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These days, schools ignore gay bullying at their own peril

Bottle-blond bangs swept over one eye — this, the other boys whispered, was not a man's haircut. One of them — a popular, handsome specimen — grew particularly incensed by his classmate's new look. He formed a posse and found a pair of scissors. After locating the blond boy, the gang tackled him. The boy screamed for help, but none came. Lock by lock, his hair was lopped off.

Soon after, the boy disappeared from school. Eventually he returned, his hair clipped short and back to its natural brown color.

There was no disciplinary action, but the incident would forever haunt everyone involved save for the lead attacker, Mitt Romney. He forgot about it, married a pretty girl, produced five handsome sons and made hundreds of millions of dollars. Now he wants to be president.

Fifteen-year-old Zach King, was attacked and beaten because he's gay, his mother says.
courtesy of the ACLU
Fifteen-year-old Zach King, was attacked and beaten because he's gay, his mother says.
Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi jumped to his death after he and a male date were spied on by his roommate.
thetylerclementifoundaton.org
Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi jumped to his death after he and a male date were spied on by his roommate.

Gay kids have long been a target of bullying. Until recently, incidents could be laughed off as "pranks" and no one suffered any consequences — save for the gay kid. But in the last few years, that has begun to change.

Some say it started the night Tyler Clementi leapt from the George Washington Bridge in September 2010. He'd just discovered that his roommate at Rutgers University had used a webcam to spy on a kiss he shared with another man. Police found Clementi's body seven days later.

Clementi wasn't the only gay kid to commit suicide that September — there were ten in all. Asher Brown, a thirteen-year-old boy from Cypress, Texas, shot himself in the head with his stepfather's Beretta. Seth Walsh, thirteen, hung himself in his rural California back yard just a half-hour after his mother had rescued him from a gang of bullies.

"It is a totally unnecessary tragedy for my children," says Wendy Walsh, Seth's mother. "I don't know where all the hate comes from."

Now bullies everywhere are being held accountable. Dharun Ravi, the roommate who spied on Clementi, was charged and found guilty of a hate crime; last week he was sentenced to thirty days in jail. The Department of Justice brought harsh sanctions down on Walsh's school district, and the local legislature passed "Seth's Law," making it mandatory for schools to formally investigate bullying claims. News of fifteen-year-old Billy Lucas's suicide inspired the creation of the It Gets Better campaign, a web video series designed to show gay kids that there's a better life after graduation.

"That September woke a lot of older, grown-up LGBT members to the fact that while it had gotten so much better for us out in the world, there had been the inverse effect of upping the temperature for kids in school," says Dan Savage, the alternative-weekly sex-advice columnist who started It Gets Better. "I really do think it shifted the culture."

The world swooned earlier this month when President Obama gave gay marriage his personal blessing, but his administration's efforts to combat bullying may actually be his more valuable contribution. Under his direction, the Department of Justice has vigorously pursued schools all over the country for failing to protect gay kids. Obama also endorsed the Student Non-Discrimination Act, a bill introduced by Senator Al Franken of Minnesota to make homosexuals a federally protected class.

"It gives them sort of the same civil rights as racial minorities got from the '64 Civil Rights Act, that women got from Title IX," says Franken. "I think more people are beginning to see this for what it is.... This is a group of people that just overwhelmingly are the victims of bullying and harassment."

When it comes to gay bullying, society seems to be experiencing something of a paradigm shift.

"I compare it to what happened in the South in the civil-rights movement," says Jamie Nabozny, the plaintiff in the country's first gay-bullying case. "The fall of 2010 will be comparable to what happened in Selma."

******

Until recently, the only classroom conversation about homosexuality and kids was concerned with how to keep them separate. In the '70s, teachers were routinely fired for coming out of the closet. There was no such thing as a Gay-Straight Alliance in school.

The arrival of AIDS in the '80s forced sex-education programs to acknowledge the existence of homosexuality. That, in turn, triggered a righteous panic. In 1987, Republican senator Jesse Helms took to the Senate floor brandishing a Gay Men's Health Crisis comic as part of his successful bid to ban federal funding for AIDS education materials that "promote or encourage, directly or indirectly, homosexual activities."

Eight states still have language on the law books derived from Helms's "no homo promo" policy. In Texas, sex-ed classes are required to teach that homosexuality is "not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense." In Arizona, the law forbids schools from portraying homosexuality as "a positive alternative lifestyle."

"There was this fear that if you were talking about gay people, you were having inappropriate conversations with students about sex," says Kim Westheimer, director of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Welcoming Schools project.

The gay-rights movement began to push back in the '90s. An openly gay teacher in Boston named Kevin Jennings founded the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to help educators who wanted to offer counsel to gay kids. In 1999, a judge affirmed that Gay-Straight Alliance clubs had a right to gather on school grounds.

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20 comments
U.S. Citizen
U.S. Citizen

Wow - what a stretch to know what Romney's intent was when that incident occurred in 1960. That's pathetic journalism.

Nunya
Nunya

who finds Mitt handsome?

Phxguy1940
Phxguy1940

you want to find gays on campus? look first toward the athletic department and then to the administrators...youll find plenty of them there

Josejose
Josejose

Wow, this article is not biased toward homos and democrats at all is it?? Sickening

Faycless
Faycless

Homosexuals will be a federally protected class? What exactly does that mean?

SEO Company India
SEO Company India

I went to university in the Anoka-Hennepin section and the only factor about this that amazed me was that someone is lastly doing something about it. A lot of violence went on toward a lot of children for a lot of different factors and the educational institutions never did anything to try to quit it as far as I remember. Sometimes personal instructors would but the section as a whole didn't really health care all that much about their learners.

dirtydave777
dirtydave777

Lets all throw a pity party and elevate them higher on the Victim pedestal.The only thing lower than these social lowlifes are the whiners who encourage them.GROW UP and quit looking for reasons to be a crybaby.Life's hard.....It's even harder when your Stupid.

Terry Ray Anderson
Terry Ray Anderson

Most bullies have always been bullies from an early age. Corporate Bully Romney now wants to be President Bully Romney, having been Schoolhouse Bully Romney. Whether it was a gay kid or a fat kid or a forgeign kid or nerd kid is unimportant, bullying is unacceptable. It is the idiocy of power over those who have none, and it is un-American to allow ANY underdog to suffer ill treatment by those who gain their glory at the expence of those who cannot defend themselves.

calhounp
calhounp

I'd like to publish some of these comments -- even Wilk's -- in our print letters to the editor section, ideally with full names/towns. If that's okay, e-mail me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com.

Jo Jonesey
Jo Jonesey

This is what Americans call "CIVILIZATION"?

Joey Loughary
Joey Loughary

gays are a center target for a lot i wonder if "brad" has ever been harassed in his life ... its nice to know that so much is being done about bulling in all spectrum's and one day maybe we wont have so many annoying dipsticks bulling and harassing people cause of the differences there are between them ....... there is still a lot we can do and a lot more should be done........... westword best blade of grass growing i have read keep up the good work

Brad
Brad

Hate to break it to you Westword but there are others living in this world who also get harassed besides gays. It seems to me you couldn't possible comprehend the idea of leaving the homosexual issue alone for 10 minutes and writing about other issues. Here is a small list of people who get harassed on a daily basis in our public school system.

Fat peopleSkinny peopleShort peopleTall peopleJewish peoplePeople who wear thick glassesNerdsFashion victimsVirginsGoths and freaksSluts

and the list goes on and on. Your articles are about as boring and dull as watching the grass grow. I think you can spare the general public from your next worthless article..."Cross dressing gays don't always feel accepted while riding the bus".

Someone
Someone

I went to school in the Anoka-Hennepin district and the only thing about this that surprised me was that someone is finally doing something about it. A lot of bullying went on toward a lot of kids for a lot of different reasons and the schools never did anything to try to stop it as far as I recall. Occasionally individual teachers would but the district as a whole didn't really care all that much about their students.

The Wilk
The Wilk

I wonder how newspapers like Westword survived without weekly stories promoting gay, marijuana, and goth newslines! Patty, you should be ashamed!

Phxguy1940
Phxguy1940

i'd like to see your comment after your gay son comes home beaten and bloody from bullying or your daughter is raped just to show her how "real men" take care of women...its knuckle draggers like you that perpetuate this kind of behavior...too bad you had to miss germany in the 30s...youd have really liked that

Crandle
Crandle

...when "your" Stupid.When your Stupid does what?

Lilly
Lilly

You're pretty stupid and really pathetic (and really confused).

Wilk the Moron has written in the past:

"It is not the duty of DPS to feed the world. Those kids need to carry lunch and eat breakfast at home like kids have done for two hundred years in this country. Their parents have set a great example of freeloading. Let's not teach the kids to do it for the next 75 years. And how many illegals are we feeding this week?" - Sigh... I hope you're never mistaken for a humanitarian or anyone with a soul. Quick, someone get the garlic and a wooden stake!

"These two are so anti-business that I can't believe the liberal Denver Post, mouthpiece for the N Y Times, has the guts to publish this article! Time after time, these hens vote anti-business. I can't believe the residents of Degette's district are stupid enough to fall for her extreme style of Socialism...unless they are all on welfare!" - You probably used a dictionary to look up socialism, but I don't think you really know what it means. Ask a Frenchman what socialism is and if we have it here in the US. We don't, you backwoods, redneck idiot.

"The very students that need abstinence only instruction are the very same students that fail in school, produce babies like rabbits, drop out, and are dependent on the government for the rest of their lives. They are raised w/o self control and are happy to display no self control when faced with sexual situations!" - Huh. That seems like a liberal idea. Are you a closet liberal, Wilk? It's said that some of the most anti-homosexual individuals out there are secretly gay and that their stance on homosexuality is meant to draw attention away from their true selves. I think you've just proven that the same concept applies to you, but you're hiding something a little different.

To top it all off, you're reading the Westword. You must be a gay stoner goth. You probably also like fish sticks. You probably like to put them in your mouth.

Funguy5244
Funguy5244

Dirty Dave thinks its ok to be cruel. I wouldn't want to be part of his family or his pet.

 
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