Monday, January 26, 2009

School Board treats mother of hate crime victim with hostility


January 26, 2009

Carolyn Wagner



(Fayetteville, AR, January 22, 2009)-When Fayetteville, AR public school district became the first in the nation to enter into an agreement with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in 1998, students and their families in Fayetteville and nationwide expected a safer learning environment for all students. Recent incidents perpetrated against Billy Wolfe have demonstrated otherwise and parents are again taking action.

Carolyn Wagner, mother of William Wagner whose title IX complaint resulted in the inclusion of protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students and the institution of a commitment to resolve from the Fayetteville school district to the OCR, is once again compelled to confront the Fayetteville school board. Mrs. Wagner, on behalf of Families United Against Hate, a group she founded with other parents and families of hate crime victims, has extended support to Penny Wolfe, the mother of Billy Wolfe. Billy is a former student of the Fayetteville district who endured bullying, sexual harassment and violence based upon the perception he is gay. Bill Wolfe has stated publicly that although he is not gay, the harassment and violence he experience was based on the perception that he was gay and was ignored and in some cases encouraged by school officials.

At the January 22, 2009 meeting of the Fayetteville School Board, Mrs. Wagner attempted to inform the board members of the legal implications if they refuse to develop and enforce policies which forbid bulling, sexual harassment, threats of violence and acts of violence based upon the real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity as well as race, gender, religion, economic status and other categories.

Mrs. Wagner provided each board member with a packet containing resources, including recommendations from Families United Against Hate and the National School Board Association. School Board President Susan Heil, interrupted Mrs. Wagner twice as she attempted to make her statement and then began to talk over her while another person turned the microphone off. A man behind her said he was calling the "officers." Mrs. Wagner offered her assistance and that of others to help this district to ensure all students have a safe learning environment and at no cost to the district. Instead of offer of free help, she was treated with hostility, just as the students who are different are treated by this district on a daily basis.

Mrs Wagner states, "bullying, sexual harassment, violence is wrong for any reason and the situation Billy Wolfe and his family have endured first hand is a lesson for everyone. No one is safe from the maltreatment based upon sexual orientation or gender identity due to the perception that one might be lgbt. When there is an atmosphere of social acceptance which justifies discrimination toward any group of people, none are safe."

Families United Against Hate has provided support and advocated for justice with many families and or survivors newly impacted by bias-motivated violence. Several of these families and or survivors were targeted based upon the perception that the victim was a member of a specific minority.

Billy Wolfe is a prime example of what happens when another makes an assumption of sexual orientation and he is not the only student who has been targeted in this fashion. The typical response by those we hold to be responsible to halt such maltreatment is to blame the victim, to portray the victim as the perpetrator. Children who are bullied will use words to defend and or deflect the bullying, they feel they have no other option when the adults fail to intervene at the first instance of bullying and this will always escalate to threats of or actual violence. The Fayetteville school district acted in the same manner toward William Wagner.

Families United Against Hate has been hearing from other students attending Fayetteville schools who are currently facing bullying and sexual harassment due to their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Many of these students now want to file title lX complaints to address the sexual harassment problem.

The Arkansas legislature passed an Anti-Bullying act in 2003 which forbids bullying for any reason. This act as well as title lX requires public schools to not only have policies which forbids bullying but requires the enforcement of such policies. These do not exclude our lgbt children.

FAMILIES UNITED AGAINST HATE (FUAH) provides support, guidance and assistance to families* and individuals dealing with incidents based on bias; and to the people, organizations and agencies who serve and support them.
FUAH is a nonprofit grassroots organization created by and for families and survivors of hate motivated violence, in collaboration with other individuals and organizations.


My statement to the Fayetteville School Board

The following statement is the exact statement I attempted to deliver to the school board. The board president, Susan Heil, would interupt me with reminders of the time limit of 5 minutes. I had timed my statement previously and it was 3 minutes in length. When that tactic did not work, she began to talk over me when I got to the part referring to the federal lawsuit they now face based on anti gay harassment toward a student based on the perception he was gay. We learned that the district never complied with their promise to the office for civil rights to correct the sexual harassment toward students based upon sexual orientation, real or percieved. They turned off the microphone while I was trying to finish and another said he was calling "the officers." Following this post I will include the press release we were compelled to release due this school's refusal to address the hostile learning environment our lgbt children face daily.

Fayetteville School Board Statement

Gabi Clayton, a mother whom I have worked with for over a decade now, lost her son, Bill, at the age of 17. Bill had endured harassment and discrimination at school based upon his identifying as bisexual. He was assaulted in a hate crime for that reason. After Bill died, Gabi found a notebook of her son’s and in it he wrote a question, “will it always be like this?”

I now come before you as a concern citizen of this community, as a mother, grandmother as well as one who is disappointed and dismayed as I hear from many students in this district and their families regarding the ongoing failure to halt bullying, harassment, discrimination and violence toward children who are viewed to be different. I now ask the same question of this board what Bill had asked, Will it always be like this?

The federal funding for this school district is now at a high risk of being suspended and I will quickly explain why.

On December 2, 1996 our son, William, became a victim of an anti-gay assault during school. William was 16 at the time. Over a decade ago I pleaded with this board to implement and enforce specific policies. Policies such as the inclusion of real or perceived sexual orientation and real or perceived gender identity that forbade harassment and discrimination for students and employees. Another was a crystal clear policy of always reporting to appropriate law enforcement agencies any and all threats and or acts of violence by either students and or employees. No exceptions. I was told over and over that there are already broad policies that address this problem. Those policies did not protect our son and they continue to fail the students of this district.

The intention of such policies are to ensure a safe learning environment for all students who attend school in this district. The school board at that time did not take the crucial action necessary, and we were forced, as parents, to seek other measures that would secure a hostile-free learning environment for our son and all who followed. The two venues left for us were to file a federal lawsuit or file a title lX complaint. The later would have far reaching implications for students in all public educational institutions who endure this form of sexual harassment and discrimination. Therefore we were compelled to file the complaint, on our son’s behalf with the Office for Civil Rights.

Now you will hear the true beginning of the “whole story.” In May of 1998, upon the completion of a federal investigation, we were informed that OCR (Office for Civil Rights) had determined that the Fayetteville School District would need to take action to alter the current educational environment wherein students title lX and fourteenth amendment rights were violated. The following month, your representative, Bobby New signed a Commitment to Resolve (CTR) statement with OCR. The CTR included very specific actions the Fayetteville district was to implement and enforce so as to ensure a safe school environment, especially the inclusion of those excluded under existing policies. One must ask, why, if it is a known and proven fact that students do face this type of harassment and discrimination would a school board deliberately exclude certain groups of children. Fear? Ignorance? It cannot be due to a lack of being informed as I attempted to do so years back. The very life of these children depend on those who have the authority to halt this form of bullying and to do so immediately.

This district has failed to follow the requirements in the CTR. Did you or your representative not understand the implications of this failure? The loss of federal funding. Can this district function without this money? In order for this district to honestly and truly leave no child behind, you must, in due diligence, develop and more importantly enforce non-discrimination and anti-bullying policies which are inclusive of all students who now attend our schools and those to follow.

Were you informed by those you employ to manage this district that they were not going to comply with the CTR? Do you understand that this was a first for this district and nationwide? Do you have a copy of the CTR and or the findings of the federal investigators?

An organization that I am very familiar with and one which the Fayetteville School Board website has a link to is the National School Board Association. This organization has a wealth of information and recommendations for school board members to adhere to. Including policies inclusive of real or perceived sexual orientation and real or perceived gender identity. Every major educational organization has similar information to support what I stated to this board over a decade ago and what I am saying to this board today.

The reason this becomes a crucial factor for the current board members is a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of a former student, Billy Wolfe. Billy does not identify as gay but the maltreatment he endured was, for the most part, sexual and what every lgbt student faces in schools who do not seek to ensure a hostile-free learning environment that is inclusive of all students.

I have now heard from many students who relate to me the same type of maltreatment at the hands of other students who are not instructed to halt the bullying and in a few instances, encouraged. Six of these are wanting to file title lX complaints.

This school district and community is no different from others across this state and nation who face problems that seem to have no simple solutions. This is a problem that has a clear and positive solution and will cost little to take action. Why can we not learn from history but seem bound to repeat such? When will we, as citizens of this great nation learn that the tyranny of the majority cannot and should never deprive the same and equal rights to a minority?

There are organizations that are very willing to assist any community to seek a safer learning environment for their schools. PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) has been active for many decades now and was crucial in the support of our own family during the roughest time of our life as parents of a gay youth.

Another organization I work with, Families United Against Hate, has two goals, to support, advise and advocate for families and or victims newly impacted by bias motivated violence and just as crucial, to seek any and all measures to prevent such violence.

We are all a part of a larger coalition which includes school districts, business’ and organizations known as the Safe Schools Coalition. All and more of the groups I have mentioned welcome the request of assistance by school districts who seek to ensure their schools are a hostile-free learning environment for all students and employees.

I have provided you with a copy of this statement as well as other crucial data that is supported by research (all included in footnotes). I only beg of you to take immediate action so as to avoid the loss of life not to mention the emotional and physical toll that is wrought every day by not putting a halt to this form of bias.

May I suggest that you watch a Lifetime channel movie this Saturday evening called, “Prayers for Bobby.” A true story with a lesson for us all.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sharing some Bilerico Project posts to consider as the year begins

In Let's move beyond "marriage" in '09, Jerame Davis wrote:
My point is that we've got a lot of work to do in a lot of places and we're expending too much talent, energy, money and emotion on marriage. Getting married, whether tomorrow or a decade hence will NOT solve all of our problems.

Do we really think that a place that doesn't care if gay people have jobs is going to allow them to be married in peace? Do we really believe that a place that doesn't want gays to adopt children is going to suddenly see the light on marital bliss for all?

I sure don't.
What a great year 2009 would be if we could see all 50 states with a hate crimes law that works. Even better would be all 50 states giving LGBT people the right to have a job, a home, and feel equal among their fellow citizens.
Please read all of Let's move beyond "marriage" in '09
Filed by: Jerame Davis - January 2, 2009 6:00 PM

A MonicaHelms response to a comment in reply to that article:
You may or may not be aware of what the federal hate crimes law will really do. For those Bilerico readers who are not aware, I hope I can explain it well enough to understand. First and foremost, the federal hate crimes bill, the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act (LLEEA,) also known as the "Matthew Shepard Bill," will NO enhance penalties. Only state level hate crime laws will do that.

The primary purpose for the LLEEA is to allow federal funding for local law enforcement agencies who may not have enough to investigate a hate crime. If labeled a "hate crime," then the small, cash-strapped" agencies can at least have extra money to work the crime.

The other purpose is to allow the FBI to start collecting statistics on these crimes based on the category they are in. Right now, the FBI doesn't give us very accurate info on LGBT hate crimes, because they are not mandated by law to keep track of them. LLEEA will not only allow the FBI to track crimes against LBGT people, but T people will be their own category.

The third reason for a federal hate crimes bill is for the federal government to make a bold statement that even though you may hate LGBT people, we do not want you to harm or kill them. It is a way to show Americans that we are a legitimate minority group.

In an another Bilerico essay, It Doesn't Make Sense, Sara Whitman wrote:
My son came home from school yesterday after having watched a movie about the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's.

It was horrible, he said.

As he described the church bombing, the hoses and the police dogs, he asked me, why?
As I listened to my sons try and digest the horror of the Civil Rights movement, I wanted to say something about what is going on today in the LGBT movement. How transpeople all over the south are being killed with no real police effort to do anything about it. How Sean Kennedy's murderer is being set free after little time in jail.
Please read all of: It Doesn't Make Sense
Filed by: Sara Whitman - January 7, 2009 4:00 PM


Do read the comments too. They are fascinating and enlightening (and sometimes quite frustrating).

The issues are complex, and certianly not linear.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

An Action Alert Request from Sean's Last Wish

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Action Alert Request from Sean's Last Wish
Date: Mon, 22 Dec 2008 20:26:26 -0500 (EST)
From: Sean's Last Wish

Help, stop early parole!

Sean Kennedy's family will never see justice done for Sean. Because of the inadequacy of South Carolina murder laws and the lack of hate crime statutes, his killer, Stephen Andrew Moller, could be out of prison as early as February. We must protest this injustice and ask the parole board to make Moller serve the remainder of his sentence.

Moller was plea bargained down to involuntary manslaughter and received a suspended 5 year sentence for his crime. Because of the credit he received for time he served before his sentencing, the longest possible time he will have to serve in prison is until September 2009. Despite the violence of his crime, he could be eligible for parole by this coming February, meaning that he will have served only 8 months since his sentencing in prison.

The parole board is currently conducting an investigation to decide whether to allow him to have a parole hearing, so it is critical that they hear from you that Stephen Andrew Moller violently murdered Sean Kennedy and should serve the remainder of his sentence!

Please consider writing a letter to the parole board and ask them to deny Stephen Moller parole and serve out his sentence. In your letter, please remind the board of the violent and unprovoked nature of Moller's offense and the pain and suffering it has caused in the lives of Sean Kennedy's family and friends. If you have the time, please write a personal letter by hand or by computer, as those will be the most effective, and if you knew Sean or his family personally, please include that information.

Also, please let Elke know if you send a letter and if possible, send her a copy of the letter, so she can have copies to take with her to the parole hearing.

Be sure to include Moller's full name and ID number:
Stephen Andrew Moller - SCDC ID # 00328891.

Send your letters to:
Department of Probation Pardon and Parole Services
2221 Devine Street, Suite 600, PO Box 50666
Columbia SC 29250

Please forward to your contacts, friends and family.

Thank you for all of your support!

Sean's Last Wish | P.O. Box 5697 | Greenville | SC | 29606
For more information, see Sean's Last Wish.