On October 13, 1993, I helped to organize a rally at the Massachusetts State House in support of House Bill 3353 – The Gay and Lesbian Student Rights Bill as Youth Outreach Coordinator for the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights.
In previous years, The Coalition staged a number of well-attended rallies at the State House as part of their successful efforts to pass the Gay Civil Rights Bill, the Hate Crimes Reporting Act, and the bill which led to the formation of Gov. Weld’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth.
At the time Massachusetts law protected students against discrimination in terms of admission to public schools or access to school courses and activities on the basis of race, creed, color, sex, religion, and national origin. House Bill 3353, proposed adding sexual orientation to the protected classes.
House Bill 3353 was filed by the Student Advisory Council, a statewide network of students working on a number of educational initiatives. The bill had forty-one co-sponsors, with Rep. Byron Rushing (D-Boston) and Sen. Robert Havern (D-Arlington) as the chief sponsors.
I was among the featured speakers which also included fellow activist Chris Hannon, political director for the Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights, David LaFontaine, Lt. Gov. Paul Celucci, and chief bill sponsor, Rep Byron Rushing, among others. At least three hundred were in attendance at the rally. The rally was covered by all three major local news stations, the New York Times, the Boston Herald, and The Boston Globe, which ran an editorial in its support. The rally was followed by a lobby date where groups of students from gay-straight alliances across the state lobbied senators and representatives. The bill finally passed through the Senate Committee’s Third Reading (often a procedural graveyard for legislation) where it was held up for over a month. The Gay and Lesbian Student Rights Bill was signed into law by Gov. Weld on December 10th, 1993 with a ceremony at the State House the following week.
Included is my testimony from the rally:
I’m 17 and a student at Belmont High School. I hope this bill passes, because it would make school a whole lot safer for myself and many of my friends. This bill is important, because there is a lot of harassment and violence of lesbians, gays and bisexuals in school. In addition, the Gay Rights Bill in Massachusetts excludes people under 18 and public school institutions. I know that if a bill like this were in place, it would have made a huge difference in my experience at school.
When I was in middle school, I knew that I was different and had trouble fitting in with other people my age. Even though I was not athletically inclined, I joined a soccer team, because of the pressure that playing sports is the male thing to do.
As much as I disliked it, I forced myself to be on the team. One day at practice, when the coaches were away or not looking, everyone on the team surrounded me. They shouted different names at me, including anti-gay epithets such as “FAGGOT” and “HOMO”, threw things at me, including dog droppings and spit on me until my shirt was soaking wet. I wasn’t out and didn’t even know that I was gay at the time, but the other team members identified me as gay, because I did not fit in with them.
This was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. I tried to forget about it, didn’t tell anyone and tried to get on with my life. It wasn’t until I realized my sexual orientation two years ago and came out that it occurred to me that I had been the survivor of anti-gay violence and harassment.
Sadly, this situation is not unique. I have met many, many students who have been harassed, attacked and degraded in school. It is no wonder that 28% of gay and lesbian youth drop out of school and that they make up 30% of all completed youth suicides annually.
When I first came out to myself, I felt isolated and alone. I did not know any other people who were lesbian, gay, or bisexual. My integrity was compromised when I could not tell my friends how I was feeling. One time, when I got up the courage, I looked up “homosexuality” in the card catalogue of the school library. The only book in the library about homosexuality was an old, thick medical book that talked about sexual deviations. When I did start coming out, I still closely monitored what I said, who I said it to, where I said it and when I said it. I did not feel safe or welcomed in my school. Last year, I had a spotty attendance record and suffered from chronic depression and self destructive feelings. Fortunately, one of my friends came out to me.
Hoping to change the situation at school for other people dealing with identity issues, she and I helped start a gay-straight alliance. Although a considerable number of students and teachers were in support of the group, signs advertising it were constantly vandalized and torn down, sometimes minutes after we hung them up.
The homophobia in school became apparent not only among students, but also with some faculty members. Students constantly shout out homophobic slurs, like “fag”, “homo”, “lezzie” and “dyke”. Teachers pretend not to hear these degrading remarks and let them go by unnoticed…
Even though I am graduating next year, I hope I can change the atmosphere in school by working on the Gay and Lesbian Student Rights Bill. Every student has something unique and important to contribute to public school. No one should feel unsafe, unwelcome or be harassed or attacked just because of who they are.