On October 11th, 1993, In Newsweekly ran an op-ed in support of the Gay and Lesbian Student Rights Law, which I was working on at the time.
More from In Newsweekly “Parents not friends of lesbians and gays” by Trixi Burke:
“No person shall be excluded form or discriminated against an admission to a public school of any town or in obtaining the advantages, privileges and courses of study of such public school on account of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation.” – proposed amendment to section 5 of chapter 76 of the General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
It seems some parents of students at the Whitman-Hanson Regional High School are unaware that the Massachusetts State Board of Education unanimously approved recommendations from the Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth last spring. Either they are ignorant of the necessity for tolerance of lesbian gay and bisexual students, or they are just ignorant.
Angry phone calls and letters received by the principal of Whitman-Hanson Regional High School are behind the cancellation of a forum that was to be held Tuesday, October 5, at the school. Lesbian and gay youth were to address issues and bring awareness of the need for tolerance of gay, lesbian and bisexual youth to the Whitman-Hanson student body.
Despite the fact that letters went out on September 24 to parents of students offering that a parent offended by such an assembly could have his/her child excused from the assembly, homophobic and enraged parents called for the forum to be cancelled, and the principal, Geralde Buckley caved-in accordingly.
Without so much as a phone call placed to the Governor’s Commission Chair David LaFontaine, the Boston Globe ran an article last Saturday where School Committee chairman Carl Kowalski was the source of the news regarding the cancellation. According to the Globe, Buckley was pressured to postpone the assembly indefinitely. A parent of a ninth grader at the school, Diana Clay, was also quoted in the article saying that she felt an assembly on all kinds of sexual “harassment” should be held. And, therefore, the assembly on gay and lesbian youth and their safety in schools be cancelled? Come on!
The Globe’s reporter did not quote anyone involved directly with the planned forum. When In contacted David LaFontaine, the commission chair, he hadn’t heard anything about the cancellation but was confident that the sensitivity training sessions planned for schools statewide would not succumb to a similar fate due to the backing of the state Department of Education.
Jessica Byers, a lesbian youth activist who sits on the commission and was scheduled to speak at the school, was not aware of the cancellation and in the two years she has done such speaking has never come across this kind of last minute cancellation. The very fact that the forum was cancelled indicated to Byers that the school needs the information it would have provided.
But the question of why an handful of parents could cause a school to succumb to pressure when the school was trying to comply with the recommendations of the State Board of Education remains unanswered.
A school with a student body around 1,200 no doubt has at least 100 gay, lesbian or bisexual youth walking the halls every weekday. Does the super intendant of the school system, Raymond E. Avery, really think not one of these students is at risk for verbal or physical harassment? Do Buckley and Kowalski need to be reminded that the commissions focus was on the safety and well-being of these students who are too fearful to start a gay/straight alliance, too fearful of possible retaliation if they are found out or have enough courage to come out. And what about the alarming rate of “successful” suicide attempts among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth? Are none of these hundred students worth the time or the “pressure”?
And lastly, once again we see outside of Boston, some gay, lesbian and bisexual adults standing by doing nothing on behalf of the youth. The very same adults who pay taxes in the communities of Whitman and Hanson include gay men and lesbians too fearful to speak out on behalf of the lives of their younger brothers and sisters.
Perhaps it isn’t clear what needs to be done.
In this situation, writing a letter is more powerful than writing a check. Letters can be written for Governor William Weld, Speaker Charles Flaherty and Senate President William Bulger. Be sure to mention H.3353, the Gay and Lesbian Student Rights Bill.
All too often gay and lesbian adults make choices that are good for them and forget there are generations behind them going through the same heartache, danger, and alienation they did years before.
While some remain in their closets with the door perhaps slightly ajar, there are hundreds of kids at schools in every community at risk of harm, either at their own hand or of another. For those who rest comfortably in the suburbs and take advantage of being quasi-out while visiting in Boston, why not take a truly courageous stand the week of National Coming Out Day and come out for youth on Wednesday, October 13 at the State House. Why not be visible and show your support of gay, lesbian and bisexual youth’s right to get through school safely without harassment or intimidation?
And finally a word to those who pick that one particular October night to come out in your evening clothes to celebrate the community, think back to your high school days. How much of a celebration were those four years, assuming you even stayed in school?