Still Dying for Visibility

BY KELLY JEAN COGSWELL | There are municipal elections coming up in Paris in a couple of weeks, and we have gay Mayor Bertrand Delanoe running for re-election, and a transgendered Algerian activist and actress, Pascale Ourbih, running for office in the 16th district.

Delanoe doesn't exactly arrive at meetings displaying his partner, if he even has one. The Socialist politician is definitely old school, keeping his personal life personal – unlike M. Sarkozy. Still, Delanoe's “out.” He supports gay issues. People know who he is.

Pascale Ourbih, too, is out there as a proud transgendered immigrant woman with strong support from her Green Party. And why not? She's articulate and smart. We need a dozen more like her everywhere. Like them both.

LGBT people in positions of authority are still largely invisible in the so-called liberal West. You can have a queer cracking jokes on TV, but rarely running a city or a high school. And what are trannies good for besides doing cameos spots on detective shows as soon-to-be-murdered prostitutes like black and Hispanic actresses used to do?

In the reality of schoolyards everywhere we're all just fucking lezzies, faggots, queers. We get harassed verbally, shoved in lockers, tormented to the point of suicide, and sometimes killed, like 15-old baby-faced Lawrence King in California. He defied the bullies, came out as gay, sometimes wearing makeup and jewelry to school. As his reward, a 14-year-old boy shot him in the head. Blew him away right there in the school computer lab with a bunch of other students looking on.

That's America. That's Jamaica. And Poland. France. Brazil. Zimbabwe. Egypt. (Add your country to the list). On an international level, queer-baiting is a sport almost as popular as soccer, though there's a continuum, certainly. Canada's no Ghana. Even within each country, our safety depends on our neighborhood, region, sex, and class. Age, of course, matters. And whether we open our mouths.

In the United States, we have a particular tolerance for brutality in high and middle schools. Teachers and coaches overlook the jocular hazing of outcasts. It's all in good fun, you know. Sticks and stones break bones, but not words, which will never harm me. Right.

School authorities ignore the natural progression, and are somehow all terribly surprised when, in an atmosphere that allows the harassment of faggots, somebody pulls out a gun and bags one like a trophy moose. They're almost as surprised when queer kids hurry things along and do it to themselves.

There are so many kids at risk, and proportionally, so much silence. Where are the LGBT teachers and principals? Why aren't they our natural protectors? How come we die alone? The problem is, not enough teachers are out, even if they want to be. Homos attracted to teaching are still suspected of being pedophiles and generally considered bad influences. Be open about your sexual identity, and parents get upset and bother the administration. The kids are even worse.

A 2006 article in The Guardian reported that four out of five gay teachers and lecturers in Britain “experienced homophobia at work, ranging from offensive jokes to physical assault, with 86 percent of victims reporting that pupils were the worst offenders and 17 percent saying they were too scared to go to work.”

In the US, it's easier to find Gay Straight Alliances for students than associations for LGBT teachers. Even in districts with anti-discrimination policies where they can't be fired, gay teachers may well be yanked out of the classroom and closeted by administrative work.

In an article in the American Bar Association journal, Christine Yared wrote her own Attorney General Warning: “Teaching is hazardous to the health of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and those perceived by others to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Teachers that fit into the above category may regularly experience anxiety, headaches, stomach problems, high blood pressure, depression, and in some cases death caused by career-related complications.”

That was in 1997 when a teacher collapsed following a long battle with a school district. We haven't come very far since then, and King, the gay kid in California, paid the price.

In some ways, his 14-year-old killer is paying as well. He was taught queers were fair game, objects of loathing and fear. Some adult put that gun in his hand. Now, even if a clever attorney gets him off, he'll always be a murderer. King will always be dead. Like all the young queers that kill themselves every year, tortured into their graves because humans fear difference, because we are tribal by nature, superstitious, frightened, and addicted to scapegoats.

We can't expect teachers – and students – to step alone into that abyss. It's worth remembering, though, that if we win that battle, freeing teachers, educating kids, we'd win the whole damn war for liberation.


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