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23 January 2003

My friend MGGM (his name is MIke, but "MGGM" has appeared on his e-mail for so many years that it's just easier to refer to him that way) keeps an amazing assortment of articles of interest to the gay community. He sends out relevant information almost daily, taken from publications from all over the world. I guess through the years it's been kind of encouraging to see that the number of positive articles seems to be increasing, though there are still far too many articles about discrimination, abuse, and violence inflicted on people because they happen to be gay.

Today there was an article that really got my blood boiling. It concerns the parents of the Carmel, California school district. Carmel is in a lovely area on the coast--Clint Eastwood used to be the mayor. It's a ritzy place and home of the famous "17 Mile Drive," which winds between the coastline and the mansions, through the Pebble Beach Golf Course, and by the famous "lone cypress," sitting out on a rock which juts out into the ocean, and which has come to be the visible symbol of the area, gracing postcards, ash trays, t-shirts, and other memorabilia.

The parents of the Carmel school district are upset because the school wants to put on a production of The Laramie Project, a play which is being produced in many schools around the country as a way to spark a discussion about homophobia and to teach tolerance. The subject of The Larmie Project is the murder of Matthew Shepard. Carmel parents are saying it doesn't belong in the schools.

"I don't see the need," said John Meyer, a Carmel Valley computer consultant. "I am not aware of any problem at Carmel High School of a racial nature or a homophobic nature."

"Some believe the issue of homophobia would be better served in the families than in the schools," Principal Karl Pallastrini said.

I have to wonder if the same furor would be raised if this were a play about race relations that were being performed for Martin Luther King day.   Would we would see the same sort of outcry?

In the first place, The Laramie Project (which I saw two years ago--it's excellent) is not so much about homosexuality as it is about the effect of a murder on an entire town. The script is not written, but rather taken verbatim from interviews with people in the town who were responding to the murder, immediately afterwards, and some months later. Some were appalled, some were secretly glad, some thought the murderers were justified, some thought the murder was wrong. The comments span the gamut.

The effect it has on the viewer depends, I suspect, on your feelings about homosexuality to begin with--but it's an excellent tool for discussion of homophobia and violence and intolerance toward people who are different.

I have never understood the taunting, the teasing, the attacking, the murder of any class of people for daring to exist. I especially have never been able to understand the depth of the hatred leveled against the gay community when people dare to stand up and declare "I am gay."

Thank God we are a tad more enlightened today than we were forty years ago, when to look at someone of the same gender in the wrong way could get you thrown in jail, where you didn't dare let anyone know you were gay because you'd lose your job.

But we definitely have not come far enough. The mere fact that the presentation of a play which has a (dead) gay character at its center can cause such a furor tells me that we have so much further to go.

It may be felt that subjects like homophobia are better taught in the home, but apparently they aren't, or we wouldn't have comments like

...many students on campus still use the term "gay" for anything they dislike.

"I can't walk down the hall without hearing 'fag' five times a day," said Carly Costanza, co-president of the school's Gay-Straight Alliance, which was formed this school year.

"People don't realize what they do is intolerant... and that (such words) can be hurtful to others," said Carly Dahl, the other co-president.

There is still major objection to the formation of GSAs (Gay-Straight Alliances), organizations in high schools designed to promote understanding between gay and straight students and help to put an end to the violence. Why is there such fear that a straight student's association with a gay student is such a dangerous thing?

Intolerance of homosexuality or transgender people has assumed deadly proportions in other schools. Last fall, just as students at Alameda County's Newark Memorial High School were preparing to perform "The Laramie Project," transgender teen Eddie "Gwen" Araujo was strangled and beaten to death. Four former Newark Memorial students had attacked him at a party Oct. 3 after partygoers learned "Gwen" was male.

Similar killings of transgender youths occurred in 1999 in San Jose, when 19-year-old Alina Marie Barragan, a biological male who dressed as a woman, was murdered, and last year in Cortez, Colo. The most famous was the story of Brandon Teena, a 21-year-old Nebraska woman slain because she identified herself as a man. That story became the movie "Boys Don't Cry," for which Hilary Swank won an Oscar.

My friend Gabi Clayton helped to found Families United Against Hate, an organization which was born out of the pain of those families whose children have suffered violence at the hands of homophobic classmates. "Families United Against Hate is a nonprofit grassroots organization created by and for families and survivors of hate motivated violence." (Gabi's son Bill committed suicide as the result of one such violent attack)

Petitioning a school to stop the production of a play which can serve as a vehicle to address this very type of violence, which can help young people understand one another, and which can open their eyes to the results of hatred only shows how very much such a production, and such a discussion is actually needed.

If parents were doing their jobs and teaching this sort of stuff at home, there would be no need for such a discussion, and Matthew Shepard might be alive today.

Quote of the Day

When people say 'San Francisco liberal,' are they talking about protecting the environment, educating the American children, building economic success? No, they are talking about gay people. Well, I was brought up to believe that all people are God's children. And the last time I checked, that included gay people."

~ House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

Today's Photo

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One Year Ago
The deal is that you send a print of your backside to these folks and for a mere $100, they will send you a "reading" based on the "lines, crevices and folds of your fanny."

Two Years Ago
The Mosquito Has Landed
Nothing more frustrating than an itch that you can’t quite get rid of. (and nothing quite so satisfying as an itch that finally gets scratched).

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