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Teach Your Children

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  • Called Out
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 10, 1999

      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

      Lesbian Notions
      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
      school shooting.

      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
      his peers.

      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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