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by Lili Beit
(IPS) NEW YORK --
rights activists and educators across the country are welcoming a report charging that United States public schools often fail to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students from discrimination and harassment based on their sexual orientation.
"It's a landmark report in terms of making clear the abuse that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students face in schools, which has risen to the level of being an international scandal," said Jon Davidson, senior counsel at Lambda Legal Defence and Education Fund, a legal group working for the civil rights of lesbians, gay men and people with HIV/AIDS.
Entitled "Hatred in the Hallways: Violence and Discrimination Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Students in U.S. Schools," the report documents the harassment of gay students in public schools which it blames on the failure of federal, state and local authorities as well as school boards to enact and enforce legislation penalizing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
"We know that students who have identified themselves as gay are subject to an inordinate amount of harassment, much more than the average kid. This report gave additional visibility to that issue and hopefully will provoke some discussion that will be productive," said Kathleen Lyons, a spokesperson for the Washington-based National Education Association, whose more than 2.6 million members are mostly classroom teachers.
203-page report cites chilling examples of bullying and violence directed at gay students.
"One day in the parking lot outside his school, six students surrounded [a gay teenager in Nevada] and threw a lasso around his neck, saying 'Let's tie the faggot to the back of the truck.' He escaped from his tormentors and ran inside the school. Finding one of his vice-principals, he tried to tell her what had just happened to him...The school took no action to discipline Dylan's harassers. Instead, school officials told him not to discuss his sexual orientation with other students," said the report.
A lesbian in a junior high school in California was repeatedly ignored when she told school officials that other students taunted and hit her repeatedly as a result of her sexual orientation, HRW reported. After a group of students threw a brick at her head which caused her to lose consciousness, she decided to drop out of school and do independent study.
The violence described by these students and the inaction of their school administrators are typical of the stories which Human Rights Watch recorded in interviews with 140 youth between the ages of 12 and 21 in seven states across the country from October 1999 to October 2000.
While verbal abuse was far more common than physical harassment, when teachers failed to check the taunting, heckling and insulting of gay students it often escalated into violence.
HRW found that gay students often do not have access to supportive school counselors, information about homosexuality, and groups where they can openly discuss their sexual orientation. Even health classes often skip over homosexual issues.
As a result, many feel ostracized, confused and frightened, causing their grades to fall and encouraging them to drop out of school altogether. They may turn to drugs, alcohol and the intimacy of unprotected sex to cope with depression, or consider suicide.
Often, HRW reported, teachers turned a deaf ear to violations of students' rights, or themselves participated in the harassment of gay students, because they feared for their own jobs if they endorsed gay rights.
"There are laws in 12 states that protect jobs from discrimination on the basis sexual orientation," said Jon Davidson of Lambda. "There clearly needs to be a national law protecting them."
Among its key recommendations to counteract the anti-gay harassment in public schools, HRW urged state governments to enact legislation to protect anyone employed by schools from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. All teachers and counselors should also be trained to work with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, and to protect these students from harassment, said the report.
School districts should implement and evaluate the effectiveness of nondiscrimination policies that protect students from harassment based on sexual orientation.
"We're pleased to see the report come out and hopeful about the way it can be a call to action for government officials as well as parents, teachers and principals, to come up with solutions to the harassment and hatred of gay students in schools," said Carolyn Laub, executive director of the San Francisco-based Gay-Straight Alliance Network.
June 18, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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