LGBT youth issues have received little attention in the presidential campaigns and in the mainstream media’s political coverage. But the presidential election is significant for LGBT youth, and the candidates have very different positions and records. This post gives a breakdown of what the candidates have said and done on matters of special concern to LGBT youth and their allies.
I’m aware, of course, that LGBT youth and their allies care about a wide range of issues, including a wide variety of issues related to LGBT equality. Below, however, I’ve summarized only positions and actions on issues specifically related to youth, such as bullying and harassment in schools. The Human Rights Campaign, which supports President Obama’s re-election campaign, has detailed information on its website about other positions and actions that Romney and Obama have taken with respect to LGBT equality. [After the election, the link to HRC’s information about Romney stopped working. An alternative source appears here.]
- In 1994, Romney expressed disagreement with the Boy Scouts’ discriminatory policy toward gay members and scoutmasters, though he added that he supported “the right of the Boy Scouts of America to decide what it wants to do on that issue.” In 2012, a Romney spokesperson said Romney’s position had not changed.
- As Governor of Massachusetts, Romney announced that he would eliminate the Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth. (According to several reports— like this one, this one and this one—Romney was annoyed that press releases endorsing an LGBT youth event had appeared with his name. Some reports, like this one, suggest that Romney was particularly dismayed that his name appeared on the same page as the word “transgender.”) Responding to backlash against his announcement, Romney did not immediately eliminate the Governor’s Commission; instead he sought to take the Commission’s focus off of LGBT youth. The legislature thwarted Romney’s efforts by re-establishing the Commission as an entity independent of the Governor’s office. (Romney vetoed the legislature’s action, but the legislature overrode the veto.) Romney then disbanded the Governor’s Commission by executive order, as it had effectively become a duplicate of the newly independent Commission formed by the legislature.
- In 2003 and 2004, Romney vetoed funding for a state suicide prevention program. The legislature overrode his veto.
- In 2006, as part of an emergency state spending freeze, Romney cut funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and for youth groups like the YMCA and the Boys & Girls Clubs.
- Also in 2006, Romney interfered with the publication of a state anti-bullying guide because his administration opposed the words “bisexual” and “transgender” in certain passages.
- Reports have surfaced that Romney engaged in bullying as a youth. In one incident during his senior year in high school, he picked on a classmate because of the classmate’s perceived homosexuality and gender-nonconformity; Romney and his friends tackled the man, pinned him down and cut his hair. When asked about this incident and others, Romney said he didn’t remember; he also apologized, and laughed.
- President Obama has endorsed two pieces of federal legislation (the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act) aimed at curbing and remedying discrimination against, and bullying of, any student based on, among other factors, sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Obama has expressed support for LGBT youth in official LGBT Pride Declarations and in an “It Gets Better” video (available on the White House website). Other members of his administration, including Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have also made “It Gets Better” videos.
- President Obama opposes the Boy Scouts’ discriminatory policies, though as I’ve stated previously, I found his recent statement on the matter less than inspiring.
- In 2009, Kevin Jennings, the founder and former executive director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, was appointed Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Office of Safe & Drug Free Schools, in the federal Department of Education.
- Under President Obama’s administration:
- The U.S. Department of Education has on multiple occasions issued LGBT-inclusive legal guidance to school districts regarding bullying, harassment, discrimination, and students’ freedom of expression. (See here, here, and here.)
- The President and first lady hosted the first-ever White House Conference on Bullying Prevention.
- The Department of Education hosted the first-ever federal LGBT youth summit.
- The federal government launched a new website, www.stopbullying.gov.
- The Department of Justice has taken legal action in several parts of the country to protect the rights of students who faced harassment and discrimination because they are, or have been perceived to be, gay or lesbian or gender nonconforming. For example, the DOJ got involved in two upstate New York cases brought by gay students (intervening in one and filing an amicus brief in the other); it also took action in cases in California and Minnesota.
- The Department of Health and Human Services revised guidance for funding of “abstinence only” education programs, requiring that programs be inclusive of LGBT youth and include only medically accurate information. The Human Rights Campaign reports that HSS also awarded $13.3 million to the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center “to create a model program supporting LGBT and questioning youth in the foster care system.”