Coming Out for Equality


Apologies to all for publishing this on Wednesday instead of Monday. Midterm hell has begun and my personal life is getting away from me a little.

Tyler Clementi. Asher Brown. Seth Walsh. Billy Lucas. Raymond Chase. Chloe Lacey. Aiyisha Hassan.

These are the publicized lists of our dead in only the last few weeks. Our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our friends, our schoolmates. It doesn’t matter if you are white, black, brown, yellow, or purple; if you are Republican, Democrat, Independent, or nothing at all; whether you are a parent or a child; whether you respect equal rights or think all gays are perverted and going to hell. These kids are human, they lived and breathed and laughed and cried just like everyone else on this planet. And these LGBT youth took their own lives because, well, people can be incredibly cruel.

I almost want to leave this post at that. Forget the Safe Schools Improvement Act, forget New York politician Carl Paladino’s ridiculous remarks, forget National Coming Out Week. I don’t want to see another headline, even my own. It hurts too much.

I’m still barely sure where to begin, so we’ll start with some cold, hard numbers from GLSEN’s 2009 National School Climate Survey.

  • 84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.
  • 63.7% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 27.2% reported being physically harassed and 12.5% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender expression.
  • 72.4% heard homophobic remarks, such as “faggot” or “dyke,” frequently or often at school.
  • Nearly two-thirds (61.1%) of students reported that they felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation, and more than a third (39.9%) felt unsafe because of their gender expression.
  • In addition to this, while bullying remarks are down, stronger forms of harassment have increased over the last 10 years since GLSEN began their study. Many states still don’t have any sort of comprehensive bullying laws on the books, or those they have have no real consequences, according to www.cyberbullying.us

    Obviously, we’ve got some serious problems going on in our schools. And yet parents send hate mail to school districts, like Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District, which is  reviewing its “neutrality policy” on anti-gay bullying after losing a student of their own last year. According to conservative officials like Carl Paladino, who is currently running for governor of New York, “I don’t want [children] brainwashed into thinking homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option – it isn’t.” Apparently, there is no difference between homosexuals “brainwashing” our children, and not allowing our children be cruel to others. Wait, what happened to the Golden Rule, you ask? You know, the one that is a cornerstone of the Christian faith? Do unto others? How about 1 Corinthians 13:13 “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

    Guess it’s too much of a stretch to apply that in schools, and teach our children to love their neighbors as themselves.

    Which is unfortunate, since some big government intervention in the form of the Safe Schools Improvement Act would go a long way in allowing teachers and schools to do something about all kinds of bullying when they see it. Introduced in the House in 2009 (where it passed with *gasp* bipartisan support) and taken up by the Senate in the last few months, the bill would ask schools receiving federal funding to enact policies forbidding bullying and harassment on the basis of “race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation and perceived or actual gender identity.” Basically, it would finally put a comprehensive and uniform set of rules on the books. Perhaps even more importantly, it would require this bullying to be reported to the Department of Education, meaning we could finally have some real-ish statistics on the subject.

    Oh yeah, and it would stop parents becoming so rude to each other and to school districts that superintendents have to think about calling the Department of Justice to mediate.

    If you want to find out if your Senator supports this act, (don’t forget to ask them to if they don’t and thank them if they do!) you can check here.

    But in better news, this week is National Coming Out Week, and UW-Madison has been getting some amazing press. The wonderful staff of the LGBT Campus Center has created an entire series of events, including a fair on Library Mall, a LGBT fall social, and on October 20th at 8 pm in Library Mall, a Stop The Silence vigil dedicated to the victims of bullying. If you are on campus, I highly encourage you to go. It would be well worth it.

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