Alex Blaze

NJ schools have to fight systemic harassment (Oh, hell yes)

Filed By Alex Blaze | February 21, 2007 4:17 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: anti-gay bullying, Iowa, New Jersey, Republicans

From the Daily Record:

Public schools can be held liable for repeated, prolonged student-on-student sexual harassment, the state Supreme Court ruled today in a case brought by a New Jersey boy who contended he was victimized by years of homophobic taunts and attacks until he finally withdrew from school.
A bill to a similar effect is being debated in Iowa.

It's about time for this to be happening. One has to wonder if school officials who know about that sort of harassment and do nothing to stop it aren't tacitly endorsing it. Like they're outsourcing gender policing to kids. Especially since in this case the bullying went on for years and was so bad that the kid had to go to a private school instead (an option that the vast majority of GLBT youth don't have).

I think that many queer people can identify with this kid and the need for GLBT-specific anti-bullying programs. While Iowa "Republicans wanted all references to specific groups removed from the bill so that it would simply ban bullying of any kind," not mentioning sexual minorities is basically saying that harassment of GLBT students is A-O-K. Bullies of queer students think that it's different enough from other sorts of bullying, and many school officials look the other way because they think that it's different from other sorts of bullying, that it's boy-will-be-boys or girls-will-be-girls gender policing.

I know, because, like many of you, I lived with it. More on that after the jump.

When I was fourteen, in ninth grade, I ran Cross Country for my high school. I wasn't all that great, but I liked it enough and I had some friends on the team. A couple weeks into the season an eighteen-year-old Senior decided that it would be fun to start making jokes, calling me names, and taunting me because of my perceived sexuality. (I say "perceived" because I wasn't out at that age. Even though that silly Guy Quiz said I'm a "Level 2", let's just say that I'm not fooling anyone.) It eventually escalated to include other eighteen-year-olds, more physical harassment (like holding me down and grabbing at my genitals), and harassment during school hours.

One thing that seriously bothered me about it was that it was done in full view of many other students (making it humiliating) and in front of several teachers and coaches. And the adults did nothing about it. I can only guess that they thought it was funny too, especially since one of the coaches called me a pussy in an unrelated situation.

When they graduated, it ended, but I was left with a feeling of embarrassment in front of my peers and a jumpiness at physical intimacy that followed me through part of my adult sex life. It also added to my distrust of culturally masculine institutions and authority figures.

Like I've said before, GLBT people are uniquely traumatized during adolescence in our culture, and I can only wonder what we'd be like as a people if we weren't. This ruling in New Jersey recognizes the school's responsibility, first, to react to such harassment, and, second, to fight against this discrimination as a systemic problem instead of individualized instances of bullying.

Oh, yeah, and no exceptions for religious schools. This is not what Jesus would do.

(Crossposted from Q-Bomb)

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I never had any problems in school except for a little 'good-natured' taunting. It was the '60s and early '70s and on Hoosier playgrounds of that day one heard all the epithets bandied about, especially at anyone perceived as weak.

But outside of school in my early adolescence I was physically attacked three times with epithets verbally flying. The first came from three other boys, only one of whom I knew. After a few glancing blows to the back of my head by brass knuckles (I have a hard head!), I outsmarted their attack by running up on a porch which was lit up and persons inside were evident.

The other two attacks came from behind to my head by persons I never even saw coming or afterwards though one time a friend was nearby and able to ward off the attacker. Whether it was one of the prior bunch I have no idea. Both times I was knocked to the ground quite forcefully and immediately set upon by other punches to the head. The last attack was, I guess, finally successful in its intent. It occurred somewhat late at night in a park and I awoke from the beating pants down, bloodied, and from the pain, evidently raped, likely by an object (I remember an old Nehi pop bottle discarded near me).

I was 12-13 at the time. My assailants were probably 15-16. Perhaps just as you had to do, I manned up. Are we not men? I wouldn't tell my mother why she had to collect me in her car off that front porch just 3 blocks from our house. I definitely hid that last attack from loved ones and ultimately even myself. And yes, I never quite had that perfect feeling of safety in my 'all-American' Hoosier neighborhood again.

I definitely agree that schools must teach tolerance and should be held responsible for any harrassment within the schools. But even with that I don't know that the 'hyper-heterosexual' male whose 'home-schooled hatred' probably fuels their harrassment and attacks. Where else do they get it but from their fathers? I only know that my own father never spoke an ill word in my presence towards any one person or any group of people (except the British). And like any loving son, I took after my father (so why am I gay, Nicolosi?).

Schools cannot stop that which fathers teach. I even wonder if they can break that chain of hate. Perhaps only with an overall change in society will that occur. But there is always a reason for hate.