Around the Region: Madison LGBT activist loses battle with depression



A transgender teen and LGBT activist in Madison lost his battle with depression last week, The Advocate reports:

Well-loved by family, friends, neighbors, classmates, the parents of school friends, and his dog named Nugget, Skylar Marcus Lee, a transmasculine junior at Madison West High School in Wisconsin, died by suicide Monday after struggling with depression, according to Lee’s obituaryat the website of the Cress Funeral Home.
“It is with a heavy heart that I offer Safe Passage to [Lee] who took his own life. An active and powerful rising voice in the LGBTQ community, his light will be dearly missed,” said Adam Lodestone, an LGBT educator, counselor, and shaman, in a public Facebook post on Monday.

Milwaukee Magazine took an in-depth look at the challenges that social and political inequities have for the state’s transgender communities and the safe spaces that have been expanding recently (subscription required for full article):

Banished and bullied, at least four transgender people have killed themselves in Wisconsin since 2013, two of them from the same high school. Yet emerging in unlikely places are pockets of support for transgender youth.

One Beloit lawmaker is mounting a campaign to add gender identity to the state’s nondiscrimination laws, wants the state, WISC-TV reports:

Citing a lack of equal protection for transgender men and woman under state law, Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, said he is in the early stages of trying to add gender identity to the state’s anti-discrimination statute.
“Wisconsin has had nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation since 1982. We were the first state to add that protection. But we haven’t gone back in and added protection for gender identity and expression, to protect transgender people in employment and housing and public accommodations,” Spreitzer said. “But it’s something I think we ought to be looking at as a state.”

A new scholarship program for LGBTQ students in Milwaukee is starting up, Milwaukee Business News reports:

With startup funding from BMO Harris Bank and Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek S.C., Milwaukee’s Cream City Foundation has launched a scholarship program to support area students in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community as they advance their leadership skills.

The LGBTQ Scholarship Program is designed to build the capacity of the LGBTQ community as well as the capacity of regional nonprofit organizations serving LGBTQ individuals, according to Peter Holbrook, Ph.D., president and chief executive officer of the Cream City Foundation.

Republican Gov. Terry Branstad issued an executive order last week to combat bullying and it includes some important provisions for LGBT students, KCRG reports:

Gov. Terry Branstad issued an executive order Monday aimed at combating bullying in Iowa schools, one that covers most of the provisions from bills he has tried unsuccessfully to get through the Legislature for three years.
The order, signed Monday afternoon at Arthur Elementary School in Cedar Rapids, establishes the Governor’s Office for Bullying Prevention through the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Violence Prevention.
“We’re not waiting for the Legislature,” Branstad said. “ … Bullying is not acceptable. And we’re going to do everything we can to stop it, to stamp it out in Iowa.”

Many of those ideas were contained in anti-bullying legislation Branstad proposed this year, which passed the Senate but was voted down in the House in May. Branstad has made anti-bullying legislation a priority in the last three legislative sessions, but his proposals have come up short in the Legislature each time.
House Republican leaders said they were concerned with an exception to the parental notification requirement, which would have allowed school officials not to notify a victim’s parents if they believed doing so would put the victim in danger of further harm.
That type of exception would protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students who have not come out to their parents, Nate Monson, the executive director of the advocacy group Iowa Safe Schools, said this past spring.

South Dakota
The ACLU of ND, SD, and WY penned a letter to the Argus Leader condemning transphobic Homecoming activities in Sioux Falls:

Heather Smith, executive director, American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota/North Dakota/Wyoming
In the same week, another Sioux Falls high school was also celebrating homecoming, in part by hosting “Gender Swap Day.” This is an apparently popular school tradition steeped in gender stereotypes: boys are supposed to wear “girls” clothing and girls are supposed to wear “boys” clothing. The event is intended to encourage school spirit during homecoming, but the result was more harm than amusement.
We heard complaints that students mocked the transgender community with slurs such as “trannies everywhere” and using the names and likeness of well-known transgender celebrities to mock the community. As a result, gender nonconforming students, some LGBTQ students and other supportive students and teachers, felt bullied, disrespected and denigrated in school. The theme day assumes that there are only two genders and only two ways to express them. Gender non-conforming and LGBT students are already at greater risk of bullying and suicide and a “Gender Swap Day” is insensitive and harmful.

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Andy Birkey has written for a number of Minnesota and national publications. He founded Eleventh Avenue South which ran from 2002-2011, wrote for the Minnesota Independent from 2006-2011, the American Independent from 2010-2013. His writing has appeared in The Advocate, The Star Tribune, The Huffington Post, Salon, Cagle News Service, Twin Cities Daily Planet, TheUptake, and much more. His writing on LGBT issues, the religious right and social justice has won awards including Best Beat Reporting by the Online News Association, Best Series by the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and an honorable mention by the Sex-Positive Journalism awards.