Wednesday, February 21, 2007

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

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.

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 to bilerico)

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