A local group in Atlanta released a study saying that harassment against LGBT students is a big problem locally.
The following is an excerpt from an article printed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Any opinions either stated or suggested are not necessarily those of GLSEN or its members.
By James Salzer, Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer
Wearing a white T-shirt and baggy jeans hung low, the 15-year-old looks the part of the typical metro teen. But in his Fayette County high school, he stood out.
He was the kid everyone called "faggot" or "queer."
He was the one kids threw rocks at, tripped, pushed, who they made crude remarks about, who, near the end of the school year, was assaulted in the locker room.
The blond-haired rising sophomore with a love for the arts was the one who had to deal with being called names on a daily basis at school, even before he formally "came out" and began confirming to family and friends that he was gay. His grades dropped as the harassment and the pressure built. He had spent several years being confused about his sexuality, even trying suicide on two occasions.
His experience is common enough that Enlight Atlanta this spring conducted a survey of guidance counselors in more than 100 area public and private high schools to see what is being done about the problem.
The survey results, which will be released Thursday, essentially found that the answer is, very little.
"We knew there was a problem, but we didn't have the numbers to quantify it," said Steve Epstein, executive director of Enlight Atlanta, a group that has helped students facing school harassment. "Now we know this is a serious problem in schools. It's a crisis."
The survey comes almost three years after a Cherokee County student died after being punched while getting off a school bus by a student who regularly picked on him. According to witnesses, the attacker taunted kids he didn't like by calling them "gay." That case led to a state anti-bullying law.
Just last month, Human Rights Watch, an international research and advocacy group, released a report saying that 2 million U.S. teenagers were having serious problems in school because they were taunted with anti-gay slurs. The report was based on interviews in seven states, including Georgia.
"The U.S. school system gets a failing grade when it comes to providing a safe place for gay students to get an education," said Michael Bochenek, counsel to the Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch and a co-author of the report. "Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender kids face a greater risk of bullying than any other students in American high schools. That has to stop."
Two years after a national outcry over the harassment of gays following the murder of college student Matthew Shepard, gay students, or those perceived to be gay, are still regular targets of slurs in schools.
Such back-and-forth, particularly among boys, has been common for decades. "Faggot," "gay" or "homo" have been the insults of choice in a social environment that has set notions of masculinity to which it expects boys to conform.
Epstein said one thing that's troubling is that those words are being thrown around starting in the early years of elementary school. Such uses are reinforced over the years, with children learning "gay" equals "bad."
However, Sadie Fields, chairwoman of the Georgia Christian Coalition, worries gay rights groups are trying to gain a foothold in public schools. She said any school inviting Enlight Atlanta to their campus should first send notes home to parents, asking if they want their child to participate.
"Everybody needs to take a step back from the sexual exploitation of children under the guise of education and leave children alone and let them be kids," she said. "It is one more way for the homosexual movement to crack the door in public schools. Children need to be taught reading, writing and arithmetic. They do not need to be bombarded with information about their sexuality."
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