Advocacy group wants new CPS policy on harassment of lesbian, gay and bisexual students

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An organization representing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
students is holding a rally Tuesday afternoon to ask CPS officials to
enact a policy that will allow them to file formal complaints against
school staff for harassment or other mistreatment.

An organization representing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students is holding a rally Tuesday afternoon to ask CPS officials to enact a policy that will allow them to file formal complaints against school staff for harassment or other mistreatment.

Such acts, including teasing and teaching sex education without being sensitive to gay students, are a form of violence, says Sam Finkelstein, co-founder of Gender JUST, which launched in 2007.

These teens “don’t get any information about ways to keep safe and healthy,” says Finkelstein.

Akhia Daniels, a Gender JUST youth board member and recent graduate of South Shore High, says she has witnessed CPS staff being physically and verbally violent to LGBT students. A CPS security guard made fun of one of her friends, she recalls.

“To make someone feel uncomfortable about being bisexual, I don’t think that was right,” Daniels says.

 

Gender JUST members want CPS officials to provide students with an anonymous method for reporting incidents in which a teacher or administrator has caused emotional or physical harm. They point out that teachers can file such reports when they feel a student has acted inappropriately, but there is no similar process for students to report inappropriate actions by teachers.

Gender JUST members have met with CPS officials on several occasions, says CPS spokesman Frank Shuftan. “They raise some important issues, such as anti-discrimination and anti-bullying, that need to be addressed in a thoughtful and respectful manner,” he says. “These are behaviors we do not condone and we are committed to working on these issues in a thoughtful and meaningful manner.”

Finkelstein acknowledges that CPS officials, including CEO Ron Huberman, have met with members, but note that those meetings have yet to result in policy changes. Huberman has told the group he does not have enough time to focus on the issue now because of the budget crisis, Finkelstein says.

But the group says the rally is meant to show CPS officials that the problem is prevalent enough for the district to take seriously. “It’s a way to put pressure on CPS while getting lots of people involved, building some kind of broader issue,” Finkelstein said.

Giving students the opportunity to submit complaints is just the first of many changes Gender JUST members hope to make. The organization’s members also want students and administrators to communicate more about sexual identity and how students are treated.

Daniels says more peer-to-peer discussion would be beneficial.

“People don’t talk enough. They silence themselves. They don’t speak about things. [If] we get these peer groups and discussions going, there will be a lot more understanding,” Daniels said.

CPS policy forbids discrimination based on sexual preference, notes LeAndra Padgett, a Youth Council coordinator for Mikva Challenge. But “there is a difference between policy and practice,” she says. “If they don’t feel it’s being implemented, it probably isn’t.”