Thursday, March 10, 2011

How far we’ve come - First out regent elected

Post by Jonathan Lang, Director of Governmental Projects and Community Development

Responsible for setting educational policy for pre-kindergarten through graduate school and regulating 48 professions that are licensed through the state, the Board of Regents has an incredibly influential role in New York State’s public education system. On Tuesday, March 8th, 2011, the New York State Legislature made history by electing James E. Cottrell, M.D. as the first openly gay member of the Board of Regents. An anesthesiologist, a distinguished service professor at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal on Neurosurgical Anesthesiology, Dr. Cottrell’s many accomplishments will bring invaluable insight to the Board of Regents as they work to address the many challenges within New York State’s education system.

Last year, the New York State Legislature passed the Dignity for All Students Act, a groundbreaking law that will prohibit discrimination and bias-based harassment in New York State’s public schools. By educating both the students and the school personnel on the importance of diversity and inclusion, the Dignity for All Students Act will create safe and supportive learning environments that protect all students regardless of who they are or who they love. Working with advocates like the Pride Agenda, the Board of Regents will oversee the implementation of the Dignity of All Students Act.

What’s so amazing about the appointment of Dr. Cottrell is that it wasn’t that long ago when the State Education Department didn’t even acknowledge that LGBT students were being bullied in schools! The Pride Agenda has been working since 2001 to pass a comprehensive anti-bullying bill that included explicit protections for sexual orientation and gender identity/expression by building coalitions, identifying best practices and resources and demanding that New York address the safety and well-being of our young people. Through almost a decade of persistent advocacy, the Pride Agenda was able to gradually make the case for why the Dignity for All Students Act needed to be a top priority for the State Education Department.

The Pride Agenda has done the critical work needed to pass the Dignity for All Students Act and continues to work with other advocates to create hallways and classrooms free of discrimination and bias-based harassment. There’s a lot that still needs to be done but with the election of Dr. Cottrell to the Board of Regents, LGBT students have one more ally to continue the fight for their equality and justice!

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