Apparently in North Carolina those most qualified to address issues of bullying and school safety are the very same people who believe those most affected by bullying don't deserve protection.
On Wednesday, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory tapped controversial State Board of Education member A.L. "Buddy" Collins to join the fight against bullying as a member of the state's Task Force on Safer Schools.
As NC Policy Watch's blog The Progressive Pulse notes, this nomination should come as a shock to those familiar with Collins' history of strong, vocal anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and policy positions.
In a September 9 speech announcing the establishment of the Task Force on Safer Schools, Gov. McCrory (R) urged the gathered audience of students and teachers:
"We all have to work together as a team to deal with those few who want to not ensure that we have the pursuit of happiness... which we all have a right for (sic). And when we have those few people in schools, or outside our society, who want to not allow us to have that freedom, we all have to work together and fight against those people."
McCrory's language is especially and disturbingly ironic in light of his appointment of a man who once fought the adoption of sexual orientation as a protected category under the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system's non-discrimination policy -- opining in the local paper that gays and lesbians were requesting "special rights."
These rights, however, seem to actually be "special" for non-LGBTQ students. According to GLSEN's 2011 National School Climate Survey, "[LGBTQ] students in the South were least likely to have access to [inclusive curricula and supportive school personnel]" among other resources.
Affirming Gov. McCrory's belief that "the safest place in America should be our schools," and that "our job is to protect our kids," the 2011 NSCS additionally recommends the adoption and implementation of "comprehensive bullying/harassment policies that specifically enumerate sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression in individual schools and districts, with clear and effective systems for reporting and addressing incidents that students experience."
In what world, then, does it make sense for Gov. McCrory to nominate a man whose political views and voting record run in direct opposition to the stated goals of a task force concerned with stopping the plague of school bullying? A plague which disproportionately affects LGBTQ students and undoubtedly factors into a 30 to 40 percent rate of attempted suicide within the school-aged demographic?
As news spreads of Collins' history and beliefs, progressive groups across the state are growing furious about McCrory's decision. Equality NC, North Carolina's premier LGBT advocacy organization, is calling on Gov. Pat McCrory to pull his nomination. As their executive director Chris Sgro put it,
"We call on Gov. McCrory to reconsider his incredibly disappointing and controversial appointment of Buddy Collins to a two-year term on the state Task Force on Safer Schools. Given his derogatory views of LGBT families and his willingness to put some of our states most vulnerable children at risk of bullying - it defies logic that Gov. McCrory would appoint Mr. Collins to a position so directly tied to protecting the rights and safety of all North Carolina students. All students, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, deserve a high quality education, in a safe environment, and free of harassment of any kind. We fear this choice of Buddy Collins puts these basic tenets in true jeopardy."
The nomination of A.L. Collins, an openly anti-LGBT politician, is disappointing in and of itself, but to select him for a task force concerned with ensuring the safety of all students is unconscionable.
The North Carolina government, especially the Task Force on Safer Schools, should be focused on empowering students of all backgrounds and identities by creating a framework for safe and affirming schools, not on empowering bigots whose personal and political beliefs would have them vote against policies designed to protect those who need protection and affirmation most desperately.