Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Playing politics with no thought for the safety of children in Tennessee

There is a dangerous movement at work in Tennessee: a movement to make public schools less safe for our children.

In a recent email sent to supporters, the Family Action Council of Tennessee declared its support for the "License to Bully" bill (HB1153/SB0750):
We plan to press the legislature to amend our state’s school anti-bullying law to make sure it protects the religious liberty and free speech rights of students who want to express their views on homosexuality.  
Will State government create a "License to Bully" in Tennessee?
The religious liberty and free speech rights of students are already protected by the U.S. Constitution. This legislation would give special protections to students of a particular religious point of view. If made into law, FACT would give students a "license to bully" that allows them to hide their irrational biases behind an extreme religious belief. 

The last year has been difficult for students in Tennessee. Students at Sequoyah High School in Monroe County have faced community and school district intimidation in trying to confront examples of bullying and harrassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students. Students and parents have fought hard to win support for a Gay Straight Alliance - a student organization shown in many academic setting to promote understanding and respect for LGBTQ students in schools.

In December, we learned from family, friends and fellow students that Jacob Rogers experienced years of anti-gay bullying at Cheatham County Central High School in Ashland City prior to ending his life. 

Faced with such news, the Tennessee General Assembly ought to focus on increasing the number of protective factors that promote the safety of students in public schools. The "License to Bully" and "Don't Say Gay" (HB0229/SB0049) bills will only serve to increase risks to students. But some lawmakers don't seem to get it.

During the break in session, Tennessee Equality Project forwarded a link to Tennessee lawmakers of the recent column written by Gail Kerr of the Tennessean which outlined the perils of enacting the "Don't Say Gay" bill in relation to the reports of anti-gay bullying that preceded the suicide of Jacob Rogers in Ashland City. We wanted to make sure that lawmakers in the Tennessee understood the danger of enacting the "Don't Say Gay" bill into law. 

We received rather disturbing responses from two Tennessee Representatives (one of whom sits on the House Education Committee).  

From Rep. Joshua Evans (District 66 - Greenbrier):

If Gail's against it, that's reason enough for me to be for it.

A simple "no comment" would have sufficed. From Rep. John Ragan (District 33 - Oak Ridge) who serves in the House Education Committee, we received this:
Dear Mr. Cole,

The article you forwarded by Gail Kerr, “Teen's suicide shows danger of 'don't say gay' bill” (Tennessean Dec. 18, 2011) is so slanted as to qualify as propaganda.   Ms. Kerr spends almost her entire column selectively citing anecdotal, discriminatorily inequitable support for her position.

It is mentioned, in passing, that the school had a policy against bullying.  However, the effectiveness of the policy is then dismissed peremptorily on the basis of a grandmother’s commentary.  That is certainly, an unbiased source, right?  Perhaps, the opinions of faculty or other students on the effectiveness of the policy could have been included.  Did the author not interview any of them?  Alternatively, did she elect to exclude such interviews because they disagreed with her implied point?

Oddly, while willing to include a close relative’s unsubstantiated opinion, she failed to include any facts potentially contradictory to her implied cause.  Could the presence of such facts cause a reasonable person to question her unprofessional implication of the cause of an unfortunate, self-inflicted demise of a young Tennessean?

For example, she could have pointed out that suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens in this country.  Additionally, she could have mentioned that U.S. Teenage boys were four times as likely as teenage girls to die by suicide.  Could the mere mention of such statistics possibly cause a reader to conclude that Ms. Kerr’s analysis was intentionally skewed?

She could have mentioned that it has been well known for a decade that suicide is attempted much more frequently in the homosexual community than in the heterosexual community (Mathy, Cochran, Olsen, & Mays, 2009).  This same source pointed out that, on average, suicide is approximately three times more likely among homosexuals than heterosexuals.  Could the inclusion of these facts in her column have possibly indicated to a reasonable reader that Ms. Kerr’s implications were erroneous?

Finally, there is the truly, most relevant question that Ms. Kerr studiously and meticulously avoided:  Could the high school senior’s suicide have had more to do with his own proclivities and behavior than anything to do with schoolmate bullies or a bill that was discussed, but not acted on, in a legislative committee?

In short, Mr. Cole, the column you forwarded qualifies as nothing but a politically distorted, intentionally poorly sourced, screed.  Anyone who is taken in by this agitprop is intellectually asleep, or has, obviously, never been exposed to, even, the most basic level of education in critical thinking.

It is not only incredibly poor taste, but, truly disgusting, that a columnist in a major, metropolitan newspaper would stoop to the level of using the tragic loss of family’s loved one to try to make a political point.  It is even worse that such a columnist would omit relevant facts and attempt to misrepresent circumstantial context for the sake of a fashionable, political correct perspective.

Good Day,

John D. Ragan
State Representative
As I read each response, I searched for concern or compassion for Jacob or students like him. But I came up short. Had Rep. Ragan really done his research, he would know that Cheatham County School District's bullying policy does not provide enumerated protections that include sexual orientation (or gender identity or expression). Additionally, school settings hostile to LGBQ students contribute to poor outcomes for LGBQ students. A recent study concluded that there is :
. . . an association between an objective measure of the social environment and suicide attempts among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. The social environment appears to confer risk for suicide attempts over and above individual-level risk factors. These results have important implications for the development of policies and interventions to reduce sexual orientation–related disparities in suicide attempts.*
It's time for Tennesseans to stop using children as pawns for social, religious and political agendas. We need to be focusing on ways to ensure that Tennessee students receive an education free from bullying, harassment and intimidation. We need to increase protective factors and decrease risk factors for students in Tennessee schools. I ask you to join us in that effort. We need parents, teachers, students and other advocates to step up conversations with their elected representatives in state government. The health and welfare of Tennessee children may depend on it.

- Jonathan Cole

*Hatzenbuehler, M.L. April 18, 2011. "The Social Environment and Suicide Attempts in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth." Pediatrics. 

1 comment:

Moriah said...

Mr. Cole,

I came across a link to your blog post on a CNN story. Although I may be of different opinion than you on this bill (I have not studied it), that is not why I'm commenting.

I am commenting because the tone of your post indicates an argument built primarily on pathos and by besmirching opposition. For one, your title "Playing politics with no thought for the safety of children in Tennessee" assumes that the authors of the bill HB1153/SB0750 did think of the welfare of Tennessee children. I do not know if you have engaged in ESP to uncover this information, but normally we cannot read another's mind.

You claim there is a movement that wants "to make public schools less safe for our children." In all honesty, do you believe that supporters of this bill want children to be bullied? Is that their motive for creating a bill? If that is true, the authors of the bill are bullies themselves.

Finally, sir, you end with a plea for "Tennesseans to stop using children as pawns." I don't think the authors and supporters of bill HB1153/SB0750 were trying to make a bill and affect children just as a social or political point. To avoid wrongful judgment, we usually should assume the best of others - particularly that they are sincere.

I have no objection to you making any argument based on ethos or logos or even including pathos. But I do object to twisting the position of the opposition to appear overly negative and deliberately uncaring. It is best to argue against an argument or position rather than someone. I have done the latter before, but it has never made me feel good to win an argument that way.