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Contemporary LGBT Legal and Educational Issues

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William Salzman, Suzanne Goldberg and Martha Stark speaks at LGBT Panel.

William Salzman, Suzanne Goldberg and Martha Stark speaks at LGBT Panel.

A panel discussion on legal and educational issues facing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT), sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Community and Queer TC, took place in Milbank Chapel on October 21st.

The presenters were Suzanne B. Goldberg, Associate Professor of Law at Rutgers-Newark University, William Salzman, Principal of the Harvey Milk High School, and Martha Stark, the NYC Finance Commissioner and a Board Member of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a non-profit legal group that works for recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, the transgendered, and people with HIV or AIDS. Each spoke and then took questions from the mostly student audience.

Goldberg, who spent nearly a decade as a staff attorney with Lambda Legal Defense, spoke about the changing nature of the culture in the United States and its impact on the law. She cited this year's U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas, a case in which she served as counsel through the Texas courts, and which struck down the Texas Homosexual Conduct Law and sodomy laws nationwide. She reminded the audience that only 18 years before, the same Supreme Court upheld Georgia's sodomy law in Bowers v. Hardwick, a case "which took away the autonomy and liberty and demeaned the private sexual conduct of individuals." She concluded by saying, "The latest decision of the Supreme Court reveals that the Constitution protects our common humanity."

Salzman made a profound impact on the audience by describing how NYC's Harvey Milk High School, the first accredited public high school devoted to the educational needs of LGBT youth, plays an important role in helping at-risk youth complete their education in a safe, sane, supportive environment. In his community of 107 students, 45 to 50 percent have thought about attempting suicide and 30 percent are in a homeless situation. He added, "they are suffering and they need a voice." He said that the Harvey Milk School exists because the need is truly there.

Stark spoke to the issue of the recognition of marriage and relationships post-Lawrence. She spoke about upcoming litigation in the State of New Jersey "for the freedom to marry and respect for same-sex, out-of-state marriages." She added that people have the right to marry and the LGBT community is being denied that right.

She also spoke about the growth of gay-straight student alliances in schools across the country and specifically about Lambda's support for young teens in Lubbock, Texas, who are challenging their school board about the establishment of a gay-straight alliance.

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