Posts Tagged 'Students & Young People'

Two Recent Victories for LGBT Rights

By Daniel Tilley
ACLU of Florida LGBT Advocacy

This week witnessed two steps forward in the movement for LGBT equality in Florida. First, courageous students at Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola successfully established a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), the first of its kind in the Escambia County School District.

When students tried to form the club last fall, the school denied their application. The ACLU of Florida intervened, and within days, the school reversed course. Now that the school has brought itself into compliance with federal law, the GSA – which is made up of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students, along with straight allies – can work to end bullying, harassment, and discrimination against LGBT students and others.

As the school’s initial resistance to the club shows, this discrimination all too often comes not only from peers but from the very adults who are charged with protecting Florida’s students. The ACLU of Florida applauds the work of these brave students at Booker T. Washington High School.

In a second recent victory, the Board of County Commissioners for Pinellas County voted 6-1 to approve the creation of a domestic-partnership registry (DPR) in Pinellas County, a county with more than 900,000 residents. Through a DPR, same-sex couples can get access to important protections that would otherwise be denied to them, including access to domestic-partner health-insurance coverage and other benefits through a participating employer plan, visitation rights in medical facilities, emergency notification, and rights to certain medical decision-making.

Although the bundle of benefits is small, these benefits are among the most important a couple can have. The ACLU of Florida and other coalition partners, such as Equality Florida, played a substantial role in this effort. Notably, this victory comes on the heels of eight other DPR victories in Florida, and the ACLU of Florida continues to work successfully with coalition partners and provide technical assistance and support to pass such registries.

Report Card in Apopka

By Derek Newton
Communications Director

Apopka is a small community outside Orlando that is on the verge of being consumed by Central Florida sprawl and suburban planning but its agrarian roots and the impact of the Hispanic community are easy to see.

ACLU Policy and Advocacy Counsel Julie Ebenstein addresses the media in Apopka, FL on May 23, 2012

A stone’s throw from Apopka High School is the HOPE CommUnity Center which, “is dedicated to empowerment of Central Florida’s immigrant and working poor communities through Education, Advocacy and Spiritual Growth.”

As a landmark for immigrant families, it was a perfect setting for yesterday’s ACLU of Florida press conference at which we issued a report card on the unsettling practice of school districts not making clear that Social Security numbers (SSN) are not required for enrollment in public schools. In spite of federal law requiring it, many school districts, including several in Central Florida, are still asking for SSN on enrollment forms without stating the information is voluntary.

The result is that immigrant families may have to choose between sending kids to school and what they think could be in inquiry into the citizenship status of those children or other family members.

 It’s would be a tragic choice especially considering no such choice is necessary. Since schools don’t need a SSN to enroll, there is no reason to put parents and families through that difficulty.

After surveying all 67 Florida districts, the ACLU found nearly half of those districts – 30 in all – received a grade of “C” or lower in how they ask for and handle SSN on enrollment forms. Eleven districts, including a handful in Central Florida, failed outright by making no effort whatsoever to comply with federal law on the use of SSN.  

Based on our report card and press conference, several districts including Orange County (which received an “F”), said they would re-examine their enrollment form for next school year.

Cartoon: Wading into the Inspirational Messages Swamp

Earlier this year, the Florida Legislature passed and Governor Rick Scott signed a law inviting local school boards to allow so-called “inspirational messages” at mandatory school events. The ACLU of Florida and others have warned local districts that allowing organized, sanctioned school prayer and other similar messages may be nothing more than an invitation to expensive litigation.

Guest Speakers in the Classroom

Joyce Hamilton Henry

Director, Mid-Florida Regional Office of the ACLU of Florida

One can clearly agree that the classroom curriculum is greatly enhanced by real life experiences of individuals and experts in the field.  This prepares our students for the real world and a global society.

After months of pressure from a group of individuals led by David Caton, the Hillsborough School Board decided to maintain its existing policy which will allow guest speakers in the classroom.  The Mid-Florida Regional Office of the ACLU of Florida was among several local organizations that supported the Council on Islamic Relations which was at the center of this controversy.  Several local leaders representing a diverse range of perspectives, faith and racial/ethnic groups spoke passionately about the need to provide students with this valuable component to their learning experience.

It was clear that the attempt to change the policy was driven by Islamophobia and bigotry.  The Hillsborough School Board rightly decided not to succumb to bullying tactics from Caton’s followers. Superintendent MaryEllen Elia revised earlier Guidelines which would have prevented advocacy organizations from speaking in classrooms.  On March 30, 2012, guest speakers in the classroom were the only topic of a lengthy Workshop. 

We applaud the Hillsborough School Board and Superintendent Elia for erring on the side of supporting healthy discourse in the classroom and for trusting the good judgment of the teachers guided by a policy that works.



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