Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Op-Ed: Anti-gay harassment and schools

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Just change everytime it says "Iowa" to "North Carolina" and the city names to places like "Winston-Salem", "Mt. Airy", and "King" and this would fit perfectly in our area: Don't minimize bullying of gay students By REGISTER EDITORIAL BOARD October 23, 2005 When Alison Mollman came out in 10th grade, a lot of friends were supportive. Some teachers were, too. Only one classmate called her a name to her face. Being involved in student government and the school newspaper probably helped. But she saw other gay kids being harassed. And she didn't see a teacher interfere, not once. [Same as in North Carolina] Mollman, now 18, was one of two valedictorians in the Prairie High School Class of 2005. She spoke of her experiences at a forum this month in Cedar Rapids on bullying and gay students. Dick Whitehead, superintendent of the College Community School District in Cedar Rapids, which Mollman attended for 13 years, was there, too. He recognized an opportunity. The next day, he sent his staff an e-mail that said: "We are a public school. We serve all students. All students have a right to feel safe at school. All students have a right to be free from harassment at our school. All students means ALL students. As school employees, we will act in such a manner as to protect those rights. We will teach, model and enforce those principles. We will not tolerate harassment of any kind for any reason. We will not tolerate name calling in our classroom or our halls. We will not ignore, turn away, or minimize our responsibility." [The former principal of R.J. Reynolds High School, Mr. Stan Elrod, issued numerous statements such as this in response to anti-gay activity at Reynolds from 2000-2004] That message should be sent to all Iowa schools. Some schools do minimize their responsibility. Despite greater efforts in recent years to address bullying, anti-gay slurs are still common inside schools. If principals and teachers took action every time they heard "faggot," or "dyke" or "That's so gay," gay-bashing surely would decrease. A 2003 national high school climate survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network said 84 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender students reported being verbally harassed. While bullying in general is a problem, targeting students who are gay, or perceived to be, "is often one of the most common examples of what local school districts are dealing with," said Tom Andersen, who handles equity issues for the Iowa Department of Education. A Newell-Fonda case suggests some school officials may not understand how much torment kids face. The school board in 2004 denied a request to let a student open-enroll to another district after he had been called gay, punched in the shoulder and kicked in the groin, according to Iowa Department of Education records. "His school days consisted of teasing, taunting, having his books and school materials hidden and being laughed at," the appeal decision states. The state education board reversed the local board's decision. No school district should pretend gay students don't exist, not even in a town known as one of the most conservative in Iowa. [Hmmm... maybe the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System should take a hint] Emily Frerichs, 17, of Orange City recently started a Gay Straight Alliance, and 10 kids showed up for the first meeting. "The purpose of the club is to generally make the school safe for everybody," said Frerichs, a senior at MOC-Floyd Valley High School, who's involved in everything from jazz band to Quiz Bowl. When she came out, some students gave Frerichs a hard time. "I was getting a lot of guff for being a sinner. A lot of 'Are you a Christian?,' " including an e-mail telling her she would go to hell. Since the alliance started, she's heard fewer anti-gay comments. "Kids have become more aware that saying 'That's so gay' can make other kids uncomfortable," she said. At least a dozen Iowa school boards have added sexual orientation to their nondiscrimination policies. To make an important statement, all 365 should. For the same reason, the Iowa Legislature should reconsider a bill to treat bullying of children as a form of harassment and give explicit protection to students who are gay. [HEY NORTH CAROLINA... hint, hint} Parents, clergy and other adults, regardless of their personal views on homosexuality, can teach children to think about how their words make other people feel. Educators say kids often use "gay" to mean "stupid," without realizing they are equating gays with negative qualities. Mollman, now a University of Iowa student, said she tried to convey at the forum that every student deserves to feel safe at school. "There are students who wake up every morning, hesitant to go to school, and it shouldn't be that way." Who disagrees with that? Original Source: click here Portions in italics within the Op-Ed not original.