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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Anti-Gay Attitudes Persist Despite Progress In Society

Watching the recent events in Woodland unfold was a reminder both of how far we have come and how far we still have to go in this society in terms of attitudes toward gay people. I am not naive enough to expect people to accept gay marriage. I realize that there are strong religious and other forces working against that. On the other hand, I do not think it is too much to hope that if one is to oppose things like gay marriage based on religion that they nevertheless treat others with respect and dignity.

This moves us back full circle to the incident at Harper Junior High School that we have been covering since early November when the father Guy Fischer and the Principal David Inns first attended a Davis Human Relations Commission meeting.

Erika Chavez of the Sacramento Bee did a nice story on Sunday about the Fischer family whose son was the victim of harassment on the Harper Junior High School campus

It took the District awhile but under the Davis Joint Unified School Board has passed a series of changes to the discipline code to greatly improve it. Board President Jim Provenza who we previously praised for his work in forcing Superintendent Dave Murphy to make the language unequivocal, was quoted at length by the Sacramento Bee.

Davis district school board President Jim Provenza said the Fischer family's allegations prompted revisions to the district wide anti-harassment policy.

"It was already a priority for us, but I think the incidents at the junior high demonstrated the urgency of that priority," he said.

The anti-harassment policy is strategically focused on low-level incidents and clarified language regarding sexual orientation and gender, Provenza said.

"It's easy to ignore the little things going on. Then when the big things happen, everybody's surprised," he said. "We are going to enforce standards of conduct that prevent that from occurring."

I will say again, I think the district in the end made some very important changes and Provenza is absolutely correct that this incident demonstrated the urgency of the situation and forced action much quicker than it would have come without it. This is unfortunate, but it is the way things work sometimes.

What is unfortunate and frankly appalling are some of the comments made by readers of the Sacramento Bee web site: While it is unclear where these comments are coming from geographically, the comments themselves demonstrate strongly the need to continue to work to educate not only the students but the community as whole. This is a real wake up call to all of us, in my opinion.

Here are a couple examples of some of the worst (but unfortunately not all of it):

“These two "dads" need to grow thicker skin and teach their son to do the same. Kids are cruel. It's a fact of life. Get over it. The truth is most people do not think that homosexual behavior is normal because, well, it isn't. Not normal, not natural.”

“Grow a pair… Guy Fischer and his partner, Richard Carrillo should start acting like men. Having a hissy fit and threatening legal action to sanction their private (wait, no, it's public now) sexual appetites is so sad.”

“This is not the schools fault, it is the two male parents fault for the lifestyle they chose and to raise a boy in this lifestyle. Also it is everyone's right to speak their belief's at any time (Freedom of Speech). To surpress this right is to harm everyone, not just one boy being raised by two fathers...”

“This pretty much sums up why gay couples need not raise children. Its pretty disgusting how they expect the rest of the world to accept their sinful behavior.”
These are just some of the comments but I think they illustrate a couple of key points.

First, I understand that there are people who believe that homosexuality is a sin. But just as we saw outside of the County Clerk’s office last week, there is a difference between a loving Christian response and a hateful bigoted response.

Second, there is a vast difference between someone expecting others to “accept their sinful behavior” and someone expecting their children not to be tormented by other students. There is also a legitimate expectation that when their kids are bullied and tormented by other students the teachers and district will do something about it. Neither of these have anything to do with accepting the "sinful" behavior of the parents. Rather they have everything to do with not accepting the misbehavior of students.

Third and finally, I do not think people really understand the nature of bullying. These comments were far too dismissive about it.

Here’s the article’s description of the actual incidents:

“What started as occasional muttered slurs, they contend, escalated into vicious name-calling, shoving and public ridicule.”

Even this statement does not give the full extent of some of the things that the son in this incident was actually exposed to. Frankly, most of those things have not been repeated here because they are too graphic, but perhaps they need to be in order for people to realize just how serious this is.

We all should commend Board President Jim Provenza and the rest of the board for the work they have done to improve the language of their discipline code. But what these comments tell me is that there is much work to be done in our community—realizing that a lot of the people who commented do not live in Davis—nevertheless, I think they are an adequate reflection of some of the Davis community as well. I have seen this first hand in the comments on the youtube videos, some of which were so bad, I had to delete them.

It is appalling. Frankly, I do not know what is worse—the homophobia or anti-gay statements or the appalling lack of concern for what a junior high school student is going through. But it seems pretty obvious why these types of incidents are so prevalent in our society—too many people think they are no big deal.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting