Editors' Note:Guest blogger Ed Potosnak is running for Congress in New Jersey. Ed is one of a handful of openly gay candidates this season and could really use your support. National Stonewall Democrats have raised $838 for him as one of their Elect Equality candidates; let's see if we can't at least tip that over $1000 for an LGBT person willing to step directly into the fray.
I've never run for office before. I'm a chemistry teacher and a small business owner, compelled to get involved because I was sick of sitting on the sidelines and watching politicians play partisan games and pander to contributors and special interests rather than fighting for us. Three years ago, I was honored to earn a Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship, one of seventeen math and science teachers picked that year from across the country to use our classroom experience to advise Members of Congress about math and science policy. While in Washington, I grew increasingly frustrated by what I was seeing on both sides of the aisle. I realized that I could complain about it or I could run for Congress and fight for people whose voices aren't being heard.
I've been incredibly disappointed with Congress' lack of action on gay rights. It is appalling that the Senate was unable to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell (my opponent voted against its repeal in the House and tried to excuse it away in our debates last week). I am disappointed that Congress failed to pass ENDA or even try to repeal DOMA. Any immigration reform in the next Congress must include the Reuniting American Families Act. When I go to Congress, I will fight hard for our rights.
The issue I'm particularly passionate about, as a teacher, is ending the bullying of LGBTQ young people. While getting my undergraduate and masters degrees at Rutgers University, I helped pay my way through school by serving as a Resident Advisor and then a Residence Counselor. In my first year as Residence Counselor, I was charged with overseeing Davidson Hall, the same residence hall where Tyler Clementi lived before he took his own life. It breaks my heart that he felt unsafe or unwelcome in a place I once called home. We must do better.
Recently, the media has shone a spotlight on this issue, one that we in the LGBTQ community have long known to be a problem. Bullying has become a national issue because of the tragic suicides by LGBTQ teens in recent months, brought on by years of bullying and harassment at the hands of their peers. Over 90% of LGBTQ teens will be bullied or harassed because of their sexuality or gender identification. Children are dying because they have been made to feel unwelcome or unsafe by their peers. This is unacceptable and we must take action to make our schools safe for all of our students.
I've spent a good part of my career as an educator. I have dedicated my life to ensuring that students have access to a high quality education so that we can prepare the next generation of Americans to lead. While advising Congressman Mike Honda on education and science policy, I helped write legislation for educational equity: ensuring that students, no matter where they live, have access to a world class education. I know that a high quality education must include protections for all of our students against bullying and harassment.
In order for LGBTQ students to have access to the high quality education all students deserve, they must feel safe and welcome in their schools. We need to dispel the myth that bullying is merely "kids being kids." Our students cannot learn when they fear going to school. They cannot learn when they are constantly worrying about being beaten up, or taunted, or cyber bullied for who they are. They cannot learn when they feel that they have no one to turn to for support. They cannot learn if they feel that there is no one protecting them. America has long been called the land of opportunity. We need to make sure LGBTQ students have the opportunity to get a high quality education in a safe school where they are welcome. This is why I am committed to fostering safe environments and supporting anti-bullying policies and legislation to end the harassment of LGBTQ students in our schools and universities.
When I go to Congress, I will fight to make sure that we pass federal anti-bullying legislation because LGBTQ students need to feel welcome in their schools so that they can take full advantage of their education, just like their heterosexual peers. I am committed to sponsoring legislation that will ensure public schools, both k-12 and at the university level, have the policies in place and support they need to end bullying and harassment of LGBTQ students. I will fight to include LGBTQ anti-harassment language in the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. As a teacher, I know that school puts students on the pathway to success, and in Congress I will fight to make sure that all our students have access to that pathway.