Gay Rights Beyond the Courtroom

With news of LGBT victories such as the recent overturning of California Proposition 8 and the nearly ratified gay marriage bill in the state of Washington, it is easy to forget that there are still strides to be made and issues to address on behalf of the gay community nationwide. For several years, the focus of gay rights has been primarily centered on adults; whether it is pushing for marriage laws, healthcare protections or adoption rules. Though these legal decrees in regards to the LGBT community are of the utmost importance on a political scale — as they should be — the protection of the younger gay population deserves national attention.

Each day in school districts across the United States students are being bullied for being who they are. Rolling Stone reports that in the predominantly conservative town of Anoka, Minnesota, nine Anoka-Hennepin School Sistrict students took their lives in under two years as a result of bullying. The school district, which resides in former GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s constituency, has a history of being blatantly neglectful to LGBT students. In 1994, the Anoka-Hennepin school board adopted a “No Homo Promo” measure in their district, which prohibited teachers from “addressing/teaching homosexuality as a normal, valid lifestyle.” These anti-gay sentiments in the school district increased over time until it reached its peak in 2009 with the first of nine suicides.

The lives harmed and lost in the Anoka-Hennepin area are a result of a neglectful school district and the hostility students displayed towards LGBT or suspected LGBT students. Everyday teenagers like Brittany Geldert would endure name-calling, teasing, rumors and even physical abuse at school for being bisexual. Geldert reached out to administrators at her school but received no helping hand or concern. The less they had to hear, the less they were obligated to do anything about it.  These students were left without anyone to protect them. Administrators would dismiss cases of bullying with a swift hand, counselors could not offer advice in promotion of their lifestyle and teachers were bound by fear of losing their job if showing any support of the LGBT community.

This abominable lack of concern blanketing the school board persisted for years even with the growing fear students faced. The most the board did was pass a neutrality measure stating, “Anoka-Hennepin staff, in the course of their professional duties, shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation including but not limited to student-led discussions.” Not only was this act set forth by the district confusing to interpret, but it stifled the possibility of further actions in support of bullied students.

Nine lives were lost to suicide in one school district, several more attempted and hundreds were suffering mentally and emotionally. When put in perspective, it is nearly impossible to fathom how many other towns lack sympathy towards the bullied, how many students are suffering because of it and how many lives are at risk. Every day LGBT teens are discriminated against and called names, but no one stops to help.

Though most of the LGBT youth is aware of initiatives such as the Trevor Project, the Gay Straight Alliance and suicide hotlines, the fact of the matter is that they are still being oppressed in their own towns and their own classrooms. This is not a matter of creating resources; it is a matter of providing resources to students that need it where they need it. There is available support out there, but it is the obligation of educators and community leaders across the nation to bring this support to the students. Furthermore, it is their responsibility to create a healthy and safe environment by teaching those who are committing these offences that what they are doing is wrong. Every adult, not only educators, must teach children that is not acceptable to tease another for dressing, talking or being different.

As a nation we must broaden our focus on LGBT-related issues. The gay community suffers beyond political injustices as adults. There are children being told who they are is worthy of bullying and teens taking their lives because they couldn’t take what they heard anymore. These issues exceed the hearings of a courtroom and headlines in the papers; it isn’t just the right to marry, it is the right to live freely in a nation without fear of prejudice.

 

Sarah Menendez is a first-year political science major. She can be reached at smenende@uci.edu.