Updates on Michigan LGBT Youth Guidance and State Bathroom Controversy

BY AJ TRAGER

LANSING - Michigan has been the topic of much conversation over the past two months as residents discuss if a proposed set of guidelines for LGBT youth in K-12 schools is necessary to ensure all LGBT youth experience equality in the classroom. Now the conversation has gone national.

The "Statement and Guidance on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) Students" was first introduced by John Austin, president of the Michigan State Board of Education at the 2016 Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Initiative Conference hosted by Oakland University in January and was further outlined in a Feb. 23 memo from the MDE to the State Board.

The MDE guidance was created after schools and teachers requested best practices recommendations to create a more supportive learning environment for LGBT students. The guidance recommends adopting policies that would protect LGBT students from harassment, designate a staff member who can provide students with information or support related to LGBT issues, call for students to be addressed by their chosen name and pronouns that "correspond with their gender identity," provide support for the formation of Gay-Straight Alliances, and more.

The MDE hosted a meeting April 12 in Lansing and encouraged members of the public to come out and speak with the Michigan Board of Education. The day-long meeting was rich in support and opposition for the guidance as teachers, students, parents, grandparents and activists came out to voice their concerns.

Supporters of the guidance claim that the state has a long way to go before LGBT youth feel accepted and safe in their schools, since the K-12 experience is more difficult for students with marginalized identities. According to data from the 2015 Michigan Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 41 percent of LGB students report being bullied on school property and students who identify as LGB are 2.3 times more likely to be threatened or injured with a weapon on school property than their non-LGB peers.

"I don't understand how this is even a debate," Evan Murphy, an 18-year-old Michigan high school student, told the Board. "People will come up here and tell you that they care about children -- and I know they don't care about me. I know they don't care about my friends. If they cared about all children, they will be protecting all children."

"Every student has the right to learn in a safe and accepting school environment. A supportive, respectful learning atmosphere for transgender students gives them the equal opportunity for success that every student deserves. Parents, schools and lawmakers working together as a team is the best way to ensure that every student, regardless of their gender identity, will receive the support they need to achieve. The draft guidelines from the State Board of Education will promote an enriching educational experience that makes achievement much more possible for transgender students," the ACLU of Michigan wrote in a statement following the release of the MDE draft guidance.

A handful of Republican state senators, including Sen. Patrick Colbeck from Canton, weighed in on the issue.

"In elementary and middle school, I was bullied (and) I didn't see the State Board of Education propose a policy for kids who get good grades and carry trombone," Colbeck said.

Legislation

Amending Elliott-Larsen, the state's civil rights act, would provide protections for LGBT Michigan residents; however, after several attempts made over the past decade to amend Michigan's constitution, no bill has ever made it to the governor's desk.

Six Republican lawmakers from across the state introduced a resolution April 13 urging the MDE to reject the recently proposed guidance for LGBT students. Resolution 0264 has been referred to the House education committee.

House Resolution 0264 is sponsored by state House Reps. Aric Nesbitt, Gary Glenn, Thomas Hooker, Tim Kelly, Earl Poleski, Phil Potvin and Amanda Price.

Resolution 0264 mentions the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 which was used to create the Northwest Territory, and established precedent for expanding the nation westward. The Northwest Ordinance proclaims that "religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged," and establishes the vital nature of traditional education in the state.

The Northwest Ordinance may have united established western colonies in the Midwest, but Resolution 0264 is poised to create further tensions in the state as debates over what determines "proper" bathroom use continue to spread throughout the nation.

State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, announced his intention to author legislation that would ban trans youth from using the bathroom and locker room in accordance with their gender. As of press time, Casperson had yet to submit his bill to the state Senate.

National Response

Celebrities and big Fortune 500 companies have come out opposing the 100+ anti-trans bathroom bills that have been introduced in states around the country.

Most notably in North Carolina, PayPal announced that it would not pursue its plan to expand in the state due to the state Legislature passing House Bill 02 that bans transgender people from using public restrooms that comply with their gender identity.

Famous rocker Bruce Springsteen cancelled a concert that he was scheduled to perform in North Carolina in protest of the bill.

Before launching into "Born In The USA" at his April 14 concert in Detroit, Springsteen told the audience that he's heard about Casperson's legislation and told the audience, "Pass that anti-LGBT bill you're debating and I won't come back," clearly addressing the Michigan Legislature. He later said, "We hope the bill doesn't pass, 'cause we love playing in Michigan."

The MDE will be accepting public commentary until May 11 and is expected to vote on the guidance later in the year. Go to http://www.everyvoicecountsmi.org.

Link to Resolution 0264 for online article: http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(gxz4xb44dtfk2pt5fjpt5rfi))/mileg.aspx?page=getObject&objectname=2016-HR-0264


  • Latest News

Enter To Win

Enter contests to win great prizes like CDs, DVDs, concert tickets and more

Special Section: Automotive
Former Chrysler Executive Talks Workplace Inclusivity

As an openly gay man, Fred Hoffman said, "I really didn't know if there would be an issue." And while he wasn't waving rainbow flags when he was recruited by Chrysler in 1988, he was told being gay wasn't a problem.

View More Automotive
This Week's Issue

Download or view this week's print issue today!