Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Iowa High Schools Clueless Over Discrimination

(Link) "I was forced to wait outside of a locker room and change by myself after I came out, because I wasn't allowed to change in the locker room anymore with the rest of the girls," Emily said. "I can't go anywhere without locking my car doors anymore, because I just don't feel safe."


LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:
Des Moines Register

Amber Johnson, 17, of Council Bluffs said she was expelled from an all-girls Catholic school after she came out of the closet as a lesbian her freshman year.

Emily Frerichs of Orange City was not allowed to change in the locker room at the same time as other students. And some Carlisle students speed up in the school hallway or press themselves up against the lockers as Tyler Moors walks by.

They are among dozens of gay students being harassed in Iowa schools ill-prepared to deal with such situations, according to a survey released Monday by the Iowa Pride Network, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

"Because of this . . . Iowa's LGBT students oftentimes have lower GPAs and lower college aspirations because of the harassment they receive," said Ryan Roemerman, director of the Iowa Pride Network.

Iowa school officials and legislators said they believe in a safe environment for all students. They said they are doing what they can to make sure all students are protected from harassment or bullying.

The survey of 103 Iowa gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students from 48 schools is the first of its kind, Roemerman said. According to the survey, 83 percent of gay students reported being harassed because of their sexual orientation. About 75 percent said school faculty rarely intervene when they hear homophobic remarks.

"I was expelled for being gay," said Amber, who said she was active in student council and cheerleading. "It was just horrible. You're at your school, and your whole school is against you."

Amber declined to name the Catholic school that expelled her, saying only that it was the same school her mother attended. She said her grade-point average dropped from a 4.0 to a 2.9 after her sexual orientation became public. She now attends Lewis Central High School.

St. Albert is the only Catholic high school in Council Bluffs, and it is co-ed, according to school officials. They said that if Amber attended an all-girls school, it must have been one of the three across the Missouri River in Omaha.

Emily, the high school senior from Orange City, said she was harassed and received threats of vandalism to her car and home after she went public about being gay in February.

"I was forced to wait outside of a locker room and change by myself after I came out, because I wasn't allowed to change in the locker room anymore with the rest of the girls," Emily said. "I can't go anywhere without locking my car doors anymore, because I just don't feel safe."

Gary Richardson, superintendent of the MOC-Floyd Valley school district where Emily attends, declined Monday to talk specifically about Emily's case. He said the district has a policy that protects all students from harassment. He also said there has never been a problem that would warrant specific protection based on sexual orientation.

Tyler, the Carlisle student, said he began being berated every day when he determined in middle school that he was gay. He became depressed by his freshman year and noticed students acting differently around him.

"I know occasionally with some of the guys, when I'm walking through a hallway, they'll either speed up in front of me or they'll like shove themselves against the locker to get away from me, just because they think I might hit on them or something," Tyler said.

Carlisle High School Principal Mike Anthony said the school does everything it can to educate students and faculty about harassment and bullying. "It's not right, and it's something they should not have to tolerate," he said.

The students' comments, along with survey results, show the need for legislation and school district policies prohibiting harassment of gay students and prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, Roemerman said.

About 30 of Iowa's 365 school districts have such policies, Roemerman said. The Iowa Department of Education has a sample anti-bullying policy that encourages school districts to address the safety of all students.

Meanwhile, the Iowa Association of School Boards has not taken a position on whether districts should adopt policies prohibiting harassment based on sexual orientation.

It appears unlikely that the Legislature would require such policies statewide. House Majority Leader Chuck Gipp, a Decorah Republican, said Monday it's up to school districts to ensure that all students have a safe school to attend.

"To think a couple pieces of code language is going to provide for a safer school . . . is being a little bit optimistic," Gipp said. "It shouldn't just be gay and lesbian students that should be protected. That's an expectation that parents ought to expect from school regardless of whether their child is short, skinny, overweight or whatever."

badphairy said...

Gotta love the inclusive, loving, Christian spirit one often finds in the Midwest if one is not majority material.

WordyGrrl said...

Will we be "mainstream" when one of these harrassed kids finally snaps and goes Columbine? Somewhere out there, is some little queer kid is cleanin' the guns?

badphairy said...

What a scary image, "Queer Columbine". Sadly, four or five of them is what it will take, IMHO.