Ga. schools hopefuls match on LGBT issues

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imageDemocrats Beth Farohkhi and Brian Westlake (photo) hope to become State School Superintendent and, after a side-by-side comparison, share similar views on proms, gender expression and bullying.

In an Atlanta Progressive News interview posted Saturday, gay News Editor Matthew Cardinale managed to work in some LGBT questions posed to both candidates.

Farokhi is a former elementary teacher and helped form the state’s curriculum standards in her role at GSU’s College of Education. She lost a 2006 bid for a seat on the Cobb County School Board. She is also the mother of Amir Farokhi, a gay friendly candidate who lost a hard-fought battle last year fr the Post 2-At Large seat on Atlanta City Council.

Westlake is a Gwinnett County high school civics teacher who has taught in U.S. History, U.S. Government and Economics. He is a former Marine with degrees in Sociology, Public Administration, and Law.

In the wide-ranging question-and-answer comparison, the two candidates both come down in favor of LGBT rights for students, with a little wiggle room for good measure depending on the question.

Farokhi and Westlake face off at the ballot box in July.

Using the recent case of Derrick Martin, the gay Bleckley County teen who was approved to bring a male date to his prom, APN asked if the candidates would support same-sex dates at school functions.

FAROKHI: I was proud of Georgia for not being the state that looked at it negatively. There was also a school in Mississippi which didn’t allow it and then the parents tricked the children into attending something that wasn’t the real prom. Mississippi handled that so poorly. I’m in favor, to me it’s a non-question.

WESTLAKE: Yes.

On what can be done to reduce bullying on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orienation, the candidates again agreed:

FAROKHI: Right now, there’s legislation in the House and Senate to strengthen anti-bullying policies in the State. I’m very much concerned with any sexual harassment. Our kids have to be safe where they are not threatened…

There’s an impact on education. [Student who have been bullied] began to really suffer. They would drop out, their grades fall, emotional trauma. You have to make sure any adult that works with our children understand what bullying is, be able to recognize and intervene the first time it occurs: every secretary, attendance taker, cafeteria worker, bus drivers, facility workers.

The minute something happens then an adult can intervene and make all the difference in the world. I have concern not only with the child being bullied but also the one who’s doing the bullying because something’s going on in his or her life.

Then they have to have resources and support, working with students in a diverse, tolerant environment. We have to have a climate in the school, what’s unacceptable behavior is unacceptable behavior, understand each other, be respectful of differences.

There was a national project dealing with harassment, and they made it almost a club, how to deal with harassment. We need to set an environment where more kids are willing to stand up for other kids. One of the things, if you don’t speak up, then you’re part of it. Somebody’s got to say, this is unacceptable. It becomes a violence issue, young people are committing suicide because they have nowhere to go and they’ve internalized it. That’s tragic.

WESTLAKE: Bullying needs to be taken a lot more seriously. The state needs to make sure there are clear policies involved. Teachers need to know where they need to report. The State School Superintendent can’t do everything themselves. We need to work with the local school district to develop procedures.

While both candidates seem to support the idea of alternative gender expression in gender-neutral school dress codes, Farokhi equivocated a bit more than Westlake.

FAROKHI: I don’t have an issue with that. The issue is what is the climate of that school? Is it gonna be in a climate where harassment is going on already? From a legal standpoint, I’d say yes, but we have to be cautious. That’s where the expertise of the principal has to be acknowledged. They are a better judge of that than me. They would know whether it would be dangerous for the student, as protection for him or her.

If it’s a diverse school already that’s one thing, but if it’s a homogeneous school, the local school needs to be able to say this is an opportunity to discussion. To learn from this person. The principal may know it will create anger and bigotry. Until we can address this, we need to protect students from attack.

WESTLAKE: I think we’re not going to be able to change the decisions made by the Supreme Court of the United States with regard to freedom of expression. I believe the jurisprudence is, as long as it’s not disruptive. I think that makes sense.

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