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CIVIL SOCIETY INCLUDES EVERYONE

PA Youth Congress fighting on many fronts

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When you land on their web page the first words you see are - Speaking our truth to power.

The PA Youth Congress, under the direction of Jason Landau Goodman, has been involved in many of Pennsylvania’s queer battles.

Founded in 2011, PYC‘s framework and values come directly from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the leading youth arm of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. As explained on their web site, the organization explicitly works to support an inclusive and affirming youth community where all young leaders can efficiently communicate and collaborate.

When US Secretary of Education Betty Devos recently visited a Harrisburg school, Goodman said in a news release: “We know that our state legislators care about all Pennsylvanians, but by allowing public funding to flow to institutions that explicitly ban LGBT children and youth, they are reinforcing the cruelty of discrimination in public accommodations.”

He was referring to a visit by Devos to Harrisburg Catholic Elementary School, part of her tour promoting a proposed federal tax-credit program that would allow for scholarships for more underprivileged students to have a choice of schools.

How is her visit relevant to PYC?

“The elementary school she is visiting has a specific policy banning transgender students and staff,” Goodman said in a news release. The story had been highlighted the day before her visit by the Huffington Post and CNN.

In response to Devos’ visit, PYC announced convening their second Pennsylvania Trans Student Roundtable for late October. The roundtable brings together trans youth leaders from throughout the state for an in-depth meeting discussing how to make schools safer for transgender students. The first roundtable was held in 2017 several days following Secretary DeVos’ decision to rescind Title IX guidance that protected transgender students. “Through these statewide gatherings, trans students will be able to provide formal recommendations for local and state policymakers on how to ensure all Pennsylvania schools are safe and affirming”, Goodman added.

“As a young transgender person, the fact that Sec. DeVos held a gathering on the Pennsylvania Educational Improvement Tax Credit at a private school that has an explicit anti-trans policy is extremely telling and concerning to me," said Preston Heldibridle, PYC State Policy Associate.

"I can appreciate the need for alternatives to a traditional public school education – I was home schooled for a time and my siblings are currently home schooled. However, public funds should not go to schools that have discriminatory policies and practices against LGBT students and staff,” Heldibridle said at the time of DeVos’ visit.

Goodman added that DeVos’ visit “highlights the urgent need for why Pennsylvania must pass comprehensive LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination protections.”

Speaking of Pennsylvania being the only Northeast state without statewide LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination protections, this year, Sen. Pat Browne introduced Senate Bill 224, Rep. Dan Frankel introduced House Bill 1404, and Sen. Larry Farnese introduced Senate Bill 614.

With similar language, the bills provide basic civil rights for queer and transgender individuals. Pennsylvania has had similar legislation introduced for the past 20 years. And that’s where all activity stopped, despite continuous efforts of various organizations. This legislative session, PYC is helping the effort through their campaign, Pennsylvania Values. “This important effort is coordinating the widespread public support for this legislation, as we urge our lawmakers to take action,” Goodman says.

“We need to get this done,” openly-gay State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta told The Central Voice in a related story. When Kenyatta talks to his legislative colleagues, he said he finds support expressed verbally “but then I find no action, no follow through.” He could not get support for a resolution honoring the 50thanniversary of Stonewall which took place this past summer.

“I realize Pennsylvania is a huge, rural state with cultural differences and two large urban areas – Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. But polls show that Pennsylvanians support equal civil rights” for the LGBT community.

In fact, polls show that voters across Pennsylvania overwhelmingly support LGBT-inclusive policies and are less likely to vote for a candidate who does not, according to The Human Rights Campaign and Equality Pennsylvania (now defunct). For both organizations, Hart Research Associates one year out from the 2018 midterm elections conducted polling that showed “the data clearly show that Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly support LGBT equality,” JoDee Winterhof, HRC Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs said at the time. “These polling results make it clear -- hate is not a winning political strategy.”

Openly-gay PA State Rep. Brian Sims said that he drives through “four zones getting from home to his seat in the General Assembly. In two, I have protections. In two I do not. I have protections depending on where I stop my car. I think we’ve had enough.”

LGBT-inclusive civil rights protections make for good public policy and the details surrounding Devos’ visit highlight why, Goodman says. “The moment public funding flows into a private school, they must be held to basic public policy standards, such as equal access and protection for all. That is what we do in a civil society.”

In order to achieve a more civil society, PYC has been directly involved in headline grabbing legal cases.

When six Boyertown students said the transgender-inclusive policy violated their privacy rights and constituted sexual harassment in violation of Title IX, a federal law that bars discrimination based on sex in educational institutions that receive federal funds, PYC intervened in the case to defend transgender students. Through advocacy with their lawyers at the ACLU, this year the United States Supreme Court ultimately let the lower court’s decisions affirming trans student inclusion in Boyertown stand without also issuing any comment, thereby continuing the school district’s policy allowing transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity, according to Goodman.

“We’re absolutely thrilled that the Supreme Court chose not to review the case,” Goodman told CV at the time.

With the US Supreme Court now about to hear three significant cases that could advance or push back LGBT civil rights, who knows where the work of PYC may lead.

To learn more about the Pennsylvania Youth Congress and to get involved, readers can visit payouthcongress.org.

To learn more about Pennsylvania Values and the work to advance LGBT nondiscrimination protections in the General Assembly, readers can visit pavalues.org.