By Drew Gibson
During my senior year of college I got a job helping start up a Boys and Girls Club in my hometown of Cincinnati. I had no prior experience working with kids, but they hired me anyway because it’s hard to keep employees when you pay them $9.25 an hour to deal with 15 ten year olds collectively having a temper tantrum because you won’t let them watch Nicki Minaj music videos during computer time. All the boys and all the girls wanted to watch the videos, but for very different reasons. Most of the girls would invariably start dancing in sync with the video in ways that confirmed Ed Sullivan’s worst fears about the long term influence of Elvis’s inappropriate hip shaking. Most of the boys would just watch because, being boys who just recently discovered girls, it was what they did. Of course, for every generalization there is an exception and the exception at our club was Dequan (not his actual name).
Dequan spent most of computer time imitating dance moves and usually in a more convincing fashion than the girls. As a matter of fact, we at the club had been trying to get him into a local performing arts school because he was such a good dancer. Dequan’s favorite pastime was doing the splits—anywhere and everywhere in ways that seemed both physically impossible and immensely painful. Dequan’s idol was Beyonce and all of his close friends in the club and at school were girls. If you spoke to Dequan for more than a couple minutes it was abundantly clear that he was gay. Not only that, the other boys in the school had recently realized it and 11 year old Dequan was already being bullied frequently. I had to kick kids out of club on numerous occasions for calling him a “fag” and other gay epithets. Dequan was a really sensitive boy and the slightest conflict would reduce him to those angry, persecuted tears that little kids are so good at producing. We could all see the way this story would play out, which is why getting him into a performing arts school and a culture that is accepting of young GLBT men and women was so important. I left Cincinnati to come to Baltimore for graduate school this fall so I don’t know if Dequan made the switch, but I hope he did.
The environment Dequan will face in elementary and high schools is defined by its ignorance. Children hate because they have been taught to by the adults in their lives and because they don’t know any other way to behave. In Missouri and Tennessee, there are bills that have been introduced which prohibit any discussion of LGBT topics for grades K-8. They’ve been aptly titled the, “Don’t Say Gay” laws and they have the potential to hurt thousands of young boys and girls in those two states. Simply put, it is state-sponsored discrimination against minors. What does it tell a 7 or 8 year old, who is just beginning to form a conception of the world around him or her, that there are certain people that you just don’t talk about? This is ignorance as academic policy, in the same vein as abstinence only education, but worse. At least with the abstinence only movement, you were attacking a sexual act. With the Don’t Say Gay legislation, you directly attack the individual.
Last month, the Anoka-Hennepin School District just north of Minneapolis changed its’ stance on LGBT rights after numerous lawsuits from students who had been abused and national media attention focusing on the injustice of their policy. Much like the laws set forth in Tennessee and Missouri, the Anoka-Hennepin School District forbade its faculty from taking a stance against or for LGBT rights, ordering them to be neutral and not address the subject. This type of policy encourages the spread of harmful misinformation throughout entire communities, including political bodies. Bill co-sponsor and House Small Business Committee Chairman Dwight Scharnhorst (R – St. Louis) said recently that LGBT discussion would lead to other more distasteful topics and that, “There is no need to talk about Billy wanting to marry a goat.”
And there you have it: a state representative insinuating that homosexuality leads to buggering farm animals. If there was ever a walking billboard for why our nation’s schools need to be open and honest about LGBT issues, it is this obscenely ignorant man. What legislation like the Don’t Say Gay bills does is perpetuate a culture of willful ignorance and hatred. Proponents of anti-LGBT legislation often claim that tolerant policies towards sexual orientation encourage more boys and girls to engage in such behavior. Well, if that is the case, what do discriminatory policies aimed at silencing healthy discussion and personal liberties promote?