Advocates voice concern for gay students’ safety

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(Host) A group of advocates from several gay and lesbian organizations wants Governor Jim Douglas to help make Vermont schools safer for gay students. The group says many gay students are being harassed and in some cases there have been incidents of violence.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel has more:

(Kinzel) Several years ago, former Education Commissioner David Wolk implemented a safe schools initiative that was designed to encourage the respect and dignity of all students in Vermont public schools. Despite the initiative, gay advocates say serious discrimination problems still persist in a number of schools throughout the state, and they are urging Governor Douglas to take a leadership role on this issue.

B.J. Rogers, the executive director of Outright Vermont, told Douglas that harassment of gay students continues to be a serious problem in many parts of Vermont:

(Rogers) “It depends on where you are. Some schools are really doing a nice job of providing safe environments for all their students so the students can learn. I think that’s probably the number one concern of most us. If a student doesn’t feel safe in school it’s particularly hard for them to get a good education. As a constitutional right to an education, I think we all have concerns that young people have access to safe and non hostile learning environments.”

(Kinzel) Rogers says children of gay couples are also facing increased harassment. He urged the governor to back the creation of more support networks in all schools because Rogers believes the passage of the civil union law will result in more gay couples choosing to become parents:

(Rogers) “We’re also talking about the children of loving families who are put at risk because they have two moms or two dads and again we are perceived as belonging to a group that’s not always or rarely ever given the respect and the consideration and the support that they deserve just like the rest of their peers.”

(Kinzel) Douglas assured the group that this is an issue that he’s taking very seriously:

(Douglas) “I guess what I’m really concerned about that you mentioned today, is safety in the schools. So I want to be sure that every young Vermonter has the opportunity to learn in safety and maximize his or her potential.”

(Kinzel) The advocates are also urging Douglas to appoint a special commission to examine how widespread harassment of gay students has become in Vermont schools.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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