The Coalition for Safer Schools of NYS, PO Box 2345, Malta, NY 12020
CSS-NYS Note:I am sure any real or perceived gay, lesbian, bisexual or
transgendered student would consider the American Family Association (AFA) as
not only being nasty bigots but downright foolish. Little do they know that
it is likely some of those students being gay-bashed are members of their own
TRAVERSE CITY AREA PUBLIC SCHOOLS
P.O. BOX 32
TRAVERSE CITY, MI 49685-0032
DETROIT NEWS, March 1, 2001
615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, MI, 48226
(Fax:313-222-6417 ) (E-Mail: Letters@detnews.com )
( http://detnews.com/ )
Anti-gay group threatens to sue schools
Activists oppose any policy that bans criticism of homosexuality
By John Flesher / Associated Press
TRAVERSE CITY -- An anti-gay organization says it may sue Michigan schools whose harassment policies could be used to stop students from speaking against homosexuality.
The American Family Association of Michigan sent a letter Tuesday to the Traverse City Area Public Schools, saying their policy was strikingly similar to a speech code struck down this month by a federal court in Pennsylvania.
Gary Glenn, the group's president, said its legal affiliate was willing to represent any student or parent in a lawsuit contending the policy curbs free-speech rights. The school district has received no such complaints, Asst. Supt. Jayne Mohr said.
The American Family Association of Michigan also would scrutinize other schools' harassment guidelines, Glenn said.
"Traverse City is the only district we've yet discovered that has an unconstitutional speech code in place," he said. "But I'd be very surprised if there were not many such speech codes around the state."
James Pavelka, superintendent of the Traverse City schools, said the lawsuit threat "could be construed as a form of intimidation, and we will not be intimidated. As long as I'm superintendent of schools, we will not permit harassment in any form."
On Feb. 14, a panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned anti-harassment rules in the State College, Pa., school system. The court said the policy went too far by prohibiting harassment based on everything from race and sexual orientation to "other personal characteristics" including clothing, appearance and social skills.
The ruling is binding only within the 3rd Circuit, which doesn't include Michigan. But the American Family Association says it sets a precedent that would strengthen lawsuits against similar policies elsewhere.
The Traverse City policy says harassment could include "written or oral innuendoes, comments, jokes, insults, threats or disparaging remarks concerning a person's gender, national origin, religious beliefs, etc."
It does not mention sexual orientation. But the "etc." and the provision about religious beliefs could be construed as forbidding written or spoken comments about homosexuality, Glenn said.
The definition also includes placing offensive "objects, pictures or graphic commentaries in the school environment." That could mean bringing a Bible to school or handing out religious tracts, said Bryan J. Brown, a lawyer with the American Family Association's Center for Law & Policy in Tupelo, Miss.
Mohr said the Traverse City policy was intended to cover only forms of harassment already prohibited by anti-discrimination law. "Sexual orientation is not meant to be a part of that," she said.
She said school attorneys regularly review policies to make sure they comply with pertinent court rulings. "At this point, we don't see anything illegal within the policy," Mohr said.
Kary Moss, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said schools should guarantee a free exchange of ideas but also protect students from harassment that impedes learning.
"The AFA doesn't seem to be concerned about the First Amendment or the right to free speech," Moss said. "It seems they are concerned about their own ability to harass children because of their sexual orientation."
Will Poland, spokesman for a group called the Traverse City Campaign Against Discrimination, said even well-intended comments could incite physical attacks against minorities.
But Glenn said barring students from "compassionately warning fellow
students about the severe medical consequences of homosexual behavior not
only violates the Constitution, but arguably (puts) young lives at greater
This message has been distributed as a free informational service for the expressed interest of non-profit research and educational purposes only.
GLSEN --- Gay, Lesbian, and Straight
Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund
Safe Schools Coalition of Washington
The P.E.R.S.O.N. Project Home Page
Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians
Empire State (NY) Pride Agenda
Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation
Unity Through Diversity (Long Island)
LIGALY Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth
"The Real or Perceived Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgendered Student Protection
("Being safe at school should not be a radical concept".. Jamie Nabozny)
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Coalition for Safer Schools of New York State
Director of Operations and Programs
PO Box 2345
Malta, NY 12020
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Last updated 3/1/2001 by Jean Richter, richter@eecs.Berkeley.EDU