This past year, the Storm Lake School District deeply debated the issues of whether school policies should be rewritten to explicitly outlaw discrimination against gays. We were impressed by the young gay people who were courageous enough to speak out on the issue, other students who stood up and got involved, the community people who spoke to the issue, and a school board unafraid to tackle an issue that a few years ago would have been unthinkable in that forum.
It seems a positive thing that we have progressed far enough that we can now discuss such matters without fear of being labeled one way or another.
In the end, the school board decided that its goal is to prevent all discrimination against all people, and did not change the policy.
A similar debate took place in state government not so long ago, as conservatives battled the governor over the idea of specifically protecting homosexual state workers' employment rights. It was more of a practical debate than a homophobic one.
We hope that no one would be opposed to the idea that gay people deserve the same human rights as any other people. There is no justification for those who choose to harass or physically abuse anyone, gay or otherwise.
But what happens when gays discriminate? What if, in an effort to stem discrimination, gays are actually extended rights that non-gay people do not get? Who will call them on it?
Today, we receive a news release from Des Moines on the Matthew Shepard scholarship program, a four-year-old program that has given $25,000 scholarships to several Iowa students, including at least one from Storm Lake, to help them achieve higher education at ISU, Iowa or UNI. Governor Vilsack himself has presented the awards, and the winners have been very deserving young people.
Education is the great equalizer, and such a scholarship program is a great gesture. It is a powerful statement to help remember the young Wyoming college man who was kidnapped, beaten and left to die because he was gay.
Just one thing. The scholarship is offered ONLY to "openly gay and lesbian" Iowa students.
Why? Isn't that just as much a form of discrimination as those who would discriminate against homosexuals? Imagine the outcry from the gay rights lobby if scholarships advertised themselves as barring gay students, yet this is explicitly barring heterosexuals, and by specifying "openly gay," perhaps even discriminating against those who may be homosexual but choose not to make a point of advertising it.
It seems that if there is anything Matthew Shepard taught us, it would be to see the good and the promise in ALL people.
There is another approach, as evidenced by the First Friday Breakfast Club Scholarship, also an Iowa program with similarly high ideals.
The First Friday group is also an organization for gays, aiming at community awareness.
This scholarship, however, is open to all people who have worked to oppose sexual discrimination and increase tolerance of others in their schools and communities. Applications clearly state that there are no limitations based on gender, sexual orientation, marital status and so on. It seems a better way to go.
If a minority segment of the population wishes to achieve fair and equal treatment, discriminating against others itself, in any way, isn't a very productive way to go about it.