Allies & Advocates

Every Child Deserves a Safe Place to Learn (MI)

The following is an excerpt from an article printed in the Detroit News. Any opinions either stated or suggested are not necessarily those of GLSEN or its members.

By Deb Price / The Detroit News
August 26, 2002

When he was a ninth grader, Nathan Triplett was hit in the back of the head by a book with such force that he was knocked unconscious.

By the time the Kalamazoo teen came to in the boys' gym locker room, his mysterious attacker had vanished, leaving Nathan terrified about the escalating anti-gay violence and taunting he was experiencing at school. Turning to his gym teacher for help, Nathan got a "boys will be boys" brush-off.

"I was too afraid to do anything, so I just stayed quiet," recalls Triplett, now an 18-year-old entering freshman at Michigan State University .

As summer ends and kids head back to school, those of us too old to be menaced by schoolhouse bullies should focus on the fact that America is still flunking out when it comes to protecting school children from anti-gay attacks. Many of the victims aren't even gay.

In Triplett's case, his interest in theater and choir had led several older boys to mistakenly think he was gay. "Initially, I just tried to defend myself by saying things like, 'No, that's not how it is. You guys are just being silly.' It turned me into a homophobe for a while. But I realized that's not what I wanted to be, he explains.

So, he courageously started responding by saying it doesn't matter what his sexual orientation is and that everyone deserves respect. And he and several classmates formed a gay-straight alliance at Portage Central High School to create a safe place to talk about gay issues and how to stop anti-gay harassment.

In addition to lifting spirits, Nathan's alliance lobbied state lawmakers in support of the safe schools bill by House Democratic Leader Buzz Thomas of Detroit. They also participated in the annual "Day of Silence" in which more than 150,000 gay and gay-friendly students around the country didn't speak for an entire school day to call attention to the isolation gay students feel.

Of the 47 million kids entering pre-kindergarten through 12th grade classrooms, 36 million will attend schools in states without laws against anti-gay harassment. That's wrong, as seven states -- California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin -- and the District of Columbia have made clear by enacting such laws. (Anti-bully legislation is awaiting New Jersey Democratic Gov. James McGreevey's signature.)

The latest survey of high school students identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered spotlights the seriousness of the problem:

  • 83 percent of the youths reported being verbally harassed, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network found.
  • 21 percent said they had been physically assaulted.
  • 82 percent said school officials never or only sometimes intervened to stop anti-gay incidents.
  • 31 percent said they had missed at least one day of school in the previous month because they didn't feel safe.

GLSEN Executive Director Kevin Jennings says his group's members -- many of them students in the nation's 2,000 gay-straight alliances -- are trying to create a climate in which students feel it's "un-cool" to be anti-gay and to get more state legislatures to outlaw bullying. "I'd like to see the scales change so bigotry is punished," he explains.

As a college student, Triplett plans to continue working to end anti-gay harassment in elementary, middle and high schools.

"Making tangible changes in our school that will continue to help students was really empowering for me," Triplett says. "It's wrong that it was so easy for someone to assault me at school, where I should have felt safe."

Every schoolchild deserves a safe place to learn and grow. Let's create them.

Source: Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network website, 2002.

Page last modified December 22, 2010