What Words Can Do

Topics: Sexual orientation, Adolescence, Abuse Pages: 5 (1339 words) Published: September 21, 2013
Many individuals claim that there is nothing worse than death. But what about the great misfortunes and cruelties one endures long before they meet their demise? Perhaps something worse than death is the actual living itself, when a person’s differences are constantly condemned and excoriated by those around them. Andre Gide writes, “Society knows perfectly well how to kill a man and has methods more subtle than death.” For gay teens, the vitriolic diatribes by peers at school, the ostracism they endure by family members, and the random bashings by strangers leave not only physical and emotional scars, but also inculcate the idea that their lives are worthless—to the point that suicide feels like their only solution.

“Faggot,” “dyke,” “queer,” “that’s so gay”—these are not the words every teenager hears at school; yet, for many gay teens these words are a constant mantra they cannot escape. Schools are deemed institutions where children and teenagers not only learn, but where they can develop their identity and learn to express themselves socially. However, all of this can certainly be negated when a typical high school student hears an average of “25.5 anti-gay slurs a day.”1 The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN’s 2005 National School Climate Survey (NSCS), showed that 75.4% of students heard derogatory remarks such as “faggot” or “dyke” frequently or often at school, and nearly nine out of ten (89.2%) reported hearing “that’s so gay” or “you’re so gay”—meaning stupid or worthless—frequently or often.2

It is many times at school where a gay, bisexual, or transgendered teenager first experiences the bashings of homophobia that damages their self-esteem and confidence.

1
2

Carter, Kelley, “Gay Slurs Abound,” in The Des Moines Register, March 7, 1997, p. 1. GLSEN < http://www.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/all/news/record/1927.html >

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The average teenager realizes his or her sexual orientation during their teen years. For heterosexual students, many supportive outlets including their family, friends, community, and school, exist to help with any obstacles that may come to pass. However, many gay teens rarely—if ever—feel they have the same luxury, often fearing the possible reaction they might get—as I did while growing up. Anti-gay rhetoric and harassment, lack of gay visibility and inclusivity at many schools serve only to isolate gay teens and further break down their self-esteem.

While I did not experience the full severity of homophobia during school, I saw first-hand what the taunts and jeers did to my fellow peers. Their daily routine was in a constant state of survival mode—a place where they spent the majority of their time was also the place where they learned to fear and hate. In a fourteen-city study of gay, lesbian and bisexual youth, 80% reported verbal abuse, 44% reported threats of attack, 33% reported having objects thrown at them and 30% reported being chased or followed.3 Instead of being seen as equals by their peers, LGBT students are cast as aberrations as they walk the hallways alone. GLSEN’s 2005 report showed that LGBT students were five times more likely than the general population of students to report having skipped school in the last month because of safety concerns.4 Because the perpetuation of hate is ignored or sometimes condoned at school, the voices and contributions of gay students are silenced. By limiting and oppressing LGBT students, a school’s foundation of diversity starts to dissolve and begins to culminate in the breakdown of their motley community. A school loses their opportunity to teach tolerance and acceptance, and

3

A. R. D'Augelli and S. L. Hershberger, Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth in community settings: Personal challenges and mental health problems, American Journal of Community Psychology 21:421, 1993. 4

GLSEN < http://www.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/all/news/record/1927.html >

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