March 2, 2007

"That's so gay" lawsuit

An AP story on a California lawsuit centers on a school's warning a student for saying, "That's so gay" after being insulted for being Mormon (the insult aimed at her was "Do you have 10 moms?"). This is a case of 2 insults don't make a right, but there's a question of whether quasi-disciplinary treatment is the best way to get at (target of choice)-baiting. The story doesn't indicate what happened to the student other than a warning of some kind and a note in the student's record (though whether it was in the student's permanent file isn't stated, and for a variety of reasons I suspect that wouldn't be the case). Nor is there any record in the article of whether the administrators went after the students who were insulting her.

In this case, though not for longer-term patterns or a continuation of a dangerous conflict at a school, I think an approach that starts with notice and counsel for casual insults is better than some not-quite-discipline version of discipline, which sounds like unofficially official double-secret probation. A lot of this depends on context, at least legally and to many perspectives.  An isolated "that's so gay" when there is no record of ongoing violence or harassment in a particular school or from the individual is different from the same comment or worse in the locker room of a school that has had five recent fights related to alleged sexual orientation and harassment.

I know teenagers who have dealt with both casual insults and clear harassment, and the responses were different but still seemed appropriate in each case.  In one case, I was told that a bus-stop conversation went something like the following:

Student 1: That's so gay.

Student 2: What's wrong with being gay?

Student 1: Nothing.  I was just saying.

Student 2: Don't worry.  I don't want to go out with you.

Student 1:  I don't want to go out with you, either!

In the other case (harassment), I was told that one of the targets asked the teacher in one class to stand with her as she confronted the harasser, repeated back to him what he had said and done, told him it was unacceptable harassment and that she expected him to stop. The other target, who was a 9th grader, refused to confront the harasser, so it was shrewd to ask the teacher to be a witness. And the teacher relayed the information to one of the school's intervention staff, who followed up with the harasser (who I hope changes his behavior in the long term; at least it worked in the short term).

Other blog comments at Gay South Florida and OFF/beat.

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Posted in Education policy on March 2, 2007 11:48 AM |