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Right, Michelle Rhee, CEO and founder of StudentsFirst, inset, educational
"reformer of the year" Rep. John Ragan. Via Facebook.
After four days of radio silence, StudentsFirst has finally released a statement regarding their naming the author of "Don't Say Gay" bill, Rep. John Ragan, the educational "Reformer of the Year" in Tennessee and fundraising on his behalf. The story is now also being reported by Salon and local Tennessee outlets, and has even caught the attention of PBS's John Merrow, long a thorn in Michelle Rhee's side for his darn truth-telling.

They say they were unaware of what education bills Ragan worked on and sponsored during his time on their fundraising rolls. This is a claim I find very suspect and which I examine in depth here.

They make a decent repudiation of the bill:

When it comes to this kind of legislation, StudentsFirst is clear that we stand strongly opposed to policies, statements, or actions that could create an unsafe or unwelcoming environment for any student in any school. In Tennessee and elsewhere, we remain committed to that and to working with parents, teachers, and administrators to ensure every student has a great teacher, parents have access to great schools, and that policymakers are making effective use of public dollars."
They leave to the reader's imagination what this "commitment" to work to a more welcoming environment looks like, specifically in LGBT-hostile world of Tennessee. There's really nothing more than an empty platitude here.

Chris Sanders, president of the Tennessee Equality Project, issued a challenge to StudentsFirst they might make it right:

StudentsFirst could take steps to redeem their misplaced award by working to pass the Dignity for All Students Act--a real anti-bullying bill with enumerated protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and disability.'
Nowhere is there a mention of rescinding their honor of calling John Ragan an educational "Reformer of the Year" which apparently he still is. StudentsFirst makes no mention of asking for Ragan to return StudentsFirst's $6,500 donation. Nor do they promise they will not continue fundraising for this candidate, which again, they apparently still are. (As of this posting, well an hour after the press release, Ragan is still featured on StudentsFirst website, with an included donation button.)

Nowhere do they admit error. Nowhere do they apologize, either for making a mistake, or just flat out sloppy incompetence in the selection of Ragan. In whole, it's some excuse-making rolled up with some happy PR-talk: "we love gay and transgender kids!" But there's no concrete promise of making any changes to their criteria for honoree selection or their fundraising efforts or really any action at all, promised or delivered.

They say of the "Don't Say Gay" bill:

"Thankfully, members of the Tennessee legislature agreed, and did not allow the bill to move forward."
I'd add: No thanks to StudentsFirst who claim they didn't know about the bill, nor any of StudentsFirsts friends in the Tennessee legislature.

Originally posted to Scott Wooledge on Mon Apr 29, 2013 at 05:49 PM PDT.

Also republished by Angry Gays.

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