Date:Sun, 1 Apr 2001 12:52:27 EDT
Subject:IA:For some, school is a place to learn to be afraid

Message from:
The Coalition for Safer Schools of NYS, PO Box 2345, Malta, NY 12020
The Real or Perceived Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Student Protection Project

SUPPORT.......NYS Legislation..The Dignity for All Students Act of 2001

Des Moines Register, March 11, 2001
Box 957, Des Moines, Ia., 50304
(Fax 515-286-2511 ) ( )

For some, school is a place to learn to be afraid
John Carlson, Register Columnist

Picture an industrial arts classroom in a small Iowa high school.

A dozen boys show up, laughing, joking, ready for an hour of cutting wood and goofing off. A 13th is quiet, alone, watching the second hand crawl around the clock.

The teacher says he'll be back in a while, walks out the door, and two of the boys pounce.

The target, a boy named Pete, has his baseball cap snatched and is shoved against a chalkboard. Somebody jerks a button off his shirt and tells him he's a loser.

Pete doesn't speak, because anything he says will bring more taunts. He's laughed at, intimidated and insulted for maybe five minutes.

The teacher walks back in, sees what's going on, and tells the bullies, "Knock it off." If Pete is lucky, this will happen only once this week.

Telling would only make it worse, he thinks. So he endures it alone, watching the clock -- and the calendar -- praying for the day and the school year to end.

It must be awful, being a kid whose first conscious thought of the day is dreading school. Everybody has been afraid of a math test. This is different.

Ever been afraid? Really afraid? Or humiliated nearly every day of the week?

We're talking about schoolkids knowing with absolute certainty they will be teased, tormented, bullied -- maybe even beaten up.

There are lots of targets out there, and kids say they are the most vulnerable in the hallways, classrooms and locker rooms of our neighborhood schools.

Sometimes it's a vulnerable, isolated kid, like Pete. More often than we know, it's people in a group.

Molly and Mary, a couple of girls who attend a large central Iowa high school, know all about that. These two seniors are targeted nearly every day.

They say it's pretty much open season on them.

"I walk down the hall and somebody will say, 'Lesbian,' when I go by," Molly said. "They say it out loud, so I can hear and so other kids can hear. I usually don't say anything back. I just keep walking."

Mary nods. Rude references about homosexuals have become part of average, everyday high-school put-down language.

"If a kid doesn't like the assignment, he'll say, right out loud in class, 'That reading assignment is really fag,' or it's 'gay,'" Mary said. "And most teachers will sit right there and not say a word about it. Kids don't dare say something racial. They know they'd get kicked out of school in a second. But if they don't like something, they call it 'fag' or 'gay.'"

Want to really throw a teen-ager?

"Call him gay in front of a bunch of kids," Molly said. "It happens all the time. Doesn't matter if it's true or not. Doesn't matter if it's a joke. It's like it's the worst possible thing you can say about somebody. The worst insult."

Mary said she has never been attacked. But she's been afraid.

"I was followed by a group of boys one day," she said. "They sort of surrounded me and made some pretty ugly remarks. That was as far as it went."

Teachers, the girls said, often don't intervene.

Maybe they're worried they will be identified as homosexual if they tell a kid to stop making ugly remarks. So they hurry away, pretending not to hear.

Shawn Beirman of the Youth Alliance in Des Moines surveyed central Iowa high school students a couple of years ago as part of her master's degree research.

Of those who identified themselves as homosexual, 81 percent said they had been harassed, 35 percent had been threatened and 19 percent were victims of physical violence. Most of it took place in the schools.

It's not about whether you approve of gays, the lifestyle, or anything about it. That's irrelevant.

They are targets and -- along with random victims like Pete -- are picked on while some of the people in charge remain silent.

Teachers and administrators might insist such things don't happen in their particular schools, and maybe they're right. Some places take this sort of thing seriously.

But in lots of schools, right here in child-friendly Iowa, kids are miserable. For some of them, school is a dreadful experience, and not because of algebra.

· John Carlson can be reached at (515) 284-8204 or

Box 957, Des Moines, Ia., 50304
(Fax 515-286-2511 ) ( )


In response to John Carlson's March 11, column, "For Some School is a Place to Learn to be Afraid":

Gay youth, and those perceived to be gay, have a very difficult time in our schools and society. Our schools are way behind on prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Unfortunately, our legislators and some of our city councils are not taking the lead to try to prevent harassment and crimes committed against people of minority sexual orientations (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered) by not passing non-discrimination legislation.

Bullying and name-calling are very hurtful and not conducive to a positive learning environment. The angry youths who take guns to school have been picked on to the point of utter frustration.

Name-calling and hurtful behavior need to be addressed to make our schools and communities safer. Diversity needs to be accepted and appreciated.

· Jean Huffey, 1730 Elon Dr., Waterville, Iowa 52170-7527

This message has been distributed as a free informational service for the expressed interest of non-profit research and educational purposes only.
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Last updated 4/2/2001 by Jean Richter, richter@eecs.Berkeley.EDU