Gay Students Face Harassment and Bullying

Affiliate: ACLU of Georgia
June 20, 2001 12:00 am

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ATLANTA — A recent survey reveals that gay high school students are frequently harassed and bullied, and that school officials do very little to help them, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

According to the Journal-Constitution, guidance counselors in more than 100 area private and public high schools were surveyed this spring on the issue of harassment of gay students.

“This is a serious problem in schools. It’s a crisis,” said Steve Epstein, executive director of Enlight Atlanta, a group that has helped gay students facing school harassment and that conducted the survey.

Georgia has enacted a state anti-bullying law, but the survey results suggests that it has had little effect.

Last month, Human Rights Watch, an international research and advocacy group, released a report saying that two million United States 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.

Epstein said that anti-gay slurs are being thrown around starting in the early years of elementary school. Such uses are reinforced over the years, with children learning that “gay” equals “bad.”

In some schools, students have formed gay-straight alliances, groups that are intended to help bridge the gap between straight and gay students and to address problems of harassment and bullying.

Such a group was approved to start up this past school year at Parkview High School in Gwinnett County after the local American Civil Liberties Union assisted students who wished to form the group, according to Robert Tsai, staff attorney with the ACLU of Georgia.

The school system initially refused to allow the students to start the group.

But a Gwinnett County system official said Parkview has many requests to start groups and that the school leadership didn’t intentionally try to keep the students from forming the alliance.

Tsai said the ACLU has started a program to meet with school administrators and teachers to sensitize them about harassment of gay students in schools.

Enlight Atlanta is making a similar effort, and has already been asked by some schools to train staffers. Officials at one elementary school asked them to talk to kids about the problem.

“It’s not about advocating sex, it’s not about advocating homosexuality,” Epstein said. “It’s about making sure all our kids are safe in school.”

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