Letter from the Editor

Monday, September 26, 2005

Safe students, not just gay students

That faggot doesn't deserve to live, somebody should beat the ---- out of him, drag him behind a truck and shoot him and leave him out in the country to die..." - said by a student in an Iowa high school

"Sit down fairy..." - said by a teacher in an Iowa high school

These kind of incidents gave rise to a Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Youth In Iowa Schools Task Force in 2002, and this week, the group held a high profile statewide forum in Marshalltown in hopes of making gay students safer from bullies.

It is a laudable effort. No matter what anyone's opinion is on sexual preferences, all should agree that teens should be safe and free from harassment in the schools. If we cannot teach that modicum of tolerance in an educational environment, we probably have no hope for society at large.

The 2002-03 study found that three out of four GLBT (a new acronym to me, I must admit) students report that they feel unsafe in their schools because of their orientation. The average GLBT reports hearing words like "faggot" or "dyke" or "that's so gay" 26 times a day in school.

And, according to the study, in seven out of 10 acts of violence done to students perceived to be gay, the victim was not gay at all.

Of the GLBT students participating, 84 percent have been verbally harassed in school, and almost 83 percent said faculty members have stood by and took no action while they were bullied for being gay.

As I read this information, I find myself agreeing with nearly everything this task force has to say. The name calling is sad, stupid, learned behavior. Bullying and fear have no place in the schools, and those who instigate it, really have no place either.

On just one issue do I have a bone to pick.

The task force seems to feel that districts adding the words "sexual orientation" to their non-discrimination policies is going to change things. It is not - no more so than words changed sexism and racism in their respective eras. It is not that simple; attitudes are what we need to change.

The material issued by the task force almost seems to suggest that homosexual students should be treated differently than the rest:

"The forum (is)... focusing on making schools safer for GLBT students..."

Why only for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students?

For a segment of the population that is so sensitive to discrimination, it makes me wonder why they seek to single out GLBT students when they speak of protections.

I wonder the same thing when I see a scholarship offered in area high schools for gay and lesbian student applicants only. If non-discrimination is the goal, call that thing an "understanding" scholarship and make it open to everyone, straight or gay, who works for harmony in their communities and schools.

Every student should be safe from harassment and bullying - and this issue is critical. Many studies have shown that students who face such abuse at school do more poorly on academics than they otherwise could, have lower attendance rates, come to shy away from taking part in extra-curriculars, and are less likely to want to go on to college. A shove and a few thoughtless words today can cost us a promising future tomorrow.

Yes, gay students should be safe.

More importantly, students should be safe, all of them.

The kid who is heavier or smaller than the rest. The kid who dresses a little weird or doesn't have parents who can buy them the latest stuff to fit in. The brain and the loner. The foster kid and the motorhead. The jock and the musician. The ADD kid and the goth kid. The poet and the one who is a little slower than the rest.

Whether we like every choice they make or not, they are, as a group, our children, and there is something to appreciate and love in each of them. As a whole, they are our future.

No one group is better or worse than any other; they're just kids.

The efforts of a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender group to protect the particular kids they seek to serve is worthy of applause.

But as long as we keep seeing any one group of kids as different from the rest, the real solution will elude us.

The best thing we can do to protect gay kids is to protect all kids, and we don't get there by passing a law or a school policy, but by teaching that no good every comes of being hurtful, period.