New school year brings fear for lesbian and gay students
September 10, 2001
For many gay students, the beginning of school means a return to harassment and assault.
As a student and a teacher I have witnessed countless acts of gay bashing. And I know from experience exactly how dehumanizing this violence can be.
The school in my hometown was not unusual. Pranksters dominated the halls and classrooms. Sometimes their jokes were funny; other times they quickly escalated into violence. I lived in fear that my peers would figure out that I am gay.
Later, as an elementary-school teacher, I saw similar harassment by a new generation of kids. Incidents of harassment and violence based on sexuality are common -- and devastating.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students are four times as likely as their peers to be threatened with a weapon at school, and four times as likely to be assaulted to the point that they require medical attention, notes the American Civil Liberties Union.
More than 90 percent of students hear homophobic comments in their schools on an almost daily basis, according to a survey of 496 LGBT students from 32 states by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
Additionally, 46.5 percent of LGBT students reported sexual harassment, 27.6 percent reported physical harassment, including shoving and hitting, and 13.7 percent reported physical assault.
The standard "boys will be boys" excuse and trivialization of gay bashing as "child's play" only encourage criminal activity in young adults. Unchecked, the violence tends to escalate, terrorizing whole communities.
Last year in Boston, three girls and a boy sexually assaulted a 16-year-old Moroccan girl on the train. The perpetrators, who had seen the girl holding hands with other girls at school, groped her, called her a lesbian, tore her clothes, pointed at their genital regions and shouted, "Do you like this? Do you like this? Is this what you like?" When the victim resisted, a teen-age boy who was with the offenders, held a knife to her throat and threatened to cut her. All of the offenders then knocked the girl to the floor, kicked her and beat her until she was unconscious.
In Morocco, it is customary for girls to hold hands.
There are solutions for addressing gay bashing but they need the community's support. Schools, communities and government agencies must send a clear message that gay bashing will not be tolerated. Federal and some state laws should be updated to allow law-enforcement officers to get adequate training and public officials to be held accountable for protecting all persons.
Each of us must speak up when we hear an inappropriate remark or derogatory statement about someone.
After all, silence implies complicity. And complicity will not help gay and lesbian students get through another school year.
Kenda R. Kirby is former executive director of the North Carolina Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality and a co-founder of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.