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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

We Have Students Who Are Gay and Fearful

By Peter DeWitt — August 21, 2013 2 min read
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Over the summer there have been dozens of pictures posted on Facebook and other social networking sites that show members of the LGBT community in Russia being beaten by homophobic men and women. What is more shocking is that the pictures show those LGBT people being arrested by police for...being gay. Take a look at them. They’re horrible.

Yes, Russia has a ban on what they call “Homosexual propaganda,” which means that gay men and women can be arrested for showing support of anything that refers to the LGBT community. Many readers on the sites where these pictures were distributed left remarks that they were horrified that this would ever happen in this day and age. They said that people in Russia must be ignorant and hateful. It’s easy to do that when the country seems so far away and the hate seems to be so entrenched.

But what about it our own country?

Yes, more and more states are passing marriage equality laws, and cities across the country participate in Gay Pride but please don’t have the illusion that LGBT students or adults can show the same signs of affection that heterosexual couples do. There are many LGBT students who are gay and fearful on a daily basis.

In an excellently written NY Times commentary, Frank Bruni wrote,

If you've been out of the closet for decades and you live in a state that has marriage equality and, better yet, your city and neighborhood reflect the diversity that's a hallmark of urban life at its most rewarding, it is easy, most of the time, to feel as respected and at ease in society as any straight person does. Then your partner slips his hand in yours as you walk down the street and your stomach clenches just a bit. Your heart rate goes up a nervous notch or two. It's not shame that does this. It's not embarrassment. It's the awareness that even in Manhattan and even in 2013, you might easily encounter someone who will cast a disgusted look your way. Or say something nasty. Or, worse, throw a punch."

Bruni goes on to tell the story about Peter Notman and Michael Felenchak, two gay men who left a movie in the very gay-friendly Chelsea which is a neighborhood in Manhattan. According to Bruni, “six young men shouted anti-gay slurs at them.” The two men were followed and beaten...for being gay.

Bruni wrote that,

Notman and Felenchak ended up in the emergency room, where X-rays were taken, stitches done. Luckily, none of their injuries was critical and they didn't need to be hospitalized. This comes after the fatal shooting in Greenwich Village last May of Mark Carson, 32, by a man who first taunted him for being gay. Around the same time, there were other incidents of anti-gay violence in the borough."

In the end
We still have too many LGBT students who feel unsafe every day simply because they are gay. A powerful 2011 Gay, Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) study that says,

The majority of LGBT students are faced with many obstacles in school affecting their academic performance and personal well-being. Results indicated that 8 out of 10 LGBT students (81.9%) experienced harassment at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation, three fifths (63.5%) felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and nearly a third (29.8%) skipped a day of school in the past month because of safety concerns. (Kosciw)."

Bruni ends his commentary by writing,

But after all the education that we Americans have had and all the relished progress we've made, being gay does mean feeling constrained in situations where most people aren't, scared in circumstances that wouldn't frighten others in the least, self-conscious when you shouldn't have to be."

Truth be told, Mr. Bruni is correct in his opinion. Very often when I write an LGBT-related blog I cringe after I post it. I have been on the receiving end of e-mails with nasty comments that ask why I have to write about LGBT issues so much. I have been called derogatory names because some people feel uncomfortable with what I write about.

As a school principal, I am charged with the job every day to protect all students. Every principal and every teacher in every school around the country has the job to make sure that all of their students feel safe, regardless of how they feel about the LGBT community. And then, and only then, will Frank Bruni, and many other LGBT people feel comfortable walking around showing the same affection their straight-peers do.

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Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students (Corwin Press)

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.