Gay teen harassment on the rise –
Although Lake Tahoe Unified School District officials claim gay and lesbian students are well protected under anti-discrimination school policy, others say the issue is neither adequately addressed nor enforced.
“I have been working with the school district for a long time to get them to enforce gay/lesbian/bisexual discrimination policy. At this time, there is no specific reference to sexual orientation in district policy and it’s just not talked about in the schools,” said Chuck Newport, health education coordinator for El Dorado County Health Department. “I have a real simple goal. If you can’t say beaner or nigger, well, then you can’t say fag or dyke. It’s discriminatory, unhealthy and hurtful.”
A recent study released by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, revealed that 69 percent of gay and lesbian teen-agers in America have experienced some form of anti-homosexual harassment or violence at school. Nearly 90 percent reported hearing anti-gay epithets at school, 36 reported hearing these from faculty or staff and 39 reported that no one ever intervened.
According to Superintendent Rich Alexander, district policy addresses anti-gay discrimination under the umbrella terminology of sexual harassment. He admits however, there are no specific references to gay and lesbian tolerance, or respect for sexual orientation.
“The language does specify that any type of sexual innuendo is inappropriate. I like the language because it keeps it open to interpretation when anyone is feeling bothered,” Alexander said. “I believe at this point our policy does cover that type of thing – that doesn’t mean we couldn’t do more though.”
But according to gay/lesbian outreach worker Eli Stevenson, who divides her time between El Dorado County Health and the South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center, the tolerance issue runs deeper than district policy. Stevenson said the problem begins at the community level.
“It starts with the adult gays and lesbians. They aren’t very ‘out’ in this community, so the teen-agers don’t have any role models,” she said. “Also, the teachers are not protecting the students. They are afraid to talk about these issues because they fear for their jobs. As a whole, I don’t think the community is moving backwards; they’re just moving very, very slowly.”
Stevenson said the school district, its administration, faculty and students need to actively engage in more education and open discussion on the issue of tolerance.
Newport said he did credit the district with being open to his suggestions and willing to consider possible changes to school policy language.
Assistant South Tahoe High School Principal Mark Romagnolo said enforcement of harassment policy and ensuing disciplinary action, at least at the high school, have been swift and aggressive.
“If something arises – such as harassment or inappropriate things being said – and we hear about it, we talk to the students and give them a warning. If they do not comply, we suspend them,” Romagnolo said. “There is a vernacular among kids – for example when they say things like, ‘That’s gay’. When I hear that, it’s just like hearing the ‘F’ word. I stop and tell them it’s inappropriate.”
The issue might soon receive closer scrutiny at the district and state levels since Gov. Gray Davis is reviewing legislation to protect students from anti-gay harassment and discrimination. The bill, AB 537, by Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, will be signed or vetoed Oct. 10.
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