Please look it over, and if you agree it is time to to update the policy, contact the the school board.
I am writing to urge you to consider supporting the updated anti-discrimination policy that will get its third reading at the Jan 7 school board meeting.
I found many of the arguments brought forward at the Dec 17 School Board meeting against the new policy (according to news reports and what I've heard from friends that were present) disappointing and even disturbing.
Sen. Gordon Howie's contention that he would punish our school district financially if we adopt the policy was simply outrageous. I considered this open threat political bullying of local officials by a state lawmaker and entirely out of line, so I hope it doesn't affect your final vote one way or the other.
Rep. Kopp's proposal to introduce legislation to prevent such a policy by the force of law struck me as a little (forgive me) out of touch of reality -- as such a law would directly contradict policies already in place across our state -- and would as a byproduct give our state yet another national news story that portrays us in a bad light.
Rev. Dale Bartcher's contention that a "special interest group" does not need protection just doesn't meet with the facts. I accept his contention that "red headed, freckled kids" don't need a special policy. I agree that these kids may face bullying, but not on a systematic and even expected basis. However, according to the FBI, anti-gay violence remains the third most common type of crime directed at members of a group, behind racially and religiously motivated violence. According to a 2005 Lambda Legal survey, 39% of respondents reported being discriminated against on the job because of their sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. In a time when many Americans think of discrimination as something that happened decades ago, it is still all too real for LGBT employees. If there was similar documentation showing that Christian kids or employees faced these kinds of problems, I'm sure Rev Bartcher (and I, for that matter) would believe that a specific mention of that group would be necessary.
I believe it's important to note that Rev Bartcher is not merely a "local pastor" as the RCJ reported, but is also an employee of the South Dakota Family Policy Council, which promotes the idea the homosexuality is a "threat" to our families. Bartcher has gone as far as to distribute a church bulletin insert to whip up political opposition to this policy at the January 7 meeting.(Here's some of the vulgar and ugly -- not to mention unreliable -- "educational material" posted on Bartcher's sdfamily.org website, just so you know where they are coming from.)
My hope is that the entire Board carefully considers the facts instead of the politics of this situation. I am really happy that the school board is a nonpartisan entity so it can focus on what's best for our schools instead of partisan political points.
The proposed policy is not out of the mainstream; in fact, it is very much in line with what is in place at other public institutions in our State. The South Dakota Board of Regents added sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy almost twenty years ago (1991), covering the thousands of faculty and staff at all 6 of our state's public universities. In addition, 4 other school districts (Sioux Falls, Vermillion, Brookings and Pierre) have joined with 6 South Dakota local governments in adopting policies like the one you are considering. Nationwide, of the Fortune 500 companies, *491* have such a policy covering their employees. It's only good business sense. We all want good economic development and good employees here in South Dakota, so I think it both rational and the right thing to do for our school district to follow suit. I know that if I were a researcher thinking of moving to West River to work on DUSEL, I would think twice about moving my family here if the local officials refused to adopt an anti-discrimination policy that has become standard and expected across the Nation.
In the special case of our School District, we aren't only talking about discrimination, we are talking about the physical safety and mental health of our children. The suicide rate for LGBT teens is much higher than the general population, not because their sexuality is an illness (a belief fortunately discarded three generations ago by mental health professionals) but because they experience rejection and fear from those that refuse to accept the fact that they are born lesbian or gay.
It is my opinion that adopting the updated policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity will avoid, not invite, lawsuits. Approving this policy will help our school district have a higher-quality and happier workforce. Most importantly, approving the new policy will help nurture and protect all of the young people served by our Rapid City schools.