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Group invites Huberman to speak [11 March, 2009]

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Gender JUST (Justice United for Societal Transformation) is a Chicago grassroots organization.  In recent months, the group has been working on what it describes as the problems of heterosexism and violence against LGBTQA students in Chicago’s public schools.  On March 4, Gender JUST hand-delivered a letter to Ron Huberman, the new Chicago Public Schools (CPS) chief, asking him to attend a public forum convened by the group.

The text of Gender JUST’s letter, made available to Windy City Times, stated that the group shared Huberman’s “commitment to inclusivity,” and invited him ‘to attend a public meeting in May of 2009 where [he could] speak with the LGBTQ & GNC (Gender Non-Conforming) communities about [his] plans to address the obstacles to safe and affirming education.”  According to the letter, one way to do that is by “creating compulsory training for all CPS staff on LGBTQ & GNC issues, as a starting point for addressing issues such as violence and harassment.”

The letter also detailed other issues, including what the group perceives as “the lack of LGBTQ & GNC-affirming curricula including sex-education, the racist distribution of gay-straight alliances disproportionately not in communities of color, the CPS anti-discrimination policy and its exclusion of gender identity.”  However, the group does not see these issues in isolation; the letter also stated, “we would like to hear from you on how you plan to address these concerns in the context of privatization and school closings.”  Gender JUST has, in the past, spoken out against what it and many education activists have criticized as the excessive privatization of CPS.  In addition, community-education activists and parents have been critical of recent announcements of school closings.

Esmeralda Roman, a lesbian mother of a CPS student, spoke to Windy City Timesabout her reasons for wanting to deliver the letter (which was signed by her as the Gender JUST representative).  She said that she was moved to action after watching her son being harassed by fellow students: “My son has been constantly bullied because I’m a lesbian.  Kids are misinformed.  They think he’s gay because I’m a lesbian.  They think it’s contagious.  He’s been a social outcast, literally.  It’s very hard to see that as a parent, without any resources or support from CPS to address those concerns.”  Roman said she appreciated the fact that Gender JUST did not restrict its advocacy to LGBTQ students but also supported students like her son, who are bullied for the perception that they might be gay.

Roman and four others of Gender JUST went to the 5th floor office of Ron Huberman, 125 S.  Clark, and the letter was delivered without incident.  The letter asks Huberman to respond within two weeks of receipt.  The group has left the actual date for the May forum open in order to fully accommodate Huberman’s schedule, according to one of its members, Sam Finkelstein.

What if Huberman does not respond? (Windy City Times made repeated attempts to get an interview or a response from Huberman’s office, but has not met with any success.) Finkelstein said the group would continue with its attempts to get Huberman to a discussion, “It’s his responsibility to meet with the community, all of our intersecting communities that are affected.”  Roman, like the others, seemed determined to carry through with the attempts to “bring the issue to the table.  It is my time to start fighting.”  Angelica Johnson, a member of the group, was optimistic and said, “I’m really excited to see how Ron Huberman responds to our letter requesting that he come to a panel of high school students talking about their experiences of being harassed or assaulted because of being LGBT.  I hope that he cares about our agenda.”

Originally published in Windy City Times, 11 March 2009.

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