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January 23, 2008

Would Proposed Limit on Discussing Homosexuality in Tenn. Schools Permit Bullying?

As a former public high school English teacher, I appreciate the everyday conversations that "spring up" in the middle of class.  For instance, a conversation about a poem could prompt a student to make a comparison to his or her religion or even his or her sexual orientation.

In fact, such analogies are generally encouraged, as students begin to develop a sense of independent thought and an ability to engage in critical thinking.  Normally, under these circumstances, the teacher is more of a facilitator than an "instructor"--guiding the students' comments to further a vibrant classroom discussion.  It is not the teacher's job to silence a student when he or she expresses an independent (and usually very thoughtful) comparison to his or her own life or experiences.  However, sometimes, the teacher may find him or herself guiding the discussion further by asking the participating student questions like, "That is an interesting analogy, can you explain your thoughts a bit more?"  Or "Yes, I can see the connection there.  Do you think the author intended for the reader to make connections between the character and the reader's own life experiences?  How so?  Or "How does the protagonist's struggle with his or her own identity connect to you as a modern reader?"

Is the teacher, in this instance, "instructing" the students about the student-initiated new topic or theme, such as religion or sexual preference?  If so, a proposed Tennessee law would stifle such conversations.  See First Amendment Law Blog for a link to the full text of the proposed bill aimed at forbidding "instruction or materials on any sexuality other than heterosexuality."

Similarly, as a high school teacher, I made a point of enforcing the classroom rule about "respecting others" by forbidding students from bullying classmates.  The rule also applied to bullying on the basis of perceived homosexuality.  Would a discussion with a student, reprimanding him or her for pushing another student and/or calling him or her epithets due to the other student's sexuality, be considered "instruction" on homosexuality?  If so, this law would permit the school to ignore bullying and potentially violate other laws protecting student well-being.

For more information about laws that protect students from bullying based on sexual orientation in public schools, see NCLR publication "Fifteen Expensive Reasons Why Safe Schools Legislation is in Your State's Best Interest." & NCLR publication "Harassment & Discrimination:  A Legal Overview."

January 23, 2008 in First Amendment Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 22, 2008

Chicago Judge Refuses to Waive Transgender Woman's Filing Fee in Name Change Petition

A transgender woman is currently asking the Illinois Supreme Court to order Will County Chief Judge to permit her to file a name change petition without filing costs.  The woman, who is indigent, wishes to change her name to "reflect [her] identity."  Her appeal to the Supreme Court asserts that the judge "told her the name change was 'something that she wanted, not something that she needed,'" and therefore denied her request. See Chicago Tribune Article.

However, according to Illinois law, a judge cannot deny an indigent's petition for a waiver of filing costs without providing a specific reason, in a written order, for the denial.  735 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/5-105(d).

The appeal filed in the Illinois Supreme Court asks the high court to order the judge to follow the Illinois statute cited above.

If the allegations are true, the judge violated the Illinois statute by failing to file the required written order specifying why he denied the request.  However, it also demonstrates the judge's misunderstanding of transgender individuals.  For most individuals, a name change is not a necessity.  We might change our name just for fun (I know a guy who changed his legal first name to "Sloth", for instance).  But, for a transgender individual, a name like Matthew could prevent her from living as a woman.  This is not merely "something . . . she want[s]", but, rather, it is truly necessary for her to live as a woman.  It is a form of liberty, if you will.  The ability to decide who she is and live accordingly.

January 22, 2008 in Other | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack