Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tiffany's Story

Although my parent's are not comfortable with my sexual orientation, before they even had a concept of what “bisexual” or “queer” meant, they taught me to be true to myself. This was a mixed blessing when I decided to come out as bisexual in eighth grade, which meant that I put a rainbow flag sticker and a picture of two same-sex couples holding hands on my school planner. Some people were surprised and many were confused about the differences between being bisexual and being lesbian. The most important people in my life took it in stride, however, and after a few more lectures on the bible's teachings that I would have liked, I was generally accepted by my inner circle.

This says nothing for the reactions of acquaintances and strangers at school. In eighth grade I had to replace my planner three times because of vandalism to the cover photo. Once it was taken from my hands and torn apart in front of me, which was a very upsetting experience. My reaction was to tape pictures to all of my school binders in ninth grade and to keep a closer eye on my things. (I was also taught to never back down in the face of intimidation.) I am still bothered by how I handled more aggressive forms of harassment, like name-calling and inappropriate jokes in the hallways. At the time the most dignified reaction I could think of was to walk away without giving anyone the pleasure of getting to me, but in hindsight I wish that just once I used one of the many snappy comebacks I dreamed up.

There are other things I have realized with more distance from my high school days. The actions of my peers who have little life experience may be excused, but the faculty and staff at my high school were little more supportive. Even after numerous complaints, few teachers would tell students to stop using “gay” as an insult and as a general synonym for stupid, and none would enforce the ban. During tenth grade I was an assistant editor on the school newspaper staff and I wrote an editorial about the issue. That article remains the only thing my teacher never published, saying that she feared it would create negative backlash against me and the paper. My most disturbing memory, however, is from a sex-education class. After a week of sitting through classes, I realized same-sex relationships were not going to be addressed without prompting, so I asked the lecturer what measures same-sex couples should take to remain safe and what particular they might be prone to. After the laughter subsided (which took a while), she looked at my with a mixture of confusion and thoughtfulness and said she had no idea. And then she moved on.

Overall I think I faired pretty well during high school. I never felt physically threatened, and while I was frustrated and sometimes held back, my optimism and determination to remain true to myself kept me from feeling oppressed. I was lucky. As the token queer, one of two out students in a population of 1,500, I was often approached by people who were in the closet and terrified of coming out to their parents, classmates, and teachers. To this day I have not lied about my sexual orientation to anyone, which I am extremely proud of (though I have purposely avoided the subject in uncomfortable situations with strangers). As an involved and academically-successful student from a loving (if concerned) home, and as a female, I think I was somewhat sheltered from many of the negative aspects of coming out. At college I met gay men who had been assaulted and abused verbally on a daily basis in high school. I have friends whose parents have not spoken to them since they came out. Even the hurt in the voices of closeted classmates is a form of ongoing emotional abuse generated by a hostile environment. And the worst part is that no one it doing anything that changes how principals, teachers, and staff handles these issues. No one ever reprimanded the kids who shouted “DYKE!” at me outside their classroom. No one thought it was just as important for queer youth to know how to protect themselves from STIs. This has got to stop.

It's not a matter of what the right or wrong way to live your life is. No matter what anyone's personal beliefs are about gender roles, mental capabilities, or racial differences, it is absolutely unacceptable to disrupt a students education by harassing them because of any of these reasons, and there are appropriate legal channels to ensure that no matter your gender, race, or mental abilities, you're entitled to a proper education. Queer students who are terrorized or preoccupied with keeping their cover are denied this basic right. I hope you will think about all of the bright, funny, talented young people out there whose spirits are being crushed, who are crying out for a ray of hope in their darkness. Will you stand up for them? Will you stand up for the right of all children to have a fair chance to succeed?

Tiffany, 19, from Stoneville, North Carolina.

About This Blog

This blog is a collection of stories from students, parents, teachers, and friends all over the state of North Carolina who have experienced or felt the effects of bullying. We believe that true stories like these give a face to this serious problem in our schools.

This is part of an ongoing effort by a coalition of groups statewide who are in support of the School Violence Prevention Act, a bi-partisan bill introduced today, March 11, 2009 into the North Carolina State Legislature. This bill includes enumerated categories that protects all students from bullying and harassment. In other words, it gives teachers and administrators specific and clear descriptions of what bullying constitutes - whether that be towards someone's physical appearance, real or perceived sexual orientation, race, disabilities, or gender identity or expression. These categories do not grant special rights to the targeted children. In fact, research has shown that enumeration is effective in preventing violence against all children, and especially those most targeted for their differences. According to the Supreme Court, “Enumeration is the essential device used to make the duty not to discriminate concrete and to provide guidance for those who must comply.”

According to a Public Policy poll, 72% of North Carolinians, across party lines, support this legislation.

If you have a story you'd like to share, we very much encourage you to share it with us. There are 2 ways you can do this:
  1. You can write a story and e-mail it. Name/location changes are acceptable, and with stories involving minors, necessary.
  2. You can record a video (with your webcam or video camera), upload it to YouTube, and then e-mail us the link. Or if you prefer, you can skip the uploading and e-mail us the video file and we'll upload it for you.
We look forward to hearing your stories - they are an essential part in showing our lawmakers the reality of this problem.

The groups who support this bill are listed below:

The North Carolina PTA
The NC Association of Educators (NCAE)
NC Advocates for Justice
American Assoc. of University Women NC
The Mental Health Association in NC
The Covenant with North Carolina’s Children
The NC Pediatric Society
Equality NC
The North Carolina Council of Churches
The National Association of Social Workers (NC)
The Arc of North Carolina
The NC Justice Center
Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education NC
The Association of School Social Workers NC
Action for Children NC
The ACLU of NC
Prevent Child Abuse NC
North Carolina NOW
The Alliance for Disability Advocates
The NC Psychoanalytic Foundation
The NC Coalition Against Domestic Violence
El Pueblo NC
The Autism Society NC
Young Democrats of NC
North Carolinians Against Gun Violence

Bullying: Are schools doing enough to stop the problem? (2005). CQ Researcher, 15(5), 104-124.
Public Policy Polling (16 July, 2008), North Carolinians support sexual orientation provision, [Press Release].