Teach Your Children
- CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE
With the help of the author and the express permission of the
distributor, here is the "Lesbian Notions" column that appeared in a number
of GLBT publications the week of May 24.
Using the Columbine tragedy as a starting point, it raises the question:
"What impact might [the] repeated taunts ... from other students have had on
Harris and Klebold's already disturbed psyches?"
It then goes on to discuss the overlooked role "anti-gay harassment played
in these incidents and in at least one previous school shooting."
Ms. Martinac also explores the emotional pressures faced by our youth as
they grow to recognize and understand their sexual orientations.
Note that italics are designated as follows: <The New York Times>.
-- Posted by Called Out moderator
by Paula Martinac
May 24, 1999
The Columbine High School murders and the apparent copycat shooting in
Taber, Alberta the following week have re-ignited discussion about school
safety. One vital link that's not being addressed, however, is the part
anti-gay harassment played in these incidents and in at least one previous
Since Columbine, Christian leaders and right-wing pundits have been
spreading the unsubstantiated story that the killers were gay. They hope to
damage the lesbian and gay movement by painting Eric Harris and Dylan
Klebold as gay extremists who took revenge on Christians.
Yet from the information that has surfaced, these boys appear to have
been white supremacists, more likely to grow up into gay-bashers than gay
crusaders. Still, the question of their sexual orientation is one we may
never be able to answer. But here's a question worth examining: What impact
might repeated taunts of "faggot" and "homo" from other students have had on
Harris and Klebold's already disturbed psyches?
In two other school shootings, there <has> been a direct connection
between homophobic taunts and violence. A week after the tragedy in
Littleton, a 14-year-old in a rural town in Alberta, Canada, opened fire on
his fellow students, killing one and wounding another. The disturbed boy,
whom the press described as "slightly built," claims he snapped under the
pressure of being repeatedly called "faggot" and other derogatory names by
A kind of "homosexual panic" likewise contributed to the school shooting in
West Paducah, Ky., 18 months ago. Michael Carneal told psychologists that he
fired at students, killing three and wounding five others, because he had
endured frequent verbal and physical assaults from classmates who perceived
him to be gay, even though he didn't identify as such. A gossip column in
the school newspaper fueled Carneal's harassment by suggesting that "Michael
C. and [another boy] have feelings for each other."
The thread connecting these incidents is the damage inflicted on
everyone when homophobia goes unchallenged in schools. What continues to be
taught or condoned by teachers, administrators, parents, and religious
leaders is the idea that homosexuality is so terrible that no boy or girl
would ever want to be <mistaken> for gay, let alone <be> gay.
In an atmosphere of anti-gay intolerance, a few kids with psychological
disorders who have also become inured to violence turn to guns. In Carneal's
case, he told the psychologist that packing heat made him feel powerful and
"manly." The boy's deluded fantasy was not to annihilate his harassers but
to scare them into respecting him and leaving him alone.
The anti-gay language that Carneal and the unnamed boy in Taber
described and that Harris and Klebold apparently encountered, too, is as
common in schools as chalkboards. It isn't just crude epithets like "faggot"
that get casually tossed around; in teen parlance, "gay" (like "lame" for an
earlier generation) is now synonymous with "stupid."
At the same time, anti-gay verbal and physical assaults are the least
reported form of bullying in schools. Both gay <and> straight kids
hesitate to come forward when harassed this way, and instead they often bear
it on their own. Part of the reason is the stigma attached to homosexuality
and the price kids pay for being or appearing to be gay.
But also, when students <do> report abuse, schools often don't do
anything. Anti-gay harassment - unlike racial taunting - is not yet deemed
a serious enough offense. In fact, it's common to defend anti-gay language
as an expression of free speech or a statement of religious belief, not as a
form of hate crime. Worse yet, some teachers engage in it themselves.
In addition, ignorant school officials may assume that kids actually
<provoke> their own harassment and can just as easily stop it. If a boy is
"slight," he can learn to toughen up. In one incident reported by the Safe
Schools Coalition of Washington, a gym teacher instructed a boy to "do more
pushups" and show an interest in girls to end the ordeal of being taunted as
Even when adults try to stop anti-gay abuse, their well-intentioned
actions may fall short of the mark. Hesitant to talk about homosexuality
with kids or fearful of parental repercussions if they do so, teachers fail
to educate young people about <why> anti-gay actions are unacceptable.
Simply telling an adolescent not to say "faggot" without explaining why will
never be an effective technique. Nor does teaching kids that calling someone
gay is "slander" help the situation: That only reinforces a negative image
of homosexuality. Yet students report that teachers widely use these
More desirable but less likely is institutional change, such as widely
publicizing anti-harassment policies and enacting swift discipline for
offenders. But schools face strong objections from parents and religious
leaders, who resist any acknowledgment of homosexuality that doesn't stress
immorality and sin. The task for concerned gay and straight people, then, is
a tough one - to shed light on the damage homophobic harassment inflicts on
<all> kids, not just gay ones.
Paula Martinac is the author of seven books. Her Lambda Award-winning
novel, Out of Time, has just been re-released in a new edition by Seal
Press. She can be reached care of LNcolumn@.... For more Lesbian
Notions, visit www.gfn.com (Gay Financial Network).
Lesbian Notions is a biweekly column distributed by Q Syndicate. For
more information about Q Syndicate, visit its Web site at
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