Student Union
Maxine Anderson

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Gay isle students need
aloha, not harassment

As a queer high school student in Hawaii, I am justifiably worried about the recent controversy surrounding the video "It's Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues" (Star-Bulletin, June 4). This video was going to be shown at King Kekaulike High School on Maui, to about 1,060 high school students from grades 9-11. However, after some parents and community members strongly objected to the general showing of the video, only those with parental permission slips -- about 300 students -- actually watched this important video.

It truly disappoints me to see that people I was taught to respect -- parents, teachers, religious leaders -- are objecting to something that has so much potential to drastically improve the school life of a great many youths in Hawaii while doing no harm to anyone. I look forward to the day when tolerance, respect and love are the norm -- when we don't need controversial videos to teach these fundamental values.

Being immersed in the high school culture on a day-to-day basis, I constantly see the harassment and pain felt by queer youth in Hawaii's schools. Whether the harassment is reported or not, the simple fact remains that Hawaii's queer students often face harassment in school, whether it comes in a verbal or physical form. Unfortunately, I see many students (among them my friends) get hit, teased and even beaten up almost daily.

Since I came out at school in my freshman year, I have been lucky enough to avoid any physical harassment. None-theless, I haven't been as lucky when it comes to verbal harassment. It is certainly true that verbal wounds hurt more and last longer than physical ones. Many of my friends, and their friends, have been depressed at some point in their lives, mostly because of what people tell them. When inappropriate terms that pepper school halls such as "fag" or "gay" are used so casually, in such a derogatory manner, queer kids hear it, and it hurts us. When people tell queer youth that we are an abomination, we're going to hell or that we are in some way intrinsically evil, it hurts. It hurts so much, in fact, that many people I know have been driven to dropping out of school or attempting suicide.

Lamentably, these messages are bombarding queer youth every day. Even teachers can contribute to these hateful messages, simply by not stopping harassment when they see it. A powerful message is sent to a student when a teacher doesn't do anything to help them when they're in need.

Oftentimes, this verbal harassment can lead to something worse: physical harassment or even a serious beating for a student.

When students don't feel safe in school, it inhibits their ability to learn. Ariel, a student at Kapolei High School, was assaulted by a group of girls because she was gay. Ariel didn't report the incident because she didn't feel like the administration at her school would be receptive to her complaint, and she was afraid that reporting it would just lead to more harassment.

"I didn't feel safe walking on campus, because I always saw one of the girls who had attacked me. I had a really hard time concentrating on my work for a long time," Ariel said. Students who are harassed on campus don't see their schools as safe places to be, and so can't learn as effectively. This is part of the reason why so many students drop out of school.

It is imperative that students of all races, genders, gender identities and sexual orientations feel safe in school. Here in Hawaii we need to foster an environment of true aloha spirit and make sure all of our keiki feel loved, safe and respected.

Maxine Anderson, 17, will be a senior next term at Kamehameha Schools.

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