Ken Zalewski, Troy City Councilman and his partner Mike Oliver. -photo by Marty Rouse, Human Rights Campaign

For the past few weeks I watched the battle for Marriage Equality in New York transform from an educated discussion on the real issue, to an all out assault on the gay population. It seems the further one gets from a metropolitan city, the more bigoted the local populace’s opinion becomes. This was never more clear to me than when I lobbied Amsterdam’s Common Council to produce a consent resolution supporting Marriage Equality as the City of Troy had done. Ken Zalewski, Troy City Councilman District 5 was successful in getting the City of Troy to send a resolution in support of Marriage Equality to the NYS Legislature. When I unsuccessfully attempted the same, I got the support of Alderman Bill Wills but the resolution never made it to a vote. The rest of the Council was not willing to support the measure or Amsterdam’s gay population, out of fear and political repercussions. Three members of The Family Bible Church came to the City Council meeting and spoke, denouncing not only Marriage Equality, but the entire gay population in the name of their god. This type of bigotry by a religious organization induces hate and fear, the cause of bullying in our schools. Hearing this religious organization’s hate speech brought back memories from my childhood when I was the victim of bullying and I had to leave the Council Chamber. Kids learn this behavior from their parents and carry it on to the next generation. The increasing number of suicides in teens and young adults has been directly associated with bullying.

In response to this crisis, the It Gets Better campaign started using video to send a positive message to vulnerable Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered teens. Here are a couple of examples:

I realize change cannot occur overnight. It took years of set up this deep-rooted bigotry in the general population and it will take time to undo. The New York State Legislature passed a plan for the State Education System to address this issue through our public schools by introducing curriculum that both educates and protects students from bullying. The language includes age specific education about sexual orientation and gender identity among others. Passed last year, the Dignity for All Students Law goes into Effect July 1, 2012.

EDN/ Title 1/ Article 2/ Dignity for All Students

* § 10. Legislative intent. The legislature finds that students’ ability to learn and to meet high academic standards, and a school’s ability to educate its students, are compromised by incidents of discrimination or harassment including bullying, taunting or intimidation. It is hereby declared to be the policy of the state to afford all students in public schools an environment free of discrimination and harassment. The purpose of this article is to foster civility in public schools and to prevent and prohibit conduct which is inconsistent with a school’s educational mission.
NB Effective July 1, 2012

* § 11. Definitions. For the purposes of this article, the following terms shall have the following meanings:
1.”School property” shall mean in or within any building, structure, athletic playing field, playground, parking lot, or land contained within the real property boundary line of a public elementary or secondary school; or in or on a school bus, as defined in section one hundred forty-two of the vehicle and traffic law.
2.”School function” shall mean a school-sponsored extra-curricular event or activity.
3.”Disability” shall mean disability as defined in subdivision twenty-one of section two hundred ninety-two of the executive law.
4.”Employee” shall mean employee as defined in subdivision three of section eleven hundred twenty-five of this title.
5.”Sexual orientation” shall mean actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality.
6. “Gender” shall mean actual or perceived sex and shall include a person’s gender identity or expression.
7.”Harassment” shall mean the creation of a hostile environment by conduct or by verbal threats, intimidation or abuse that has or would have the effect of unreasonably and substantially interfering with a student’s educational performance, opportunities or benefits, or mental, emotional or physical well-being; or conduct, verbal threats,intimidation or abuse that reasonably causes or would reasonably be expected to cause a student to fear for his or her physical safety; such conduct, verbal threats, intimidation or abuse includes but is not limited to conduct, verbal threats,intimidation or abuse based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender or sex.
NB Effective July 1, 2012

§ 12. Discrimination and harassment prohibited.
1. No student shall be subjected to harassment by employees or students on school property or at a school function; nor shall any student be subjected to discrimination based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or sex by school employees or students on school property or at a school function. Nothing in this subdivision shall be construed to prohibit a denial of admission into, or exclusion from, a course of instruction based on a person’s gender that would be permissible under section thirty-two hundred one-a or paragraph (a) of subdivision two of section twenty-eight hundred fifty-four of this chapter and title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C. section 1681, et. seq.), or to prohibit, as discrimination based on disability, actions that would be permissible under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
2. An age-appropriate version of the policy outlined in subdivision one of this section, written in plain-language, shall be included in the code of conduct adopted by boards of education and the trustees or sole trustee pursuant to section twenty-eight hundred one of this chapter and a summary of such policy shall be included in any summaries required by such section twenty-eight hundred one.
NB Effective July 1, 2012

* §13. Policies and guidelines. The board of education and the trustees or sole trustee of every school district shall create policies and guidelines that shall include, but not be limited to:
1. Policies intended to create a school environment that is free from discrimination or harassment;
2. Guidelines to be used in school training programs to discourage the development of discrimination or harassment and that are designed:
a. to raise the awareness and sensitivity of school employees to potential discrimination or harassment, and
b. to enable employees to prevent and respond to discrimination or harassment; and
3. Guidelines relating to the development of nondiscriminatory instructional and counseling methods, and requiring that at least one staff member at every school be thoroughly trained to handle human relations in the areas of race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender, and sex.
NB Effective July 1, 2012

* § 14.Commissioner’s responsibilities. The commissioner shall:
1. Provide direction, which may include development of model policies and, to the extent possible, direct services, to school districts related to preventing discrimination and harassment and to fostering an environment in every school where all children can learn free of manifestations of bias;
2. Provide grants, from funds appropriated for such purpose, to local school districts to assist them in implementing the guidelines set forth in this section; and
3. Promulgate regulations to assist school districts in implementing this article including, but not limited to, regulations to assist school districts in developing measured, balanced, and age-appropriate responses to violations of this policy, with remedies and procedures focusing on intervention and education.
NB Effective July 1, 2012

* § 15. Reporting by commissioner. The commissioner shall create a procedure under which material incidents of discrimination and harassment on school grounds or at a school function are reported to the department at least on an annual basis. Such procedure shall provide that such reports shall, wherever possible, also delineate the specific nature of such incidents of discrimination or harassment, provided that the commissioner may comply with the requirements of this section through use of the existing uniform violent incident reporting system. In addition the department may conduct research or undertake studies to determine compliance throughout the state with the provisions of this article.
NB Effective July 1, 2012

§ 16. Protection of people who report discrimination or harassment. Any person having reasonable cause to suspect that a student has been subjected to discrimination or harassment by an employee or student, on school grounds or at a school function, who, acting reasonably and in good faith, either reports such information to school officials, to the commissioner, or to law enforcement authorities or otherwise initiates, testifies, participates or assists in any formal or informal proceedings under this article, shall have immunity from any civil liability that may arise from the making of such report or from initiating, testifying, participating or assisting in such formal or informal proceedings, and no school district or employee shall take, request or cause a retaliatory action against any such person who, acting reasonably and in good faith, either makes such a report or initiates, testifies, participates or assists in such formal or informal proceedings.
NB Effective July 1, 2012

* § 17. Application. Nothing in this article shall:
1.  Apply to private, religious or denominational educational institutions; or                                                                                                                                         2. Preclude or limit any right or cause of action provided under any local, state or federal ordinance, law or regulation including but not limited to any remedies or rights available under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Law of 1964, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 or the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

NB Effective July 1, 2012

* § 18. Severability and construction. The provisions of this article shall be severable, and if any court of competent jurisdiction declares any phrase, clause, sentence or provision of this article to be invalid, or its applicability to any government agency, person or circumstance is declared invalid, the remainder of this article and its relevant applicability shall not be affected. The provisions of this article shall be liberally construed to give effect to the purposes thereof.
* NB Effective July 1, 2012

I met a newcomer to Amsterdam who recently bought a house here. He happens to be gay and wondered where all the gay people were. Moving from a larger downstate City, he was experiencing some culture shock!  I had to tell him they are here in numbers but most are closeted. They are teachers and doctors, lawyers and politicians as well as business owners who are afraid to come out of the closet because there is no support in Amsterdam. When President Obama proclaimed June of 2011 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Pride Month our City did not respond. Even my hometown of Hudson with a population of less than seven thousand, had a Family Pride Weekend, celebrating with an inclusive parade and cruise on the Hudson River for gay and straight families.

City of Hudson's Family Pride Celebration. -photo by Tom Froese

The Dignity for All Students Act can not come soon enough!

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13 thoughts on “Bullying

  1. robert purtell

    Jerry I think you are wrong about the people who live here, There are alot of open minded people here, aside from the persons that showed up at the common council meeting,they have their own agenda and I do not pass judgement on them, I really don’t see anyone making a big deal of this. Don’t get me wronge here, there are not people walking up and down rt 30 proclaiming support of same sex relationships, but the discussions I have had with people on the subject seem to point to the fact that it does not affect their lives and they are not really concerned.
    good luck and really, welcome to Amsterdam
    Hope that all came out correctly

    • Robert,

      Thanks for the welcome, but I have been living in Amsterdam for nine years. I know gay people who moved out of Amsterdam because it is gay-unfriendly. The newcomer in my blog has only been here four months and is having a hard time adjusting. I would like to think that you are right Robert, but until our City leaders, State and Congressional representative are willing to speak up, sexual orientation remains an issue that people would rather not talk about or support.

      • robert purtell

        oh,I think they talk about it, I do think around here they show their support by not bashing it, just don’t look for a parade just yet!

        • “NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2011 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to eliminate prejudice everywhere it exists, and to celebrate the great diversity of the American people.”

          So much for celebrating diversity.

  2. Dan Szabo Jr

    So if we don’t jump up and down, wave our rainbow flags, and show up at all the gay pride functions then we are bigots?

    • Did you even read the blog entry? I never said that. What I did say was that there was no support for celebrating diversity in our City.

      • robert purtell

        I must have missed your point, I thought you were looking for some sort of support from the politicians, if you want to have a parade or some sort of celebration, ” if you build it they will come”.

        • It takes both individual and govermental participation. One main point emphasized throughout Amsterdam’s Comprehensive Plan, is to market and promote cultural diversity. This has been totally ignored by the Thane administration.

  3. robert purtell

    So what exactly would you like? a day to recognize the gay community? A parade? or just the common council to recognize the gay community? really not sure what it is that you are after.
    I would say though, that if the gay community wants to be recognized they should come together as a group and make things happen wether it is a parade, a social event or recognition. as far as your past comments on some local “closeted” gay people, maybe they prefer their privacy.
    I do not see any racial, gay or religous persicution going on, but maybe it is that I live in a vanilla box, I would like to think of myself as being part of a deverse group, but I am not in your shoes, so wouldn’t be fair for me to make the assumption.
    Again I am not trying to be a smart ass, just trying to understand how to make Amsterdam a better place to live for everyone.

    • Any or all of the above would be a start. Do you really think people would rather live a secretive life, afraid of being judged or ostracized because of who they are? Unless you have been the victim of discrimination, you have no idea how it affects every aspect of your life. Sexual orientation is not as visible as race. You can’t tell me you have not heard disparaging comments about Latinos in Amsterdam. Despite the fact that Latinos make up 26% of Amsterdam’s population, their culture and diversity has not been celebrated by Amsterdam’s government either. Then there are the Chinese Buddhists. We all saw or read about the comments made questioning their religion and culture. Human nature teaches us to question things we do not understand but hatred and bigotry is learned behavior.The hope for future generations to become a more tolerant and peaceful society has to start with us.

      Pride is not found in a City’s physical appearance as suggested by Mayor Thane’s campaign brochure descrbing her decorative improvements, Pride is found in the people that make up the City’s diverse fabric. That is the Pride that needs celebrating.

      Here is a link to an artcle written by a straight classmate of mine, Bob Tomaso describing Hudson’s celebration of Pride.


      • robert purtell

        Just a few comments then I will be done, yes I have heard people talk badly about the latinos, and the polish and the italians and the irish and the african americans, I have been saying for years that if the latino population in Amsterdam was politically active, they would be a force to be reckoned with, but they are not politically active.

        Yes I do know what it is to be descrimainated against.

        I really have not heard of anyone on the other hand gay bashing in Amsterdam, and yes I do think and respect that some people do prefer to keep their sexuallity to themselves, wether it is because they don’t know how they will be treated by others or they just would like their lives to be their own.

        I really supported the Chinese when they came to Amsterdam, as well as many other people, yes there are some that did not give them a chance, but those are the people that get the attention, the nay sayers.
        In closing let me say that a City does not make itself diverse, it’s people make it diverse.
        I support your discussion and your rights.
        Good luck

        • Thank you for taking an interest and expressing your thoughts on this issue that many prefer to ignore.

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