Zahara Raine is the national community educator for the New York-based civic-rights organization Lambda Legal. For more than 10 years, she has run education campaigns for LGBT rights. Raine will be leading two workshops at Equality Forum, one on school bullying and one on grassroots organizing.
Tell us about the bullying workshop.
We’re gonna take a look at some of the statistics about youth in schools and issues around bullying and general well-being of LGBT youth. We will also be looking at different laws in existence to protect youth in schools—discrimination, bullying, privacy protection.
What are some of the existing laws?
First Amendment of free speech and expression: Students have a right to voice support for LGBT rights. The 14th Amendment—equal-rights amendment. Students have a right to be protected. Schools have to make sure students are safe. They are prohibited from taking bullying less seriously because LGBT students are involved. Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. LGBT students must receive the same protections that Title IX affords to all students.
Are there places the laws are ignored?
All the time. That’s why we have to do this work. We’re always using these laws as arguments when Lambda Legal is fighting a case. There are always loopholes and that’s why it’s always important to make amendments to laws that include specific protections for specific categories for people. Even just [listing] sexual orientation is not enough. Gender expression and gender identity are critical as well.
What about laws at the state level?
Thirteen states and D.C. have laws that address discrimination for sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. Three have laws based on sexual orientation. Twenty-eight states have laws that include bullying but include no categories of protection. Pennsylvania prohibits bullying in schools but lists no category of protections.
What can one individual do to help?
Definitely just educating. Knowing what students’ rights are and advocating for them in different scenarios. We really try to give the information and have people themselves come up with what they think they can do in their capacity, if they’re administrators, teachers, parents.
Was last year’s “It Gets Better” campaign helpful for raising awareness?
I think that there were a lot of benefits to it but in a lot of ways, there were people who were critical of it. I think that when you have a big media person addressing any LGBT issue, it can be helpful but there also has to be a next step of education. It’s important to send a positive message but important to acknowledge that it’s a struggle. It can be trendy to support gay rights without an understanding of the nuanced issues.
What’s your second workshop about?
It’s called “In the Spotlight,” about LGBT legal advocacy and grassroots organization. It looks at how LGBT legal advocates can work with grassroots organizers on some of these issues that we’re talking about.
So you’re addressing the issues from both ends, top down and bottom up?
It’s essentially what I do. We work at Lambda Legal on high-impact legislation, but a whole other set of staff folks do media and editorial and education. I go out and do workshops and translate legalese and legal speak and what’s happening in the courts and legal system. Attorneys are trying to change the minds of lawmakers, we’re trying to change the minds of the public.
Do you ever feel like you’re preaching to the choir at these workshops?
It’s not always true. I go to workshops of all kinds. I’ve gone to a lot of health-care-related conferences where there’s no LGBT representation whatsoever. People in the community need to know what their rights are, legal rights, civil rights, what they can do.
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