“We follow the law as this body has defined,” DeVos claims – despite having tossed out hundreds of discrimination complaints without investigating them.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is in hot water after being grilled on Wednesday for her budget that totally eliminates funding for the Special Olympics. But there’s another issue that was yet another point of controversy for the far right wing billionaire member of President Trump’s cabinet.
“Do you think it’s all right for a school to discriminate based on someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity?” U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) asked the Education Secretary, as The Hill and Vox’s Aaron Rupar reported. Pocan happens to be gay.
A nervous DeVos seemed to squirm as she paused, struggling to find the words to deliver an answer to the “yes” or “no” question.
“We have laws that cover discriminatory efforts and our office for civil rights has continued to be very diligent in investigating any allegation of discrimination and will continue to do so,” she claimed, falsely, with intermittent nervous smiles.
“So is that a yes or is that a no?” Rep. Pocan again asked. “I’m trying to get a yes or no, I guess, on that.”
“We follow the law as this body has defined,” DeVos replied.
In fact, under Secretary DeVos, the Dept. of Education slammed the covers shut on hundreds of anti-LGBT – especially anti-transgender – cases, without actually or fully investigating.
“The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has begun dismissing hundreds of civil rights complaints under a new protocol that allows investigators to disregard cases that are part of serial filings or that they consider burdensome to the office,” The New York Times reported last April.
Also under DeVos, the Dept. of Education has reversed, rescinded, or gutted guidance and directives that protect the civil rights of transgender students, minority students including students of color, and students with special needs. She has also changed guidance to protect students accused of rape or sexual misconduct.
.@repmarkpocan: Do you think it’s alright for a school to discriminate based on someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity?
DeVOS: We have laws that cover discriminatory efforts.
POCAN: … is that a yes or no?
DeVOS: We follow the law. pic.twitter.com/z5ubS0zvt7
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 26, 2019
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Keir Starmer Spox Repeats Debunked Claim That Kids Are Identifying as Cats
A spokesperson for Keir Starmer, the leader of the United Kingdom’s center-left Labour party, has repeated a debunked claim that students are identifying as cats.
A video posted to social media showed a teacher arguing with a student about gender identity. In the clip, a student at Rye College in East Sussex says “If you have a vagina you’re a girl and if you have penis you’re a boy. That’s it,” but the teacher countered, saying “Cisgender is not necessarily the way to be. You are talking about the fact that cisgender is the norm, that you identify with the sexual organ you were born with, that’s basically what you’re saying, which is really despicable,” according to The Argus, a Brighton-based news outlet.
The video went viral, with the framing that the student had objected to another student identifying as a cat, based on a comment one of the students made in the clip: “How can you identify as a cat when you’re a girl?”
With this framing, it was reported on by right-leaning UK newspapers including the Daily Mail and The Telegraph, but without any investigation into the claims, taking the cat comment at face value. The outlet Schools Week, however, reached out to Rye College, which confirmed that “no children at Rye College identifies as a cat or any other animal.”
When asked about this incident by The Telegraph, a spokesperson for Starmer accepted the story as true.
“It’s clearly ridiculous if you’re in a situation where children are not being recognised as children. I think it’s fairly obvious what the right approach should be in this case,” the unnamed spokesman said. “I think children should be told to identify as children.”
The idea of children identifying as cats was common in the United States last year, with the urban legend being cited by at least 20 Republicans, according to NBC News. The urban legend usually involves schools being forced to provide kitty litter for these students. The claim, ridiculous on its face, was credulously accepted and repeated by politicians, despite no evidence. It was amplified by Joe Rogan in an interview with former Representative Tulsi Gabbard, and, again, taken as truth despite Rogan not providing any verifiable details. The claim has been widely debunked by outlets including—but not limited to—the Associated Press, Reuters, and Education Week.
It appears that the claim has now jumped the pond as the United Kingdom faces its own transphobia problem. This January, Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced his government would block a Scottish law that would make it easier for transgender citizens to change their legal gender marker. This week, a leaked video showed Sunak making a transphobic joke, and in April, he wrote an op-ed for the Daily Express supporting a ban of transgender people from single-sex spaces.
“When it comes to women’s spaces, women’s prisons, changing rooms, sports, health, I believe that biological sex really matters,” Sunak wrote. “I know what a woman is – and I’ll protect women’s rights and women’s spaces.”
Sunak and Starmer’s spokesman’s comments follow years of transphobic coverage in the UK media, even from normally left-leaning outlets like The Guardian. Even the country’s state broadcaster was not immune. The BBC published a story originally headlined “We’re being pressured into sex by some trans women.” The piece quoted former porn actress Lily Cade. Cade had a history transphobic remarks, including calling for trans women to be lynched. The same article also used a survey from an anti-trans activist group to bolster its claims, even though the survey was not just self-selecting, but had a laughably small sample size of 80 people.
Featured image by Chris McAndrew, used under the Creative Commons license.
‘And Tango Makes Three’ Authors Sue Florida, Say Law Suggests Book ‘Deserved To Be Banned’
The authors of a beloved children’s book about gay penguin parents, And Tango Makes Three, are suing a Florida school board as well as members of the Florida Board of Education. One of the arguments is that the book, based on a true story, is implied to be obscene by the fact that it’s banned.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, the two authors of And Tango Makes Three, along with six children who wish to read the book and their parents. It challenges Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Law, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The law bans education on sexual orientation and gender identity through the third grade. Many Florida school districts ban students up to that grade from checking out books with LGBTQ themes from school libraries.
The suit alleges is that the law in question is “vague and overbroad,” thus running afoul of the First Amendment. Lawyers for the plaintiffs argue that removing And Tango Makes Three from public school libraries was illegitimate because the libraries do not follow a specific curriculum.
“Books in school libraries are, by nature, optional reading. Even if library shelves constituted curriculum, Lake County had no legitimate pedagogical purpose for barring students’ access to Tango,” the lawsuit reads.
And Tango Makes Three tells the true story of Roy and Silo, male penguins at the Central Park Zoo in New York City. The penguins were seen performing mating rituals, and had even attempted to hatch a rock. Zookeepers gave the penguins an egg from a different pair of penguins who were unable to hatch it. With Roy and Silo’s help, the egg hatched into a female penguin chick, Tango.
The suit says that the book “contains no obscenity or vulgarity; and it is factually accurate,” and thus it’s appropriate for schoolchildren in the 4- to 8-year-old age range suggested by the publisher. By keeping it out of the hands of children, the school district is violating the First Amendment rights of the authors based on their viewpoint, the suit says.
“By censoring Tango and barring students below the fourth grade from accessing the book in Lake County public school libraries, Defendants have stripped the Authors’ book of an essential aspect of its communicative value. They have also injured the reputation of the Authors and Tango by implicitly and falsely suggesting that the book contains obscene, vulgar, sexual, or age-inappropriate material that deserved to be banned—contrary to the wholesome, positive and family-friendly content of the book—and have thereby deprived the Authors of more of their target audience and speech rights,” the suit continues.
The students are part of the suit because their “right to receive information” has also been infringed, lawyers argue. The six children, identified only by their initials, all wanted to check out the book from their library at the beginning of the school year, but are prohibited by the law. They would check it out, the suit says, if it were available.
Ironically, this is not the only penguin-related lawsuit over the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. In May, the publisher Penguin Random House—no relation to And Tango Makes Three—sued Florida’s Escambia County School District in Pensacola for removing books “based on ideological objections to their contents or disagreement with their messages or themes.”
GOP Lawmaker Wants to Fine Transgender People in North Dakota $1500 if They Use ‘Wrong’ Pronouns
The North Dakota House of Representatives has introduced a bill that would strictly prohibit expanded use of pronouns outside of the gender that the person was assigned at birth.
House Bill 2199 restricts the definition of gender to the “individual’s determined sex at birth” and then requires that all pronoun use be reflective of that same gender. Any violation by anyone who works at an institution that receives state funding, including public schools would be subject to a $1,500 fine.
If gender is challenged, the bill puts the responsibility on the individual to prove their gender.
“Say, they’re a boy, but they come to school and say they’re a girl. As far as that school is concerned in this bill, that person is still a boy. If it becomes contested, the burden will be on the girl, the so-called girl, or the boy, to prove that he is a girl,” said North Dakota State Senator David Clemens while speaking in favor of the bill.
The bill’s sponsor was the only testimony given in support of the bill, as nearly 100 separate forms of testimony was provided against the bill. Even the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee voted to not pass the proposed bill.
“I see no way this law would pass any sort of legal challenge based on basic legal construction principles,” North Dakota Human Rights’ Christina Sambor said in an interview with KFYR-TV of Bismarck. “It is vague, fails to advance any legitimate state interests, and not only would cause impermissible, gender-based discrimination, its very purpose is gender-based discrimination.”
The bill now moves to the Senate floor.
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