03 May 2008

Tennessee Principal Outs Gay Students

I woke up this morning to find this news. High school principal Daphne Beasley, Memphis TN, was tired of all the PDA happening on school grounds. (That's Public Display of Affection, for those not living with a middle/high school student. Or those of you who've escaped military influence.)

Ms. Beasley was none too pleased with the excessive PDA occurring within the vaunted halls of Hollis F. Price Middle College High School. (Middle College High School? What the hell does that even mean?) Ms. Beasley decided to take the public watchdog and humiliation route to address these nefarious goings-on. She asked her staff for the names of all student couples, in order to compile a list. All the better to keep an eye on the eager little darlings, my dear.

Problem is, she posted the list. Publicly. Teachers, students, custodial staff, la-dee-da-dee everybody could see who was joined in lunchroom liplocks. But wait, there's more! She'd also specified to the staff that she wanted both hetero and homosexual couples named, which means, of course, that The List outed some gay students.

In a high school in Tennessee.

I'm sure that made for a wonderful learning environment for the outed students. The students say they are now being "treated differently" by students and teachers. I just bet they are.

And Ms. Beasley didn't stop there. Apparently she also called the mother of at least one of the gay students, an 11th grader who'd just made the dean's list, and outed him to Moms as well.

Now, I'm all for high school kids being open with their parents. I'm reasonably sure my kids would be able to tell me should they be any version of "not straight". The Bohemian, in fact, hasn't quite nailed down what she considers herself. Whatever. Labels schmabels. But we are a progressive household in the Seattle area. There are many out gay couples in my kids' high school. I would venture to say it's not as big of a deal here for those students who choose to come out. Not that those kids don't have to deal with ignorance and prejudice - of course they do - but there is a good deal of support in this area, should a student choose to come out at school.

I'm not foolish enough to think that every family or high school environment is going to be supportive for a young gay person. The parent in me thinks yes, I'd want the school to tell me what's going on with my child, but that may not be advisable or even safe in every situation. Did that principal stop to think about the consequences of her actions in calling those parents? Did she talk to the student beforehand? Did she think about the effects on his life? You don't know how those parents are going to react. That kid could end up getting his ass beat or being kicked out into the streets. Hey, it happens, it's not that far fetched. Even if not, coming out is a big deal. How these parents experience The Big Revelation will likely have an effect on their reaction to it. I'm betting that kid would've liked to have some control about how he came out to his parents, classmates and teachers.

This student was scheduled to go on a school trip to New Orleans to help rebuild houses. After the posting of The List, he was told by a teacher that he would no longer be going, due to the possibility he might "embarrass the school by engaging in gay affection."

Are you kidding me?

What this kid wanted to engage in was some public service, being a responsible and contributing member of society, caring about something bigger than himself, building community. You're going to tell a kid who just made the dean's list and who was going to rebuild houses in a place our own president has all but abandoned, that his services aren't necessary because he has a boyfriend?
So, according to this teacher, being gay is supposed to be the negative aspect in this young man's life? What effect are those words, that rejection, going to have on this young man, on this member of our society?

You know what? This kid is not "embarrassing", but Principal Beasley's actions are. That teacher's comments are. Shame on them.

I was talking to the offspring about this story. Okay, ranting. Whatever. Teen Demon made the point that it wasn't fair to any of the kids, gay or straight. She said in her school there are kids from traditional Asian families who are not allowed to date, even in the upper grades. If those students were "outed" to their families, it could be disastrous for some of them.

Again, I'm not advocating teenagers keeping major secrets from their families, but hey, things aren't always how we wish they were. In the example Teen Demon brought up, say you've got a good student, a 17-year-old kid who has a boyfriend -- one whom she basically sees only at school -- and this kid gets "outed" simply by virtue of being "part of a couple", whether she has engaged in PDA or not, because some principal put her on a list ... that doesn't seem right.

Male Offspring wondered about kids who may be falsely identified as being part of a couple. What if the staff is wrong in their presumptions?

Seems to me that a little PDA is part of high school life. Come on, did Ms. Beasley never swap saliva by the gym lockers? Yes, there are limits, and yes, students should practice at least a minimal level of decorum. We're talking affection, not pop, lock, and dropping. If things get to that point, seems to me it still could've been handled in a more constructive way.

Seems to me the decision to come out is a personal decision, not one for the schools.