WASHINGTON – When the State Board of Education voted recently to remove sexual orientation from a list of protected groups in school safety regulations, opponents said the change would open the door to more attacks.
But nobody can say for sure how many attacks there are now on gay students in Maryland. Or even how many gay students there are.
While solid numbers are hard to come by in Maryland, however, studies elsewhere have indicated that homosexuals have a rough time of it in high school.
Advocates for Youth cites a study of Seattle public schools that found that homosexual youth were more than five times as likely as heterosexual youth to be targets of physical or verbal abuse.
The Seattle report also said gay kids were almost three times as likely to be injured severely enough in a fight to need medical assistance and almost twice as likely to be threatened or injured by someone with a weapon.
The Massachusetts Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth said 97 percent of public high school students in that state reported they regularly heard homophobic remarks from their peers. The study, cited by Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), also said high school students typically hear about 25 homophobic comments a day.
Maryland police reported twice as many gay-hate crimes in 1997 as the national average — although those attacks included homosexuals of all ages in the state, not just students, and do not take the state’s population into account.
Maryland State Police reported 35 hate crime incidents based on sexual- orientation in 1996, compared to an average of 20.7 for 48 states and the District of Columbia. Maryland reported 44 hate crimes against gays in 1997, compared to a national average of 22.5.
Suicide is a much more common occurrence for homosexual than heterosexual youth. A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report said gay students are two to six times more likely to commit suicide, according to PFLAG.
Colette Roberts, co-chair of PFLAG of Howard County, said two youth in her county’s chapter alone have attempted suicide. Roberts said exact figures are hard to come by when it comes to gay students, because many cannot even acknowledge their sexuality for fear or reprisal from their parents or classmates.
But Conrae Fortlage, state director of Concerned Women for America, said other youth probably face just as much harassment, such as obese students. She puts little stock in statistics cited by homosexual organizations.
“They change statistics to be whatever they want them to be. If I’ve seen contrived figures in the past, why should I believe them now?,” Fortlage asked.