.
The CDC’s grant will allow GLSEN to partner with each district to establish sustainable safe space infrastructure by creating internal Implementation Teams, delivering multi-day Train the Trainer (TOT) programs based on GLSEN’s Safe Space Kit, providing guidance, information and resources to assist in effecting policy enhancements, and increasing collaboration and knowledge sharing among stakeholders within and across states and school districts.”
Details on GLSEN’s first grant contract of over $285,000 are online at USASpending.gov.
Obama Administration using “every tool in their arsenal” including Justice Department investigation of local school districts
The GSA Network attendee at last week’s federal bullying summit reinforces how the Obama Administration is masking a “civil rights movement” under the guise of bullying, and enacting via federal policy what its special interest groups and political base cannot enact into law:
“The summit drew to a close with remarks from the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Tom Perez. Mr. Perez reminded us that civil rights movements are about persistence and that President of the United States and his agencies are going to “use every tool in their arsenal to fight bullying.” He added that the Department of Justice is eager to learn from us on what they can do to end bullying and encouraged anyone with ideas to contact him directly at Tom.Perez@usdoj.gov.
Finally, we reviewed the long way we’ve come in the last year, including launching investigations into school districts who do not adequately handle bullying and harassment of LGBTQ youth and other young people. If you feel your school or school district is ignoring bullying at your school, we encourage you to file a
complaint with the Justice Department.”
This begs a number of questions including: At what point does a local school discipline issue suddenly become a federal Justice Department investigation target? Who decides? Is it driven by special interest advocacy groups like this one who push people to file complaints and DOJ responds to appease them for political reasons, making school districts pawns in a broader federal political scheme?
Skewed federal school safety policy and funding is dangerous and unprecedented
I was never a huge fan of the Bush Administration’s lack of resources for school safety. But they at least kept federal school safety policy and funding framed in a more comprehensive and balanced approach. The Obama Administration has politicized and skewed federal school safety policy and funding in a dangerously imbalanced and unprecedented manner.
What say you?
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