In watching the debates continue over legislation regarding gay straight alliances in schools I am seeing heels digging in for no good damn reason on this issue. These alliances are essentially social clubs for kids and it is rather unfortunate that we have hit the point where government needs to (but still won’t), legislate to protect the rights of kids to form these very important groups in schools.
Just in my lifetime we have come a long way towards a more healthy and inclusive society but in seeing some of the discussions with gay straight alliances I see we still have a long way to go.
People need to learn to try and walk a mile in the shoes of others here. Bullying in school in general can be brutally damaging to who stand out from the norm and it is even more of a problem with gay kids who are just coming to grips with who they are.
For most of my schooling I was in the public system. I did spend part of my education in an all boys English style preparatory school. I won’t single out my old school here but posted that pic from the film Scent of a Woman as my school was very similar to the one in that movie and it brought many memories back when I watched it. We however were never allowed to keep our hair that long and had to be much more discrete with our smoking.
I will get to the point here. In those types of boarding schools in the 80s (and for generations prior), bullying was literally a part of the fabric of the institutions and it was openly encouraged by the administration. The prefects were encouraged to bully non-prefects. Non-prefects were encouraged to bully the juniors and so on. This was all done in the name of tradition. The masters in the school endured the chain of bullying when they went to school so by damn we should endure it too. The intent was to toughen kids up and turn them to men. The reality was lives of utter misery with no escape for kids who didn’t fit in with the majority.
A common response from a master to any complaint of bullying was along the lines of “We are preparing you boys for Ivy League and Yale has no use for pussies!”. Kids can be ruthless an in that environment of encouragement from authority figures it was simply brutal. I remember one poor soul who got caught masturbating. His nickname immediately became “Jack” and even the masters eventually started referring to him as such. To this day I can’t even remember the kid’s real name though I do remember the hypocrisy of it all considering that 90% of us were self-abusing at any moment alone we could find. All the same, if the arrows of taunting and humiliation were pointing elsewhere we were relieved and let them keep flying.
There was one kid who went through utter hell on earth in that school and I really don’t know how he survived it. He truly was on the bottom of the pecking order for the entire school. Dean’s father was an ambassador. Due to this Dean was raised overseas by an endless series of nannies and tutors. This left Dean with utterly no social development and when he arrived at my school at the age of 15 he had the maturity level of an 8 year old in many ways.
I remember our school orientation like it was yesterday. I was among 60 terrified new kids seated in a room in this new environment wondering what life was going to be like and adjusting to the reality that we wouldn’t be home for months. The Housemaster was explaining how we had socials with an all girls school (closely monitored of course) and how dances were held.
Dean felt compelled to speak up in his unfortunately awkward and nasal voice.
Dean: “Excuse me, Mr…..”
Housemaster: “You shall address me and all masters as sir young man!”
Dean: “Yes sir. Excuse me sir, but at these socials do we have to dance with girls because I hate girls.”
The room went silent in shock initially and then of course broke out in hysteric laughter. Even in not knowing how things were in those schools yet, I was thinking to myself “This poor bugger is dead.”
I don’t think Dean was gay though perhaps he was. I think Dean gave the sort of answer one would expect of an eight year old boy. Either way, Dean never had a chance and he was immediately the school “fag” from day one.
Dean’s misery was brutal to behold. He ate alone, he had spare time alone and whenever he was in the company of others he was invariably taunted or beaten. I didn’t indulge in the abuse of Dean as he just seemed to be taking enough as it is. I didn’t stand up for him either and I was no angel. I took part in bullying many kids in order to mask my own insecurities. I just couldn’t pick on poor Dean.
Dean survived until Christmas and when flying back out to school from home I found myself seated next to Dean on the plane. Nobody was looking so I socialized with the poor guy. He showed me his prized GI Joe collection. I tried gently to explain that perhaps he may want to be more discrete with those hobbies at that school and at his age but it was lost on him. Dean had no concept on what may help him fit in a little better.
Our time on the plane passed and we got to school. Starved for a friend and after our having bonded in a way on the plane coupled with the fact that I laid off him generally at school led to Dean latching on to me. I was mortified. While I was not involved in the abuse of Dean, I couldn’t be seen hanging out with him. I soon had to rebuke him in a public way and taunted him to keep him away. The poor kid had it rough enough and had the rejection of somebody he hoped could be his friend to add to things for him.
I am still quite ashamed of my behavior to this day.
Now after that rambling I want to tie this into the importance of these gay straight alliances. These kinds of clubs bring different kids together and this is the only thing that will lead to ending the abuse and ostracism that kids deal with. Gay kids need support and kids supporting gay kids need support. With alliances, kids are united rather than divided. A person can be supportive of different kids and not feel that they have to hide and bury their heads in the sand as I did as a kid.
It is the nature of bringing different kids together that makes these alliances so important. Having religious or cultural clubs or say simply a gay group can be a fine thing but they are exclusive by nature. In an alliance kids can gain strength, get to know those who are different and learn why it simply is unacceptable to bully and abuse kids for these differences.
I was fortunate in that I landed roughly in the middle of the popularity scale at my school. Not Mr. Popular but not among the outcasts either. I took moderate bullying and found it awful. It is unimaginable how it must have been for the kids such as Dean who had no escape or social circle to join and feel a sense of belonging. By law of averages, we must have had at the very least a dozen gay kids in my school. There was no way any of them could have considered coming out, they literally would have been hounded right out of the institution. Groups such as GSAs would give a sanctuary and perhaps give cowards such as myself more guts to stand up for others.
How many damaged people have been put into society from these broken social systems? How many suicides or crises came about later in life for people due to these awful school experiences? The only beneficiaries are therapists.
Gay straight alliances are important social clubs and they infringe upon the rights of nobody. Even if a religious school has to allow these alliances, it bloody well is no infringement on their religion. They don’t have to join the clubs (but they damn well have to allow them).
It is astounding that Prentice has created this Bill 10 that essentially changes nothing. If a school or board refuses an alliance, a kid has to then appeal? A troubled young gay person has to organize and stand before a hostile board to appeal for the right to simply form a supporting club??? Kiss my ass Prentice. I can see the politics of stealing the thunder from the Liberals by legislating gay straight alliances (sad that it even has to be legislated), but to undercut with this garbage in Bill 10 is simply repugnant.
Most of us fondly look back on our school years as a period where we grew and discovered. We had stresses and we had pleasures. We made friends and we loved, lost and loved again. Many people however look back on their school years as a terrible period that still haunts them today. Everybody should be able to enjoy those formative years and it will take initiatives such as gay straight alliances in order to aid in that goal.
Things are a world better than they were at my school in 1986 but in light of the fact that we need to actually legislate supportive clubs for kids in schools it is pretty clear that we still have a way to go yet in our evolution as a society. Let’s quit pissing around with this and protect kid’s rights to form these critical alliances.