Illustration by David Julian.
The question was simple: What do you wish every teacher knew about the GLBT experience in school? Eight years ago, high school teacher Kurt Dearie started collecting the answers from the students he advised in the Carlsbad High School Gay-Straight Alliance. Dearie and his students believed the best way to create a more tolerant culture would be to encourage teachers to respond to GLBT bullying. To reach teachers, the students wrote pieces — excerpted on these pages — that told teachers about their lives and the help they needed. These pieces have been read by students at teacher trainings, and have helped change the school culture. We’re publishing them without using student names, to protect the privacy of minors. Many of the pieces were originally written anonymously.
One of the biggest problems in middle school is the use of the phrase “That’s so gay” to negatively describe something. Racial slurs and other derogatory words were never allowed by teachers, but the use of “That’s so gay” was always overlooked or ignored by anyone who had the power to stop it. The best way to help gay, lesbian, or bisexual students is to simply stop allowing this.
I’ve wondered if it is really worth living if I am going to be hated every day of my life. Stuff like this doesn’t just happen in high school either. It starts as early as elementary school. When I was in middle school people would walk up to me just to call me “faggot.” It hurt! The worst part is that no one did anything about it. If you would just tell students that saying these things is unacceptable — even things like “That’s gay” — it would help a lot. If you don’t stop these things from being said, there will only be more prejudice, more hate, more isolation and more unnecessary deaths.
As I walk on campus every day, I hear hateful comments made against homosexuals and transgender people. They are rampant on campus, and I constantly fear the time when the discrimination will be turned directly at me because I am transgender. I cannot even be myself at home for fear that my mother will throw me out of the house and I will have no place to live.
School is hard, hearing others harassed. Every time I hear someone yell “Fag!” across the field, I get this urge to tell them how much it hurts me, the bystander, as well as the intended victim. I’d give anything to go one day, a mere seven hours, without hearing a single derogatory comment against me or anyone else.
I know that being who I am makes it easy for me to be to cut down and insulted. So I ask you: never assume. Never assume that anyone is or isn’t gay. Never assume that silence equates to agreement, or that everything is fine. It may be that our silence is simply that, silence. You may have just injured someone greatly by speaking without thinking about the consequences. I am not saying that speaking up for yourself is a bad thing; in fact, I sometimes wish I had enough nerve to do the same. But assuming that everyone agrees with you or that you won’t hurt anybody by saying what you are about to say is simply wrong. It can hurt someone deeply, deeper that you can imagine.
Yesterday a person in one of my classes called someone a homo from across the room. My teacher heard this, of course, but as usual [he] acted as though nothing was said. About 10 minutes later someone else called the same boy a retard, and [the teacher] said to the other kid that it was wrong to say that word. To me this is very hypocritical, because basically he is saying that it is all right to call someone a homo but it’s not OK to call them a retard. In my opinion, both words should never be used.
Teachers stop students from using the phrase “That’s so retarded” because it is insulting, but seem to be deaf to the phrase “That’s so gay.” … Why is it that teachers rarely seem to hear what students are hearing on a daily basis?
Now I have a hope for the future, of what I can be. What just a group of openly gay, lesbian and bisexual people taught me is that there is a hope for the future, where I may not have to walk down the hall where I face hearing faggot, homo, dyke and that’s so gay from people who are in my classes and talk to me during lunch. I hope for a future where I can vote on laws that directly affect me and my friends. I hope for a future where I can be myself. So, to finish this off, teachers, I am asking you to think seriously about being open to your students. I know you may have your own reasons for not sharing your sexual orientation, but you cannot comprehend the effect on LGBT students like me, who want to know that their teacher is someone they can look up to, someone who can give them hope for their future. And if this isn’t possible, then at least show your support for us. Let us know that we can always come to you. It can change someone’s life.