Hearings on LGBT Youth Held at Mass. State HouseBy Jill Anderson
The Massachusetts Commission on Gay Lesbian Bi Transgendered (GLBT) Youth held hearings today at the State House focusing on the state of life for LGBT youth in Massachusetts schools. LGBT youth, antibullying experts, policymakers, parents, educators, and elected officials, including Governor Deval Patrick, testified nearly 20 years after the first statewide hearings on the topic. As a result of those hearings in 1992, former Massachusetts Governor William Weld created the first-in-the-nation Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth and released a groundbreaking report making policy recommendations for how to make Massachusetts schools safer educational spaces for LGBT youth.
HGSE asked members of the community to comment about the importance of such a hearing.
Sherry Deckman, Ed.M.’07, doctoral candidate and instructor of the HGSE course Gender and Sexuality in Schools: School Climate and the Hidden Curriculum:
The public hearings being held by the Massachusetts Commission on GLBT Youth is an important step in further addressing the needs of young people who daily face hostile environments in our schools. Most compelling is the potential these hearings have to illuminate the unique circumstances of GLBT youth who often remain invisible and silenced in these conversations and who are multiply marginalized — those from lower-income backgrounds and youth of color — given the commission’s call for youth from diverse backgrounds to participate. In far too many situations, educators fail to address inequity and harassment perpetrated against sexual minority youth because they themselves have received no training or support in how to address such issues and may even see these issues as being private matters that are better dealt with in the home. It is my hope that through providing such a public venue for young people to make their voices heard that more will begin to see the urgency in supporting school environments that are affirming to all youth and GLBT students in particular. The hearings have the potential to provide insights for educators into how we can make our classrooms safe spaces for diverse students.
Arthur Lipkin, Ed.M.’76, chair of Massachusetts Commission on GLBT Youth:
As a former teacher in a diverse public high school, a community activist, and independent scholar on GLBT youth in schools and communities, I joined the Massachusetts Commission on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) Youth in 2006, when it was newly established, and was elected chair in 2009. The Commission is an independent agency of the Commonwealth that recommends and advocates to all branches of state government effective policies, programs, and resources for GLBT youth to thrive.
Nearly 20 years of Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior (MA-YRB) data show that lesbian, gay, and bisexual students have remained at disproportionate health risk in many dimensions (e.g., victimization, violence, substance use, and unprotected sex) than their heterosexual peers. Within the GLB cohort, students of color continue to be at higher risk for negative health outcomes than white GLB students. Moreover, a larger percentage of youth of color report same-sex behavior or GLB identity than the percentage of white youth (31 percent vs. 26 percent). Although, despite our urging, the state does not measure gender identity, research shows transgender youth face enormous challenges as well. Therefore, the Commission has prioritized the health and welfare needs of GLB youth of color and transgender youth in its recommendations to state agencies for the last five years.
It is maddening that, after decades of work, many GLBT youth programs today have to focus on pulling struggling kids out of the river of distress and self-harm. Of course these young people need rescue; but at the same time, we must be more creative in challenging the culture of ignorance and hate that pushes these kids into that river in the first place.
Twenty years after the first statewide hearings on GLBT youth, the commission is soliciting testimony to challenge and inspire the Commonwealth to do better, even in tight fiscal times.
Today’s statehouse hearings on the experiences of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth in Massachusetts mark a milestone for a population of young people whose strength, courage, and resilience continue to defy the odds in a culture that still struggles to effectively support them. Youth voices, and especially voices of queer young people of color and trans youth who have been further marginalized must be at the forefront of public dialogue about how best to effect change. Education in the form of professional development for all school staff, child welfare providers, health care professionals and mental health providers is essential in ensuring that our youth are receiving culturally responsive services. We have made great gains in the last decade with new legislation, innovative programs and policy reform, but we can’t afford to get complacent and fall into the trap of believing that things will continue to just get better for our youth. We must remain steadfast in our roles as change agents and take active steps to prove our commitment to creating a safer world for GLBT young people by investing in ongoing education for adults who work with youth.