- The Washington Times - Monday, August 10, 2009

A 17-year-old Northern Virginia student will transfer to a new high school this fall because of what she considers gender discrimination.

Michael, who is transgender and prefers her last name not be used, said school officials threatened disciplinary action this spring after the second time she wore a dress to class.

As students head back to school this month, debate remains fiery over whether Michael will be alone in facing discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The voice of one side of the issue, the Gay and Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), found in a 2007 survey of 6,209 middle and high school LGBT students that 86.2 percent of those surveyed experienced harassment at school in the past year and three-fifths felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation. The group said this can adversely affect students’ grades and school attendance, as well as lessen students’ desire to pursue postsecondary education. The survey was self-selective.

“What we find is that students who are more out in school tend to feel they are more a part of the school community,” said GLSEN Research Director Joseph Kosciw. “They are more themselves. … and students who feel that they’re part of the school community do better on grades.”

The report said students at schools with Gay-Straight Alliance clubs (GSAs) reported less harassment, discriminatory remarks and fear about unsafe environments. There are now 4,606 GSAs registered with GLSEN.

Mr. Kosciw also said that school climate for LGBT students has not appreciably improved since GLSEN started its survey in 1999, despite the growth of GSAs and anti-discrimination laws. Washington and 10 states now have anti-discrimination laws that specifically mention schools and sexual orientation.

“It is a movement, but it’s a very small movement in terms of the percentage of schools out there,” he said. “It’s a small drop in a big pond.”

But Brian Camenker, president of the pro-family group MassResistance, called GLSEN’s survey bogus. He said the survey uses leading questions and is unscientific.

“It’s a complete lie, to put it bluntly. And GLSEN knows that,” he said. “It’s always funny because they show up at a public school, and they will announce that the school has these problems with safety and harassment, and nobody at the school knew that.”

Mr. Camenker said gay advocacy groups use “safety” as a strategy to push their social agenda, and that no independent study has proved widespread harassment is happening.

“When they started the gay clubs in schools, they got a lot of reluctance from the schools to do it. They found that if they tied it into safety, they could claim that all these kids were being harassed, and they could get it in faster,” he said. “There are no legitimate surveys done because it’s a phony problem.”

He said harassment of LGBT students may exist, but also said GSAs exacerbate the problem, not help it.

“If you act offensively, guess what? More kids are gonna call you names,” he said. “Everything gets worse when GLSEN comes into a school, no doubt about it. … What they’re doing with kids is really dangerous. They’re taking kids who are vulnerable psychologically and they’re saying, ‘Well, maybe the problem is you’re gay.’ ”

Michael said most of the discrimination she faced last year came from the school administration. She had many student supporters, although some students would remark, “That’s a boy, he shouldn’t wear a skirt.”

She and her father considered suing her former high school administration but decided it would not be worth it. For now, she is excited about going to a new school and shrugs off past teasing.

“People would talk bad about you because you’re not purple,” Michael said. “People are always judgmental.”

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