Meet your new principal, America: Betsy DeVos, Donald's new Secretary of Education. She's now in charge of the nation's schools -- or at least, in charge what's going to be left, once she's finished dismantling them. Betsy's built her career on undermining public schools; and wouldn't you know it, among the things she's likely to take apart are some potentially life-saving protections for LGBT students.
So who is Betsy DeVos? She's a billionaire fundraiser for Republicans, and a lobbyist for private schools. Back in 1997, she wrote, "My family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party ... we are buying influence. ... We do expect something in return." Have you ever heard the term quid pro quo? Don't worry if you haven’t — your kids won't either, because there'll be no one left to teach them.
Anyway, her money seems to have been well spent, because she's influenced her way into an administration with a plan to move $20 billion out of public schools, where LGBT kids are guaranteed equal access to education, and into private schools, where they are guaranteed nothing whatsoever. But the taxpayers still have to pay for it!
There's no mistaking Betsy's ideological slant: Her family's given upwards of $200 million to groups like the National Organization for Marriage and Focus on the Family -- groups that explicitly oppose equality for queer people, and even promote ex-gay junk science. Some of that money went through a foundation that listed Betsy as the Vice President, but when asked about it, she said that was a misunderstanding -- she had nothing to do with that family organization, and was simply identified as its Vice President by mistake. For thirteen years. That's exactly the kind of rigorous attention to detail that qualifies a person to run the nation's school.
Betsy's also donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups opposed to LGBT equality, and to ballot amendments to block marriage. In 2004, she gave a speech at the Michigan Republican Convention where she said "we support marriage between one man and one woman because that is the way God set it up."
So how much damage could she do at the Department of Education? A lot. That's because the DOE has an office of civil rights that protects access to education -- or at least, it does for now, until someone comes along and shuts it down. Focus on the Family, a group Betsy's foundation has helped prop up, has already demanded that LGBT protections to be overturned. And sure enough, during her confirmation hearing, Betsy indicated that certain protections are best taken out of the DOE's hands and instead left to the states.
That would have a huge, lasting, real-world impact on people's lives. Currently, the Department of Education is bound to listen to people like Wendy Walsh. Her son took his life after being relentlessly bullied in a district that refused to intervene. After she filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights, the district was forced to adopt an anti-bullying policy. But if that office goes away or is even just weakened under Betsy DeVos, victims could have no recourse if local districts refuse to act. You'd just have to accept the bullying or move.
During confirmation hearings, when asked if schools should have to comply with anti-bullying requirements, Betsy replied, "I would look forward to reviewing that provision." Oh I bet you would.
What else could she review? Well, under Betsy's leadership, the DOE could adopt a position that being gay is a choice or a mental illness. They could make it official policy to "discourage" homosexuality. They could pull funding from schools that have nondiscrimination protection. And they could adopt policies that explicitly encourage bullying.
It sounds unbelievable, but that's not hypothetical. It actually happened in Betsy's home state of Michigan. In 2012, the Senate passed SB 137, a bill that was supposed to prevent bullying, but was amended at the last minute to say that it's OK to bully and harass students as long as you're motivated by "a sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction." The bill passed the senate exclusively on votes from Republicans -- Republicans whose campaigns were supported by influence-buyer Betsy DeVos.
Taking protections away from public school students and giving giving more resources to private religious groups is completely consistent with Betsy's approach to education. In 2001, she said, "There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education ... Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God's kingdom."
Remember, this is someone who said that excluding same-sex couples from marriage is "the way God set it up," whose family foundation propped up groups pushing ex-gay garbage, who wouldn't commit to upholding anti-bullying regulations, and whose nomination was only approved after a tie-breaking vote by Mike "turn away the gays" Pence.
I think it's a pretty safe bet that whatever she envisions for God's kingdom doesn't include a gay straight alliance.
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