Gay Primary Source

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"We must protect kids from bullying"

“Asher Brown was a 13-year-old straight-A student in Houston. Tyler Clementi was 18, a college freshman who played violin in the Rutgers Symphony Orchestra. Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old from a small city in central California, loved french fries and Pokemon cards. Billy Lucas was a 15-year-old from Indiana who showed horses. Justin Aaberg from Minnesota was 15 too and posted his cello music on YouTube. What did these young people have in common? They all died recently by suicide after being harassed because they were gay or believed to be gay.

Millions of young people will wake up in America today knowing they'll be bullied before the day is over. For many, the harassment will focus on their race, a physical or intellectual disability, their performance at school, or another characteristic that sets them apart. We know that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students are among the most likely to be targeted. Four out of five gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender middle-schoolers say they are regularly harassed because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Three quarters of high-schoolers say they "frequently" or "often" hear derogatory and homophobic remarks. As these attacks add up, they can become an unbearable burden for young people. Bullied teens are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. They're more likely to skip school. They're more likely to be depressed. The result is that gay, lesbian and bisexual teens are up to seven times more likely to have reported attempting suicide than their peers.

We cannot continue to stand by while our children are subjected to this physical and emotional violence. Protecting young people from bullying is just as essential to their healthy development as making sure they have good teachers and access to health care. Over the years, we've heard excuse after excuse for why this harassment continues. One argument is that bullying often happens out of sight - in locker rooms, deserted hallways and on social media websites. But we know that 85 percent of bullying happens in front of witnesses, including adults. Others operate under the sad belief that bullying is just another part of growing up, that it 'toughens kids up.' The events of these last few months should put this outrageous theory to rest. Still others say some kids are just mean and there's nothing we can do about it. But this excuse ignores the effective strategies we've developed for reducing bullying. For example, in schools that have an anti-harassment policy that specifically addresses sexual orientation or gender identity, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students are 50 percent more likely to feel safe in school and one-third less likely to skip a class. Even more promising are approaches that get entire communities involved. When principals, teachers, school nurses, pediatricians, social workers, faith leaders, law enforcement agents, parents and youth all have the information they need to recognize bullying and respond to it, bullies get a clear message that their behavior is unacceptable. That's why last year, the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services joined forces with four other departments to create a federal task force on bullying. In August, the task force staged the first-ever National Bullying Summit, bringing together 150 top state, local, civic and corporate leaders to begin mapping out a national plan to end bullying. And we launched a new website,, which brings all the federal re- sources on bullying together in one place for the first time ever. We're also getting students involved. The Stop Bullying Now! Campaign has 80 partners across the country that help reach youth with an anti-bullying message everywhere from elementary and middle schools to Boys and Girls Clubs to public libraries to 4-H clubs. And last week, the Department of Education's new Safe and Supportive Schools program announced grants to 11 states to help them to use student, family and staff surveys to create "school safety scores" for schools in their states. Additional funds will be available for the schools with the biggest safety concerns. We're launching a similar effort to mobilize communities to prevent suicides. Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services helped announce an unprecedented National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, which brings together a wide range of public and private partners to coordinate anti-suicide efforts. One of its specific goals is preventing suicide in at-risk groups, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth. Building safe neighborhoods and schools where young people can thrive is a job for all of us, not just government or schools or parents. It means speaking up the next time you hear someone use a homophobic slur, stepping in when you encounter a bully in action, and letting your local school board know that bullying isn't just part of growing up - it's a serious danger to our children.

The events of the last few weeks have filled many of us with sadness and anger. They should also fill us with determination to do everything we can to stand up for Seth, Tyler, Asher, Billy, Justin and millions of other young people who can't do it for themselves.”

Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, op-ed published October 9, 2010.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Another Federal Judge Strikes Down DADT

“Major Witt’s approach to the fact finding mission of this Court was to present testimony of members and former members of her unit, the 446th AES, who testified persuasively that serving with Margaret Witt and other known or suspected gay and lesbian service members did not adversely affect unit morale and cohesion. To the contrary, it was Major Witt’s suspension and ultimate discharge that caused a loss of morale throughout the squadron.

The Court is convinced from its thorough reading of the [9th Circuit] Witt decision that an in-depth, particularized examination of Major Witt’s circumstances vis-a-vis DADT is what the Circuit Court contemplated when remanding the case for further proceedings. Support for this conclusion is found at footnote 11, wherein the Court recited some of the facts that caused it to doubt whether the government’s interest was significantly furthered by Major Witt’s suspension and subsequent discharge under DADT: “Major Witt was a model officer whose sexual activities hundreds of miles away from base did not affect her unit until the military initiated discharge proceedings under DADT and even then, it was her suspension pursuant to DADT, not her homosexuality, that damaged unit cohesion.”

The evidence produced at trial overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that the suspension and discharge of Margaret Witt did not significantly further the important government interest in advancing unit morale and cohesion. To the contrary, the actions taken against Major Witt had the opposite effect... Serving within that unit are known or suspected gay or lesbian service men and women. There is no evidence before this Court to suggest that their service within the unit causes problems of the type predicted in the Congressional findings of fact... These people train together, fly together, care for patients together, deploy together. There is nothing in the record before this Court suggesting that the sexual orientation (acknowledged or suspected) has negatively impacted the performance, dedication or enthusiasm of the 446th AES. There is no evidence that wounded troops care about the sexual orientation of the flight nurse or medical technician tending to their wounds.

The evidence before the Court is that Major Margaret Witt was an exemplary officer. She was an effective leader, a caring mentor, a skilled clinician, and an integral member of an effective team. Her loss within the squadron resulted in a diminution of the unit’s ability to carry out its mission. Good flight nurses are hard to find.

The evidence clearly supports the plaintiff’s assertion that the reinstatement of Major Witt would not adversely affect the morale or unit cohesion of the 446th AES... The men and women of the United States military have over the years demonstrated the ability to accept diverse peoples into their ranks and to treat them with the respect necessary to accomplish the mission, whatever that mission might be... The reinstatement of Major Margaret Witt will not erode the proficiency of the United States military.

For the reasons expressed, the Court concludes that DADT, when applied to Major Margaret Witt, does not further the government’s interest in promoting military readiness, unit morale and cohesion. If DADT does not significantly further an important government interest under prong two of the three-part test, it cannot be necessary to further that interest as required under prong three. Application of DADT therefore violates Major Witt’s substantive due process rights under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. She should be reinstated at the earliest possible moment.

Conclusion: The application of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” to Major Margaret Witt does not significantly further the government’s interest in promoting military readiness, unit morale and cohesion. Her discharge from the Air Force Reserves violated her substantive due process rights under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. She should be restored to her position as a Flight Nurse with the 446th AES as soon as is practicable, subject to meeting applicable regulations touching upon qualifications necessary for continued service.” US District Judge Ronald B. Leighton, US District Court Western District of Washington at Tacoma, September 24, 2010.