DON'T TEACH THE
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 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
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
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
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