Governor Lowry began his letter with "In your capacity as superintendent, you have been entrusted with one of the most important responsibilities in government: ensuring that our young people receive the opportunity to develop into healthy and productive adults."
He went on to "ask that you take special care to ensure the needs of all of our young people are being met, including gay, lesbian and bisexual students." He stated that the Safe Schools Coalition of Washington in a 1996 report documented an alarming number of hate crimes and cases of harassment perpetrated against gay, lesbian and bisexual students, their families and school staff.
"The report includes data that have been collected over the past three years, as well as quantitative data from the Seattle Teen Health Risk Survey. The report uncovered the following troubling facts and trends:
- Gay, lesbian and bisexual students
are significantly more likely than other students to be the target of harassment,
to be threatened or injured with a weapon, and to miss school or avoid
certain school activities or classes out of fear for their safety;
- Harassment ranges from name-calling and offensive jokes to verbal and physical harassment, to physical assaults, including gang rapes;
- Offenders typically outnumber targeted individuals three to one;
- Incidents are often witnessed by adults, but are not interrupted or reported and
- Increasingly, heterosexual students are being targeted on the basis of perceived orientation.
[Summary Article. Information related to sexual assaults of adolescent males in juvenile detention centers and group homes Update 1996]
These findings are sufficient to cause concern for all of us who are responsible for the psychological health, physical safety and academic success of our youth in schools. I know you agree that every child deserves the chance to learn without fear for his or her safety.
For this reason, I want to urge all school districts to adopt and aggressively enforce school policies that explicitly forbid discrimination and harassment based upon the perceived or actual sexual orientation of students, family members or school staff."
He concluded his letter with a request for strong leadership to ensure children the right to a safe and respectful learning environment.