The Kids Are Alright With It

The Trump administration’s decision to withdraw federal protections for transgender public school students constitutes poor governance, deficient humanity, and legal ignorance.  A “Dear Colleague Letter” from the Departments of Justice and Education dated May 13, 2016 detailed those protections.  The Obama administration recognized that transgender students were denied equal access to educational opportunities and did not enjoy civil rights protections available to other students.  Discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX).  The new administration’s decision to abandon the protections endangers transgender students and will do far more harm than good.

In the 2011 National School Climate Survey by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), eight out of ten transgender students said they felt unsafe at school.  Nearly six out of ten experienced verbal harassment on account of their gender expression, more than twice the rate of their peers.  A recent GLSEN survey in Arizona that included gay and lesbian students along with transgender students reached a similar conclusion.  “Schools are still hostile environments for so many of these students,” stated Ricardo Martinez, Chair of GLSEN Phoenix, “and now more than ever they need our support.”

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld, a lecturer with the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, College of Education and author of several books, including Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice, notes that LGBT youth live a very different life experience from their peers, and not just in the school setting.  “For one thing, they live in families who very often do not share their sexual and/or gender identity,” Dr. Blumenfeld wrote in an email message, adding, “I call these ‘diasporic’ identities — we are dispersed within families who are different than us.”  “LGBTQ youth live in families with the added fear of ‘coming out’ to others,” wrote Dr. Blumenfeld.  “They also suffer significantly higher risks of being bullied and dropping out of school.”

He blames adults more than kids for the harmful experience of transgender youth…


Brokeback White House

“I wish I knew how to quit you.”  That’s what Donald said to Michael, if not in so many words, then certainly in deed.  How else do you explain the President’s clinging to his former National Security Advisor like goose down to Velcro?  Every sentient being on the planet knew that retired General Michael Flynn had been a very naughty boy.  On December 29, 2016, still-President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Russia in retaliation for hacking and other actions intended to influence the outcome of the Presidential election.   General Flynn subsequently discussed the sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak five times, including the day the sanctions were announced.  American intelligence officials recorded all of it.  Then, to make things worse, Flynn lied to the media about the conversations and was not totally forthcoming with the FBI when they asked him about them.  Worst of all, the General lied to the other Michael, Vice President Mike Pence.  The President knew Flynn had lied to the other Michael, but didn’t say anything to the Vice President for at least two weeks.  Why should he?  Pence is such a prig, always looking like he has an icicle up his posterior.  When the spooks leaked the story to the Washington Post, the Veep learned he had been getting the mushroom treatment, and the President had no choice.  He had to keep Veep happy and General  Flynn was caught with his Pence down.  The President had to say those three magic words, the ones he values more than any others: “You are fired.”  But his heart wasn’t in it.  He’d grown accustomed to his Flynn.

Michael Flynn tendered his forced resignation on the eve of Valentine’s Day.

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South Dakota Goes To Hell

If any state should recognize an emergency, it’s South Dakota. The Mt. Rushmore state has experienced more than its share of disasters, from the “Schoolhouse Blizzard” of 1888 that killed 235 people to the Ice Storm of 2013, from the Black Hills Flood of 1972 that killed 238 to the killer tornado that hit Spencer in 1998 and reduced the town’s population by more than half. South Dakota’s most recent “emergency” is different from these.

South Dakota, like every state, has dealt with a number of scandals. One of the ugliest involved the operator of a non-profit corporation who allegedly embezzled at least a million dollars intended to help Native American students. The term “allegedly” is necessary because the suspect, Scott Westerhuis, never went to trial. As the posse closed in, he shot and killed his wife and children and burned down their house before killing himself. Around the same time Richard Benda, an aide to a former South Dakota governor found himself under investigation for alleged improprieties involving a visa program. Like Westerhuis, Benda never went to trial. He also killed himself as the posse closed in. While the Benda investigation implicated former Governor Mike Rounds and another state official, a legislative investigation decided to let them off the hook and blame the dead guy. These scandals, as well as South Dakota’s notorious laissez-faire attitude toward lobbyists, earned the state an “F” from The Center for Public Integrity.

The people of South Dakota finally had enough. In 2016, they passed Measure 22, a grass-roots initiative formally known as the “South Dakota Government Accountability and Anti-Corruption Act,” a compelling dose of ethical disinfectant.

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Why We Need A Workplace Bullying Law (Part II)

When Pima County Sheriff’s Sergeant Kevin Kubitskey filed a complaint against Sheriff Chris Nanos in early 2016, the County’s workplace bullying policy had been in effect for three years.  Through investigations and training, County employees and managers began to monitor employee behavior through the lens of the policy, and the County’s workplace culture benefited from the change.  Cases brought under the policy quickly came to dominate the Human Resources investigative docket, validating the unanimous vote by the Board of Supervisors to adopt it.  Unfortunately, since the policy is not fortified by state law, there is no requirement for public accountability.  That flaw was illustrated in the case against Sheriff Nanos, who had been appointed to the position when his predecessor retired and was running for election in 2016.

When Sgt. Kubitskey submitted a series of incidents in support of his claim I was assigned to investigate his allegations.  Pima County’s workplace bullying policy defines bullying as “intentional behavior with the purpose of creating an abusive work environment.”  Sheriff Nanos not only provoked and humiliated Sgt. Kubitskey (in front of a witness), he also confronted and embarrassed him in an incident in the Sheriff’s Department cafeteria and personally attacked him in an email message delivered to the entire Department staff.  The Sheriff admitted many of the facts alleged against him when I interviewed him, as well as in an interview with Tucson Police.  I concluded that “There is sufficient evidence to substantiate that Sgt. Kubitskey was a victim of workplace bullying as defined by Board of Supervisors Policy D 23.1.”  It was not a close call and my two immediate supervisors concurred and referred the report to the chain of command.  The Director of Human Resources agreed that the facts supported the finding of bullying, but suggested the Policy did not apply for technical reasons.  The report was hand-delivered to Deputy County Administrator Tom Burke on July 28th.

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