Imagine that you're a high school student, and maybe you're gay, maybe not, but whatever, some kids start harassing you with a lot of "That's so gay" stuff, and "You're so gay," and the occasional "You're such a faggot." So you go to your counselors, and they say--what?
Well, if you are GLBTQ--gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning--you'd like your counselors to say that they've got your back, and they'll tell anybody who's ragging on you to get out of the gutter and start showing respect for your sexual orientation and gender identity. They'll support your right to be who you are, in other words.
And that's pretty much the way it happens at East Chapel Hill High School, according to Joanna Carmel, a junior there, who spoke up at a rally Saturday at the State Capitol organized by student members of the Triangle Gay-Straight Alliance Network (TGSAN). Her school's leadership and faculty are so supportive, Carmel said, "I almost feel bad that our school is so nice and other schools aren't."
But, other schools aren't. That's what a forthcoming survey by a group called SafeSchoolsNC will show. Some 80 percent of GLBTQ students it surveyed reported being verbally harassed, and almost 70 percent said they don't feel safe in their schools, which didn't surprise its founder and executive director, Melissa Weiss, as much as the fact--again, as reported by the students--"that the adults rarely did anything about it."
That failure to act "sends a clear message to the harassers that it's OK" to be anti-gay, Weiss says, in a way that being anti-black or anti-pretty much anything else would never be tolerated. And for gay students and those who want to be supportive? "The message they get is that if they take a stand, they'll be targets too."
A few weeks ago, I co-moderated a forum for Wake school board candidates in Cary--two districts (7 and 9), six candidates--and asked an open-ended question about gays. What should the schools do differently, or more of (or less), to improve the climate for GLBT students, I asked. I couldn't take down their answers, but no matter, because what I got in response was six versions of a shrug. Everything's swell, they all said. Can't think of a thing I'd change.
Well, everything's not swell, as I learned on Saturday, but it's a lot better than it was even a few years ago when Adam Attarian, now a senior at NCSU, helped start the first Gay-Straight Alliance in a Wake County school at Raleigh's Enloe High. "We were three teenagers, and we thought there just have to be other gay teenagers in Wake County," Attarian laughed. "But it was unfathomable to us then that it would ever get this big."
How many high school GSAs are there today? About 200 in North Carolina, and 20-some in the Triangle--even Weiss can't put an exact number on it--and while that's a huge step up from Attarian's Enloe days, it's still a long way from the goal of one in every high school.
And while some 60 or 70 students came to the rally, by their applause it was clear almost half of them attend either the Durham School of the Arts or N.C. School of Science and Math in Durham, two progressive bellwethers in an otherwise foggy climate at best.
Lena Eckert-Erdheim, a DSA junior and a leader of the TGSAN, can testify to that from her earlier days at Durham's Jordan High. Yes, Jordan had a GSA. But at announcements time, she said, it was always to be referred to by its initials; the word "gay" wasn't to be used. The curriculum included no mention whatsoever of the gay-rights movement in history class, no acknowledgement that an author was gay in literature class, and the message that only straight relationships, within in a marriage, were healthy enough for health class.
Through the Triangle network, she hears the same from friends in other schools. Principals don't say that students can't start a GSA, they just don't lift a finger to help (or insist it be called a "diversity club"). They let anti-gay bullying slide, either because they're anti-gay themselves (it's suddenly about their religious freedom, you know), or because they're afraid of stirring "controversy" in their communities if they call out the gay-bashing for what it is.
"A lot of administrations have trouble acknowledging the need for GSAs, because they don't want to admit that their schools aren't 100 percent safe, and because they don't want the controversy that will follow" if one gets started, Eckert-Erdheim said.
So, here's one thing our candidates can do differently, if elected (and one of them, Board Chair Patti Head, already was re-elected). They can support the movement that these students and SafeSchoolsNC are leading, in favor of training all school counselors to respect and support students' sexual orientation/gender identity just as they support their racial, religious and free-expression rights.
That issue is before the state Board of Education, which is under pressure from the conservative N.C. Family Policy Council not to affirm that students should be anything but straight--or chaste. Thus, the state board is considering watering down a policy recommendation from guidance counselors that calls for specific training on helping GLBTQ students. A year ago, it similarly watered down its anti-bullying policies to remove any suggestion about which students might be the most likely targets.
The issue is expected to come up at the next state Board of Education meeting Nov. 2-3. For helpful information, check www.safeschoolsnc.org . Attarian helps run ASPYN (A Safer Place Youth Network) meetings at the Cup A Joe at Mission Valley in Raleigh the fourth Saturday of every month, 5:30-7:30 p.m. More information at www.tcworks.org .
GAY GAINS: There's another new study coming on GLBTQ issues in North Carolina, this one from the progressive Common Sense Foundation in Raleigh. Included is a survey by Public Policy Polling. Two of the questions: 1. Do you believe all North Carolinians should have equal rights under the law regardless of sexual orientation? Answer: 73 percent said yes; 18 percent said no. 2. Do you think it's fair to define marriage in such a way that it excludes same-sex couples? 51 percent said no; 39 percent, yes. Cool.
Kambon's War on Whites
What's the red-hot story of the week for every right-wing blogger and talk-show host in America? No, not the carnage in Iraq, or genocide in the Sudan, or even how innocent Scooter Libby is. It's that an obscure black fanatic at a sparsely attended conference in Washington--but one that was covered, four hours' worth, by C-SPAN--said that whites will exterminate blacks from the planet unless blacks exterminate them first. Which is why exterminating whites is "the one idea" blacks should have. This garbage showed up Thursday on a John Locke Foundation Web site, and was followed Saturday by a story--on the front page--in The News & Observer.
Well, so much for the subject of the conference, which ironically was the destructive way the mass (white-owned) media portray black folks, as illustrated most recently--and vividly--by the coverage of Katrina. Our coverage of Katrina? Look, look, over here--it's a nutty black guy spewing hate. No wonder "those people" are so miserably poor.
I'd say no more--I'd probably say nothing at all, actually--except that the obscure fanatic, Kamau Kambon, lives in Wendell and was the recipient in 1999, with his wife Mawiyah, of a Citizen Award from none other than the Independent Weekly, a fact which the Locke folks were quick to mention but the N&O, perhaps out of kindness, did not.
The Kambons were cited for community activism centered at their bookstore in Raleigh, Blacknificent. Kamau wasn't urging extermination then, and it was appalling to see him doing so now. Killing all the "terrorists" (as he calls white people) before they kill you isn't any prettier a sentiment coming from a black man than it is when George W. Bush says it.
Black folks are pissed--rightly--about Katrina and every other g-damned thing done to them by white colonialists and their capitalist successors in Europe and America. So tempers were running hot that day in Washington among the black-power advocates gathered there. But even by that standard, Kambon's diatribe stood out, and was promptly denounced by activist Lawrence Guyot, who said the answer is black empowerment, not--his term--"racial fanaticism."
The Kambons didn't return my call, and Blacknificent was closed when I dropped by during business hours. I hope Kamau will apologize. But, seeing him on C-SPAN, I doubt it.
Kambon's outburst reminds us why the N.C. Council of Churches conference next Friday and Saturday, Nov. 4-5, in Fayetteville, is so important. "Seek Peace and Pursue It" is the title; the theme is: How does the church speak peace in a time of war? Register online at www.nccouncilofchurches.org or call 828-6501.