Friday, June 15, 2007

Stonewall Youth at a Washington Middle School Assembly

Read School talk about gays, lesbians riles some parents
by Heather Woodward ~ June 8, 2007 ~ The Olympian

I have Chris' permission to share this letter.

June 8, 2007

I’m still waiting for the day when a school can have a speaker who dares utter the word “gay” or “lesbian” without bringing down the wrath of a group of parents. When that day comes, I will know that at last parents are actually doing what they themselves insist they themselves should do: talk to their children about issues of morality.

The morality that was discussed at a recent assembly at Washington Middle School was not, as some parents would have you believe, about homosexuality (The Olympian, “School talk about gays, lesbians, riles some parents,” June 8, 2007). It was about bullying. It escapes me how any parent could be upset that schools are talking about bullying. Do they really think by protecting their children from discussions of bullying they will never experience or witness it? One parent was quoted as saying, “They’re undermining parents, and they’re deciding what morals to teach our children.”

Of course, you’re right: I’m being disingenuous. This group of parents wasn’t upset that the assembly was about bullying; I’m sure they’d all line up and sign petitions to outlaw it. They are upset that the school dared to allow lesbians and gay men into its halls. It didn’t matter to them that these young people were there to relate real stories from their own lives about being bullied and assaulted because of what others perceive them to be. It didn’t matter to them that the silent voices they represent are the countless youth (including Olympia’s own Bill Clayton, driven to suicide in May 1995) killed or maimed or institutionalized because of the hatred they faced in their daily lives.

We so often hear that people who adhere to a certain religious philosophy “hate the sin but love the sinner.” If that were true, these parents (who I strongly suspect ally themselves with this religious group) would be standing up and cheering at the assembly, because they, of course, love the “sinner.” They would be offering hope and compassion to the speakers and to all of the gay and lesbian students at Washington Middle School, and at the other middle schools and high schools.

I wonder how many of these parents have even spoken with their children about issues of hatred, beyond “hating the sin.” Do they discuss the genocide occurring in Darfur, the persecution and mutilation of women throughout the Middle East and Africa, the racism boiling just below the surface here in the United States? How can we expect a child to understand any of that when they see their fellow students belittled, beaten, and broken with impunity?

I fail to see how the assembly would “sway students a certain way,” as the same parent said. Sway them not to bully? Now I am not being disingenuous—the parents are. they think so little of their children, of the “moral” values they have pounded into them thus far in their lives, that sitting in an assembly would “sway” them to be gay. Do they really think that a panel of young people discussing how others have made their lives hell would convince any of their kids to “become” gay?

Twelve years ago, when 17-year-old Bill Clayton killed himself at his home in Olympia, one of the precipitating events was an assembly at OHS, where Bill was a student, featuring Margarethe Cammermeyer, a resident of Whidbey Island and the highest-ranking military officer to be challenge the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. A group of parents vehemently opposed this assembly on religious grounds, but the school board stood firm in allowing her to speak. Little more than two weeks later, Bill and two friends (a boy and his girlfriend) were assaulted on school grounds by four boys. Bill and the other boy were beaten unconscious.

It is unbearably sad for me to see the same flawed rhetoric used again against the principled stand of school administrators and courageous young people. As a lesbian, I am furious that a small percentage of parents cling like mad dogs to outdated, disproven, and harmful opinions about homosexuality, bisexuality, and other variations in human nature. As a resident of Olympia, I urge every thinking person to find a way to demonstrate their own morality by talking with their children about the fundamental right in this country that every citizen is “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness….”

During June, many events acknowledging the presence and place of gays and lesbians in society take place in Olympia and around the world. I also encourage all thinking people to support these events.

Chris Madsen
Alec and I went to the school board meeting on the evening of June 11th, as did many others including Jeff Loyer who wrote this the next day:

Thanks to all who attended the Olympia School District board meeting – it was a wonderful success. Not only did we show overwhelming support for the anti-bullying assembly and Stonewall Youth, we had an opportunity for a very fruitful dialogue with a gentleman from the “other camp”. I’m hoping to meet with him to find out how we can address his valid concerns while we continue to hold similar assemblies.

I think this was one of our Olympia GLBTQ Community’s shining hours – congratulations to all who took part!

And a special “WONDERFUL – WELL DONE” to Stonewall Youth!!!

Proud to be part of this incredible community,
Jeff Loyer
President, PFLAG-Olympia
I am too, Jeff. Thank you to all who spoke out and wrote. And thank you, Stonewall Youth.

See you at Pride on Sunday!

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