Duncan Meets with Gay and Lesbian Student Group

Wed. April 1, 2009 12:00 AM by Brett Anthony

Washington, D.C. - In the first-ever meeting between a U.S. Secretary of Education and LGBT advocates, Arne Duncan met last week with kids and teachers from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network to talk about the importance of anti-bullying efforts.

Duncan promised to make schools safe for all students, regardless of their gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation.

"It was moving to witness these students and teachers sharing their personal stories of pain, rejection, resilience and hope with the nation's top education official," said GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard. "Secretary Duncan showed great compassion for their experiences, respect for their perseverance and dedication to identifying effective responses to school climate issues. I am confident that we will see growing engagement with these issues at the Department of Education and truly positive change."

Students Joseph Preston Whitt (18-year-old senior from Decatur, Ala.), Jasmine Lee (17-year-old senior from Littleton, Colo.) and Adrien Arnao (15-year-old sophomore from Washburn, Wis.) and educators Betsy Parsons (South Portland, Maine) and Erika Castañeda-Flores (Los Angeles, Calif.) joined Byard and Duncan at the meeting.

"I was very excited and honored to have the opportunity to meet with Secretary Duncan," said Whitt, who attends Decatur High School. "I believe from his reaction and our discussion that secretary Duncan will be a very strong ally and supporter of GLSEN's work."

Duncan was CEO of Chicago Public Schools from 2001 until January 2009 when he was selected by President Barack Obama to become Secretary of Education.

The meeting took place during GLSEN's Safe Schools Advocacy Summit, a three-day event where students, educators and community leaders learn about effective school- and community-based organizing

GLSEN's groundbreaking biennial National School Climate Survey has repeatedly shown that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students experience extreme harassment, while providing safe schools advocates, legislators and education reformers with an understanding of the impact of LGBT issues in K-12 education in America. The report also identifies positive interventions and supports that can make schools safer for LGBT students, such as enumerated anti-bullying policies and the presence of supportive educators.

The group gave Duncan high marks for his sensitivity and openness.