My school has a gay bathroom. And before you all die of shock, that's just what a few of us call it. Our Gay-Straight-Alliance painted a bathroom in our school lavender, then stenciled in several words in rainbow colors on the walls, including: DIVERSITY, PRIDE, HOPE, FAITH, RESPECT, ACCEPTANCE, and PEACE. Luckily it's a girls room, otherwise the boys would be throwing a fit over the lavender issue.
Anyway, as our alliance, which doubles as a diversity club, was painting, some of the straight girls felt a little left out, and proceeded to tear out pictures of half-dressed men from the newspapers covering the floor to tape on the walls. Ironically, they tore them out of a gay men's magazine. So, in this very 'gay' bathroom with its lavender walls and rainbow-stenciled slogans, there were half dressed men taped up.
As the second day of painting wore on, some of the heterosexuals were getting testy in that they were mentioning how they didn't want our group, and by extension, the bathroom we were painting, to be 'too gay'. They complained how they joined a diversity club, not just a gay-straight alliance.
Now, I admit that this is true. Our group is for all minorities, not just those people of non-traditional orientations. I had heard the same kind of comments before, from different people. But I could sit down and count all the racial minorities in my school on my hands. We have about six hundred kids in our building, and maybe ten non-whites. Anytime a racial slur is uttered, the teachers jump on the kid, send them down to the principal's office, where they are usually punished very severely. Someone says 'fag', and we're often lucky if the kid gets a dirty look and a light reprimand from the classroom teacher.
Our group is about diversity of all sorts. But most of the work has already been done regarding racial issues; there's not much left for us to do. We already study the contributions of great racial minorities in many of our classes. Punishment is swift for racist actions or words. On the other hand, there is a lot of work to do in pushing for real acceptance of gay and lesbian students or teachers.
There's a reason there are only three openly GLB youth in our school. It's because on your average day, we hear the words 'fag' or 'gay' maybe eighty or a hundred times. This is something the straight members of our diversity group really don't understand. They don't have to walk down the hall and hear 'Oh, he's such a straight,' or 'She's such a hetero' and feel bad. I know that when I walk by someone saying 'what a fag' or 'that's so gay' that they aren't talking about me or one of the other gays in the school.
It doesn't matter, it still hurts to have how I feel about other people degraded just because I happen to be attracted emotionally and physically to girls. It hurts to hear my orientation be thrown around as an insult. This is something they just don't seem to understand. They don't appear to get that it's very terrifying to try and be myself on a daily basis, to try and survive in a homophobic environment, and to not go crazy. There is a reason that gay teen suicide is such a problem-it's because sometimes it's just too hard to be gay and a teenager at the same time. To try and survive when 'fag' and 'gay' are insults that teachers and administrators alike let people get away with all the time is not fun.
So, my friends in the diversity club want to work on other issues besides those related to gays and lesbians. I agree that we should. But right now we're ignoring the fact that the most dangerous social disease ever is running unchecked through our school. It's homophobia and it's causing our friends and brothers and sisters to consider suicide because they're gay. It's inspiring enough fear and hatred in bigots that they go and kill people just because they're gay.
Let me just say that I do believe that we should work on eliminating what little racism there is in my school. We should make sure all the racist graffiti in and around our school is eliminated. We need to study the contributions of racial minorities more. But it's not as much of a problem as homophobia. Kids don't kill themselves because they're black. I can recall only perhaps two times I've personally heard racial slurs uttered in my school-and both times got the student in question a personal visit from the principal. Yet I can't even begin to remember each and every time I've heard homophobic slurs uttered. There are so many they blur together. Every time I walk down the hall I hear them. And each time I hear them, a part of me wants to cry, to scream 'That's me you're making fun of, that's me you're degrading!' And my straight friends just don't get it. For them, I'm gay and that's that. It doesn't matter any more than me being tall matters. They can't seem to see what I do. They hear slurs and their brains are so used to hearing those words that it just doesn't register anymore.
But I'm gay and I hear words that degrade me every hour of every day of my life. I hear words that quietly batter at my fragile adolescent ego all the time. I wish they could understand that.
No, I don't want our group to get 'too gay'. There are a lot of gay people that are very obnoxious about being gay. I'm not one of them; I'm very quiet about it. If I'm talking to someone and they use the word 'fag,' I talk to them about it. I won't go around screaming 'I'm gay!' or have a rainbow-patterned knapsack. I'm much more subtle than that-reports on gay revolutionaries or writers, studying gay literature, having a sticker on my notebook for tolerance or a pride march. Nothing annoying. So I understand the 'too gay' complaint. I have it myself sometimes. But I know what needs to be done to make my school safe for gay kids. At this point, we have a lot of work to do. Racial problems are among the least of our worries. Having people attempt suicide or fall into a deep depression because they're gay are two of our greatest. But my straight friends don't understand what life is like for gay kids. They don't understand the daily dose of homophobia we have to deal with. I wish they would, but I'm not going to hold my breath. Until then, our little diversity group will fight over how 'gay' we're going to be.
For the sake of the little seventh grader who has a crush on the cute girl that sits in front of her in geography, I hope that the gay issue is our biggest concern, because I'd like that seventh grader to be alive and euphoric on her graduation day, not lying stiffly in a cold coffin six feet under or living on the streets of Boston.
Bethany is a 17 year old lesbian from Western Massachusetts who enjoys reading, writing, and music. She attends a small public junior-senior high school in her hometown and hopes to escape very soon. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by showing up at her school and asking someone to point out the tall gay chick with-OUT the buzzed head that wears plaid every day.