News, Wit & Commentary for Lesbians
JIC Post: By Owen Holmes WB17 Cable 9After reading an editorial in The Florida Times-Union claiming Christian counseling can “cure” homosexuality, Ridgeview High School senior Katie Thompson was inspired to voice her disagreement. Referencing views held by the American Psychological Association (APA), she wrote a clear, concise, temperate article for her school newspaper stating that sexual orientation is a product of biology, not choice.Thompson’s article appeared in the 1,900 copies of the student paper that arrived at the Orange Park school on Friday, Oct. 7. Her editorial, approved by Ridgeview journalism teacher Jesse Hancock, was featured at the back of the 12-page publication, in the opinion section. But Ridgeview students didn’t get to read the editorial. Before they saw the issue, Principal Toni McCabe had all copies of the paper destroyed and ordered the edition reprinted without Thompson’s article.McCabe told Thompson that the piece “was inappropriate for a high school newspaper,” and Thompson, who is bisexual, initially didn’t argue. Later that day, however, she told the principal the article was anything but offensive. Indeed, it merely pointed out what the APA says about homosexuality: “Human beings cannot choose to be either gay or straight.”McCabe, who didn’t return calls for comment, told Thompson that she wasn’t personally offended but thought the largely religious, affluent Orange Park community would react “negatively.”McCabe’s action was legal and not uncommon. A 1988 Supreme Court ruling known as the “Hazelwood decision” determined that school officials have the right to censor student papers. But the silencing of innocuous student expression - especially something generated in a journalism class - is an issue that has proved increasingly nettlesome for local public schools.More gay and lesbian kids have started coming out during their high school years. An October cover story in Time magazine noted that “kids are disclosing their homosexuality with unprecedented regularity.” The article cited a Harvard University Press book, “The New Gay Teenager,” which found today’s average gay person comes out just before or after high school graduation, far earlier than ever before.This trend is reflected in Northeast Florida schools, where several incidents have stymied school officials and exposed the inadequacy of existing policies. As Folio Weekly first reported in January, a senior at Fleming Island High School in Clay County, who was an “out” lesbian, was banned from her yearbook because she wore a tuxedo instead of a black drape in her photo. In September, the principal at Pedro Menendez High School in St. Johns County forbade granting a Gay/Straight Alliance the privileges enjoyed by other clubs. More recently, Clay County teacher Larry Eger punished two sixth-grade boys by telling classmates they were gay and forcing them to hold hands.Such discrimination is a result of supp-ressing discussion about sexual orientation, according to Cindy Watson, executive director of JASMYN, a Northeast Florida advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth. “[Administrators] don’t want to have those kinds of dialogues,” Watson says. “But that creates a climate where harassment can continue.”Area schools don’t have policies designed to prevent discrimination, Watson says, only ones that provide corrective measures. “But these don’t [offer] the tools to change the climate in Northeast Florida schools.” Such tools might include forums in which students can share their experiences in coming out and training for administrators on how to foster diversity.“I think teachers and staff in schools really need a clear policy that says to them, ‘This is what you’re expected to do to make sure all students feel safe,’” says Watson. “In our community, I wonder if maybe some of the administrators and school boards are a little out of step with what’s really happening with students.”They may also be out of step with schools around the nation. As the Time article noted, “at many schools it is now profoundly uncool to be seen as anti-gay.”When Thompson’s article was nixed, she was more philosophical than angry. She says Principal McCabe was mostly friendly about it, “just trying to protect herself from backlash from the community - that’s all.”While Thompson was respectful of McCabe’s decision, she didn’t go down without a fight. On the day the excised papers were distributed, Thompson made 55 copies of her original editorial and passed them out to fellow students. She’d distributed about half when McCabe called Thompson into her office and told her she’d be suspended if she kept it up.Ridgeview senior Kristen Vohrer was one of a few students who helped Thompson distribute the copies. Despite knowing that McCabe threatened her friend with suspension, she says, “I just didn’t think there was anything wrong with what [Thompson] did.” Asked if she agrees with the views expressed in the article, Vohrer says only she “doesn’t disagree.” But she adds that whether she shared her schoolmate’s beliefs wasn’t important. She just believed her friend should be allowed to express her opinion.
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