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The truth about the LGBT guidelines from the state school board

Jack Lessenberry

Last month, the State Board of Education did something that was right and courageous -- and which I felt certain at the time was bound to be misconstrued. 

Board President John Austin announced they were considering a new set of voluntary polices to help make gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students feel safe in school.

These included the suggestion that transgender students be allowed to use the bathroom in which they felt most comfortable.

This wasn’t a case of a bunch of out-of-touch bureaucrats imposing their dictates on the helpless population. The board couldn’t if they wanted to; they don’t have that kind of power.

What they were proposing were voluntary guidelines.

What’s more, they didn’t even plan to adopt them until May. What they did was announce they were releasing their suggestions for public comment. Surprisingly, a board member told me that for a week or so, the reaction they received was largely positive.

Then the national right-wing media got hold of the story, and reacted pretty much in the way sharks react to blood in the water.

Fox TV’s Tucker Carlson attacked the guidelines on his blog, and issued a demand for Austin’s emails about this issue. Tea Party activists sent out an “action alert” advising members to attack guidelines, and the state board.

This was followed by what looks like an orchestrated and well-financed campaign of postcards and luridly obscene robocalls, saying that John Austin wanted to allow male perverts to come into your little daughter’s bathroom at school.

Republicans in the state Legislature then went after the state board, which now has a Democratic majority.

Well, none of this surprises me very much, especially at the legislative level.

After Flint and other excesses of the Snyder Administration, Republicans desperately need an issue if they hope to hang on to the lower house of the Legislature this year.

But it would be nice if someone were to tell the truth as to what this is all about.

This began when Rick Joseph, last year’s teacher of the year, came to the board and pleaded with them to do something to help LGBT students learn. Joseph, a middle school teacher in Birmingham, set out to become a lawyer, but went into education because he cared about closing the gap between minority and other students and helping them learn.

According to statistics supplied by the state board, such students – who are more than eight percent of all Michigan students --have it worst of all. Their grades suffer. Many miss a lot of school because they feel unsafe.

A really shocking 29% tried to commit suicide in the past year.

Bullying goes on in high schools, some of which resemble the Lord of the Flies more than anything else; half a century ago I was called a queer and beaten up for the crime of being nonathletic and reading a lot.

To make any children’s lives a living hell because of sexuality and gender identity makes no more sense than persecuting them if they are Black.

The Michigan Board of Education has been trying to do its job and protect children. Sadly, there are others who see kids as only pawns to be used in their political games.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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