The string of suicides among gay teens in the past month shows us it could be an even longer road to the end of homophobia.
And I'm kinda surprised.
I attended high school over a decade ago, and my school had a LGBT Pride club that was just getting started. I never heard anyone bashing the club or bullying gay students (although I'm sure it happened, unfortunately). Anyway, that was years ago. I figured that by now, well into the 21st century, schools and teens would be exponentially more accepting of (or at least completely disinterested in dissing) gay students and people. Pop culture-wise, the country has made some strides: Ellen DeGeneres came out in 1997 and is now a hugely popular talkshow host. She seems to be thought of as a celebrity and not a "gay celebrity" (by most people) – and just over a decade ago she was in the closet and playing a straight woman on a sitcom.
Lance Bass, of 'N Sync, also came out after staying in the closet for years in the Hollywood spotlight. In the TV spectrum spanning from Ellen and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy to Project Runway and Glee, I thought the country was generally trending toward acceptence – particularly among young people (perhaps the first generation who have grown up knowing about gay people for most of their life).
Sadly, I guess I was wrong. TV shows and pop culture don't represent reality. Only some people have an open heart to the LGBTQ community. At this rate, will it take another generation or century for us to eliminate homophobia? I hope not.
There's a glimmer of hope in the nation's response to the rash of gay teen suicides. Schools are holding vigils, marches, and "Wear Purple" days to support acceptance of gay students. Gay and straight people, from Ellen to Obama to Michael Kors and Gloria Estefan, have spoken out in internet videos and interviews against the teasing and bullying of gay students. The Trevor Project and the It Gets Better Project have gotten major attention as resources for gay teens struggling with teasing and homophobia.
And just yesterday, the Department of Education sent schools a stern reminder in the form of a letter encouraging educators to put a stop to any harrassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability (as it violates the federal civil rights laws).
"Harassing conduct may take many forms, including verbal acts and name-calling; graphic and written statements, which may include use of cellphones or the Internet; or other conduct that may be physically threatening, harmful, or humiliating," says the letter, signed by Russlynn H. Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights. "Harassment does not have to include intent to harm, be directed at a specific target, or involve repeated incidents. Harassment creates a hostile environment when the conduct is sufficiently severe, pervasive, or persistent so as to interfere with or limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school."
With teachers' and parents' help, maybe it'll be a shorter road to acceptance.