May 27, 2011 7:04 pm ET - by Carlos Maza
On Friday, Fox News ran its third segment in forty-eight hours focusing gender diversity lessons recently introduced into a California elementary school in an effort to reduce anti-LGBT bullying. (Here is our coverage of the first and second of the segments.)
Hate group president Tony Perkins and the president of the anti-gay Pacific Justice Institute Brad Dacus appeared in the previous segments to discuss the new lessons and gin up fears of gay “indoctrination” in public schools
For the third segment, Fox News anchor Shannon Bream brought in this "power panel": attorney and former The Apprentice contestant Mahsa Saeidi-Azcuy, AOL financial columnist Regina Lewis and China Okasi, founder of Madame Noire, a lifestyle guide for African-American women.
Noticeably absent from the “power panel”: anybody with any expertise on gender identity, sexual orientation, school bullying, or child education.
This should go well:
In less than three minutes, the “power panel” accused teachers of trying to “advance” an “alternative lifestyle” for young kids, partially blamed LGBT diversity lessons for America’s education gap with China, and denied that kids were really being bullied based on gender.
Let’s break it down.
Saeidi-Azcuy began the discussion by accusing the school’s teachers of trying to "advance an alternative lifestyle":
SAEIDI-AZCUY: [I]t seems to me that they’re using gender diversity and the animal kingdom as a way of advancing alternative lifestyle to, you know, these elementary school kids, and that’s not okay with me. I think this topic is a good thing for the appropriate age group and the appropriate biology class, but right now I feel like they’re using to advance an-- you know, the alternative lifestyle. That’s wrong.
Like Perkins during the previous day’s segment, Saeidi-Azcuy alluded to a typical right-wing fear about pro-LGBT school programs: that talking about being gay or transgender will make kids want to be gay and transgender. She conflates teaching kids that LGBT exist with encouraging kids to actively participate in an “alternative lifestyle.”
She also claimed that “this topic” isn’t appropriate for young children, despite the fact that the lessons are tailored to particular age groups. Either she isn’t aware of what the diversity program actually involves (which wouldn’t be surprising, considering the makeup for the “power panel”) or she believes, like many on the right do, that homosexuality and transgender issues are never an appropriate subject for children; that LGBT issues are somehow wrong, unnatural or taboo and need to be kept out of the minds of innocent children.
Later in the panel, Lewis championed an argument made during Fox’s first segment on the story: that there’s just not enough time to learn about LGBT people:
LEWIS: [A]ctually, I think you also have to look at the opportunity cost. One person posted a comment on one of the San Francisco newspaper blogs that said, you know, how much time do you think in Chinese classrooms they’re spending on transgender issues as we get passed in the left lane on science and math and things like that. So I do think you have to look at the role of the school.
We debunked this claim in a previous post, so I’ll make this quick. The gender diversity lesson took a grand total of one hour. The school which administered the lesson consistently outperforms other schools in the state and has done so for years.
Taken to its logical endpoint, Lewis’s argument would justify eliminating all anti-bullying and pro-diversity programs in public schools, including lessons about racial tolerance, equal treatment for women, and respect for people with disabilities.
But that's obviously absurd. The role of schools should include promoting safe and welcoming school environments, especially when doing so can significantly reduce the rate of suicide and mental and physical health problems among LGBT students.
Okasi rounds out the show by claiming that kids aren’t bullied because of gender (but after admitting that she has no idea what she’s talking about):
OKASI: I mean, I have three degrees. I didn’t understand anything that he was talking about. I was like “what are you saying?”
BREAM: Maybe we need to hear the lecture.
OKASI: I know. I’m like, “What is-- what is the point of this?” Kids do not-- Bullying is such an excuse because kids do not bully each other based on gender. They bully each other based on, you know, all sorts of things, not just gender. So using that seems to me like an excuse really.
A core component of the right-wings campaign to stop pro-LGBT school programs is its claim that gender-based bullying doesn't exist, so Okasi’s assertion isn’t actually all that surprising. But in the real world, gender is one of the key justifications used for bullying LGBT students. Transgender students are targeted for failing to conform to their birth sex. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual students are similarly targeted for failing to conform to traditional understandings of gender; gay males act “too girly,” while gay females are “too butch” or “manly.”
According to a 2011 study, 61 percent of students who expressed a transgender identity or gender non-conformity at school reported “considerable abuse,” including harassment, assault or expulsion.” A 2010 study conducted by GLSEN found that 84.6 percent of LGBT middle and high school students reported being verbally harassed, 40 percent reported being physically harassed, and 18.8 percent reported being physically assaulted at school due to their sexual orientation. LGBT youth who fail to conform to traditional gender norms are at significantly elevated risk of being targeted in schools and of eventually attempting suicide.
Saeidi-Azcuy decided to round out the show by asserting that these kinds of programs don’t actually reduce bullying:
SAEIDI-AZCUY: And I don’t think it stops bullying. I don’t think talking about this diversity in the animal kingdom-- I don’t think it’s actually going to stop or prevent kids from bullying each other. I don’t think it’s going to work either.
She offers not a shred of evidence, or even an explanation, for her claim. In a few sentences, Saeidi-Azcuy attempted to totally discredit the effectiveness of programs that teach kids to respect and appreciate gender diversity.
This is what passes for a "fair and balanced" segment on Fox News: a discussion between three people who know nothing about anti-bullying programs but feel comfortable attacking them on national television.
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