GREENBELT – Dion Brewer has a good idea of what would happen to a homosexual classmate at his Prince George’s County high school.
“If you’re gay you’ll get beat up. You’ll be the faggot around school,” said Dion, a freshman at High Point High School.
Other students interviewed recently at Beltway Plaza agreed that gay students “wouldn’t be safe” in their schools. Parents and advocates say physical abuse occurs in high schools but that verbal abuse is more common — and in some ways more hurtful.
“We haven’t had anyone physically attacked, but the teasing is constant,” said Colette Roberts, co-chair of the Howard County Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
Against that backdrop, the State Board of Education voted recently to remove sexual orientation and a list of other categories, such as race, religion and ethnicity, from the regulation that requires local school systems to provide a safe environment for students.
Supporters of the change said it would continue to protect gay students, as well as others who were not included in the previous “laundry list” of protected groups.
“We are dedicated to creating learning environments which foster academic achievement among all students,” Superintendent Nancy Grasmick said in a prepared statement at the time.
But opponents said the change sent a not-so-subtle anti-gay message.
The regulation originally said schools shall “promote a school climate where all students in Maryland, regardless of but not limited to … sexual orientation … are assured educational environments that are safe, optimal for academic achievement, and free from harassment.”
The new wording, adopted Oct. 27 on a 10-2 vote, states: “All students in Maryland public schools, without exception, have the right to education environments that are safe, optimal for academic achievement and free from any form of harassment.”
The new wording protects any student who might be teased, said Conrae Fortlage, state director of Concerned Women for America. She said students are harassed for a variety of reasons, and creating a list that included every type of student would be too long.
“The list could go on, and that’s why it includes all. All means that they have the same rights as all of the students,” said Fortlage.
Many counties have their own regulations that protect homosexual students, so that protection does not have to be specified at the state level, said Fortlage. “Why are we adding something else to it? Are they extra-special?,” she asked.
But to Carly Breslau, a senior at Rockville High School who is gay, “all does not mean all.” The state board used “all” to shy away from a controversial issue and is endangering homosexual youth, said Carly.
“The fact that they took it away shows they’re not supportive of us. It’s scary to know that the board is playing with children’s safety,” said Carly, who said she had her car vandalized because she is a lesbian.
Roberts called the change “the state board’s little protective way of avoiding the issue.” Unlike teasing of most students, teasing of homosexual students can turn into something worse, said Roberts.
“The gay kids are the ones who get beat up and killed,” said Roberts.
Carly said she has gay friends who have transferred or dropped out of school because they were physically and verbally assaulted so much.
Fortlage said that if homosexual students are being harassed, they can go to their parents or discuss the issue with their teacher.
But Roberts said that is not so. Homosexual students often have nowhere to turn if they are being harassed because they cannot always be honest with their parents and teachers about their sexual identity, said Roberts.
“Other kids can go home to their parents when they’re teased. Most of our kids are not `out’ to their parents,” said Roberts.
Beth Hagner, a bisexual senior at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, agreed that “Gay students are isolated from their community.” She said that teachers do not do much to stop homosexual students from being verbally harassed.
“I think they (teachers) choose to ignore them. They’re afraid of the repercussions,” said Beth.
Even though Dion was the only one of the students at Beltway Plaza who said he knew of a specific case of a physical attack on a gay student, others agreed that harassment goes on and little is done about it.
“I don’t think there are enough rules about it,” said Natalie Lentz, a senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School.
“There are a lot of people around who might beat you up. You wouldn’t be safe,” said Kristin Lima, a Parkdale High School freshman.