a Book Review
By Widow Centauri
Hatred in The Hallways: Violence and Discrimination Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Students in U.S Schools. 2001 Human Rights Watch.
Before I jump right into the nitty gritty of this book I’m going to say a few things.
Yesterday I sat down at a bar in Las Vegas. I found myself sitting between two people I did not know at all. I was sitting between a 35 year old stripper and a man who identified himself as being from Denver. I sat there between these people with my copy of Hatred in the Hallways on the bar. I ordered a Guinness. The man was sitting with a group of men, despite the fact that it was still the middle of the day this group of men were noticeably intoxicated. It didn’t take more than a few short minutes before a gay joke was cracked, though strangely it had nothing to do with my book. The stripper said to the man from Denver “I don’t have a problem with gay people, I have lots of gay friends, I lived in west Hollywood … I’m a fag hag.” The man from Denver retorted “I have lots of friends who have lots of friend, but I don’t agree with all that.” The banter continued for a few beats with one or both of them declaring their human tolerance, both asserting that they meant no disrespect, bla bla bla. Finally I could take it no longer, I told them both “this conversation is extremely disrespectful. Imagine if you replaced the word gay with the word black, the word Asian, the word women. This is the most offensive thing people do, and they do it all the time. Stop trying to make yourselves out to be saintly. Telling people that you’re a friend of the homosexual is not a friendly thing to do. Are we living in 1950? Get over yourselves. I’m gonna go sit over here. Your conversation is offensive.” And with that I took my stout and my book and sat by the big screen TV.
Seems that heteronormative straight culture has no real way of expressing their ‘tolerance’ without this self righteous ‘I’m okay if your gay (just as long as you don’t try to fuck me)’ claptrap. I’m sick of it.
I’m going to get onto the book but just a little note to acknowledge that I am breaking the rules by using the term ‘queer.’ I do realize that the term queer is not currently recognized as a politically correct term, that many LGBTQQIIKAPP&GQ people do not care for the term queer. I find it to be the most cohesive term to write with. I identify as queer though I’m in flux with it as it is beginning to sound to straight to me. I do like the word queer in written communication, it flows a little easier than the acronym LGBTQQIIKAPP&GQ. This is the reason I choose to use queer in my written works. If you have a word that you think would easily replace the term queer, please email me. I love new words and would like to hear from anyone who has useful terms that can replace my use of queer. I hope that my use of the word queer does not offend you or your mama.
Now, about this book.
Hatred in the hallways is a 2001 report written by the human rights watch. As the title implies it is an analysis of violence and discrimination against queer youth in U.S. public schools. This issue is very near to my nerves because I am a queer who loves school, but I didn’t always. I don’t know a single queer person who made it though school without being harassed (or in serious closet cases having to do the harassing to pass as straight). The experience of queer harassment in school is no secret. The Human Rights Watch put together a very well written report of the intricacies of how and why harassment of queer youth happens in schools and the effects is has on the students.
As adults, as educators, as role models to young people we do not speak of sexuality in healthy adult ways. We avoid the topic, we snicker, we make bad jokes and we pass on our insecurities to the next generation. This has the effect of escalating a problem of viewing sexuality as something negative, something worthy of ridicule, thus perpetuating a climate of hostile insecurity.
In U.S. public schools there are a number of policies that effectively silence the teacher from discussing sexuality, policies that threaten the teacher’s job. This censorship perpetuates a hostile climate for queer youth and teachers. When queer sexuality is seen as something stupid, something mock worthy, something fundamentally antithetical to the mainstream heteronormative point of view teachers and students must live in a world of fear, fear of job loss, fear for their education, fear for their physical and emotional well being.
Human Rights Watch has placed several first person interviews in this report. The interviews document the way harassment happens – student on student, teacher on student, student on teacher, administration outing and ignoring queer youth.
There are few policies to protect queer youth. Many people wonder why queer teachers do not protect, defend, or at least step in to prevent the harassment of queer students. The simple answer is that they to are living in a hostile environment. Teachers fear loosing their jobs, they lack the authority to speak about queer sexuality, they lack the training to intervene in situations of harassment, they are not protected and not given any reason to step up for the students, rather they are given incentives to let the harassment continue.
This book was published in 2001. The difficulties of ENDA (employment non discrimination act) were discussed. To date there is still no version of ENDA that has passed into law. Most federal and state employees are protected from termination due to the perception of their sexual orientation. This is not the case for teachers. In most public school systems in the US a teacher can be terminated for being (or being perceived as) queer.
Administration and teachers can be very cruel to queer youth. Often when cases of harassment are reported the adults who are in the position to protect queer youth fail them radically, they end up blaming the victims for the harassment saying things like ‘you chose this life’ and ‘it comes with being gay’ (2001 Human Rights Watch 83).
Queer teachers are often not in a position to act as allies to queer youth for fear of loosing their jobs. Additionally teachers lack the training, the authority, assume that the problem is too pervasive to be solved, and sometimes teachers take the view that ‘boys will be boys’. Still, other times teachers are homophobic themselves (2001 Human Rights Watch 73-83, 86-87).
Language training for teacher is important. Hatred in the Hallways had several interview subjects mention that their teachers said ‘that is so gay’ when what they meant was stupid. When the word gay is synonymous with stupid in the dialogue of teachers it is no wonder that the hostility towards queer students prevails. There was even one instance of a teacher calling a student a ‘faggot’ and joining in the harassment (2001 Human Rights Watch 61).
“A 1992 study of school counselors found that 2 of 3 [of those interviewed] had negative attitudes about gay and lesbian youth”
(296) J.T. Sears. Journal of Homosexuality. Vol ¾ 1992 p29.
(2001 Human Rights Watch 100)
Queer youth have significantly higher rates of drug use, skipping school, dropping out of school, unprotected sex, suicide, and general fucking up. The research points to this being a result of in school harassment based on their presentation of self. It is nothing short of a tragedy that the US government has done nothing to change this.
Despite the few federally mandated protections that are in place to help keep queer youth safe the Human Rights Watch clearly documents that these are overlooked and rarely acknowledged by school administrators. Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972 prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded programs. Title IX also prohibits sexual harassment if the harassment creates a hostile environment (2001 Human Rights Watch 138).
Hatred in the Hallways contains transcriptions of stories of school counselors outing queer youth to their parents, then the youth being beaten by their parents for being queer; stories of school administrators denying GSA (gay straight alliance) formations, blaming queer youth for the harassment they receive, and even stories of teachers actually participating in the harassment. This situation is so ubiquitous that it looks like the mess described in The Cat and The Hat:
This mess is so big and so deep and so tall we cannot clean it up there is no way at all. –Dr.Seuss
But we have to clean up this mess. We are not in a position to sit ideally and do nothing to stop the inhuman treatment of these youth. Ignoring the problem only makes it greater. We have a social responsibility to fight for equality, for the fair treatment of people, and for a full-blown shift in perspective. The mainstream attitudes that permeate heteronormative culture keep all queer people living in fear. Dealing with the treatment of queer youth has the potential to help change the way young people see sexuality thus shifting the heteronormative, hate crime, fag as a slur, scared for your life and job way of life that so many queer people have to experience.
The time has come to take a stand for actual equality. Not equal rights for some people in some things, equal rights for all people. It is time that queer adults and allies stand up for the young people in the school systems. It is more important that people outside the education system take an interest because the laws are stacked against the queer adults working within the system. Demanding the right to an education should not be the job of a scared and harassed young person. If you made it through school against all odds you have a vested interest in this cause. Go to a local public school board meeting, they are open to the public. Go especially if you do not have any children in the school system. Read this book, tell people to stop the self-righteous ‘gay friendly’ hype that is nothing more than white washed discrimination. Take a stand as an intelligent person, ask the department of education to get heavy handed about fair treatment in schools. The time to fight is now.
Hatred in the Hallways is a fast yet emotionally exhausting read. Though it is a few years old it seems remarkably current because not much has changed in the last ten years. Do you want to make school suck less for queer youth? Read this book.
Thanks for the review. I’m curious about your opener: what would you have preferred the stripper to have said instead? Would “Knock it off, that’s not nice” have been ok, without the self-righteous stuff added? What if she actually did have gay friends? How should a straight person act in such a situation? I think a lot of people just don’t know and feel awkward.