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School of Hard Knocks

Hostile Hallways

Familiar Refrain continued...

In her 21 years with BAGLY, first as a volunteer and most recently as director, Sterling Stowell says she has heard similar stories repeated by the teens who seek the organization's support. Many students, like Dylan N., also report indifference -- or worse -- on the part of school authorities, a finding that Human Rights Watch staffers found particularly troubling.

"I would argue that any school system that allows one group of kids to be picked on sends a message to all kids that it's OK to judge and pick on [others]," says Widney Brown, co-author of Hatred in the Hallways.

Brown and colleagues found that taunts, threats, and physical abuse from their peers were only half the battle for kids who are considered to be different.

"In interviews, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth explained how teachers and administrators turned their backs, refusing to take reports of harassment, refusing to condemn the harassment, and failing to hold accountable students who harass and abuse," they write. "Some school officials blame the students being abused of provoking the attacks because they 'flaunt' their identity. Other school officials justify their inaction by arguing that students who 'insist' on being gay must 'get used to it.' And finally, some school officials encourage or participate in the abuse by publicly taunting or condemning the students for not being 'normal.'"

As the human rights champion Edmund Burke wrote in 1795, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Who's to Blame?

Critics of studies such as the ones cited above, while agreeing that LGBT teens are subject to harassment and abuse, imply that the kids' own behavior and "lifestyle choices" are to blame.

"Never considering the possibility that homosexual behavior itself might be responsible for its documented risks, they cite the bogeyman of 'homophobia' and religious intolerance as root causes of the health difficulties of homosexuals, especially as 'repressive' social attitudes allegedly lower the self-esteem of those with homosexual tendencies," write Frank York and Robert H. Knight in an article posted on the web site of the Family Research Council, a conservative "pro-family" organization.

The FRC recently accused ABC News of bias when the program "20/20 Downtown" ran a segment on Corey Johnson from Topsfield, Mass. Corey, a co-captain of the football team at Masconomet Regional High School, came out as being gay to his teammates in his senior year, and was met with overwhelming support from friends, family, and community.

'You Should Want Your Kids to Have a Safe School'

The key to fostering tolerance and acceptance of students such as Corey Johnson, Dylan N., and others, say experts, is education and training -- and the sooner the better.

"In kindergarten, the No. 1 way to insult someone is to call him a fag. By the age of 6, they already get the message that gay is the worst thing you can be, the worst insult you can give to someone," says Pam Garramone, director of the Safe Schools Project for the greater Boston chapter of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

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