Second of two parts.
What does it mean to be gay in Lake County schools today?
It means having a ton of friends at Eustis High School and being elected to the student council.
It means being spit on in the hallways of Carver Middle School in Leesburg while being called vulgar names.
In other words, gay teens are at the mercy and whim of other students, and the district's bullying policy doesn't specifically protect them. Of course, in reality, it wouldn't anyway, because your average bully doesn't check the specifics of the written policy before lashing out.
But the fact that the district's policy is silent on gay bashing sends a clear message, and not the right one. The policy specifically states that students can't target one another because of race or religion, for example. It says nothing about homosexuality.
This needs to change. The best solution is to remove specific reasons from anti-bullying rules. Students should be required to treat each other respect, period. Every student. All the time. Zero tolerance.
And that's why students who want to form a Gay-Straight Alliance should be allowed to do so. It's a no-brainer that talking with other students under the supervision of a teacher will help sort some of the feelings.
Do you think this harassment issue is overblown? That middle-schoolers don't really have a sexual identity yet? If so, consider these two sources for information: the highly respected Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which offer extensive information at cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth.htm about bullying on gay teens, and Dana Herron, who will tell you what things are like at Carver Middle.
According to the CDC, "Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth are happy and thrive during their adolescent years. Going to a school that creates a safe and supportive learning environment for all students and having caring and accepting parents are especially important."
A 2009 survey of more than 7,000 LGBT middle- and high-schoolers found that eight of 10 students had been verbally harassed at school and one in five was physically assaulted there, according to the CDC.
Now read about Dana's experience at Carver Middle.
Dana, 14, now a freshman at Leesburg High, shared with School Board members at a public meeting this week her miserable experience at Carver Middle: "People would spit on me because I was bisexual, and it was really humiliating. No one should have to go through that."
Being called names was "constant," she said.
The worst part is that harassment in middle school comes at a time when students are just beginning to figure out that they are different.
A young woman who attended Carver Middle in the late 1990s asked not to be identified because her family doesn't know she is bisexual, but she emailed her support of gay-straight clubs:
"I feel like I started to realize what was going on late in my eighth-grade year when I was trying to figure out why I couldn't stop thinking about one of my classmates.
"The real purpose of clubs in middle school and high school is to give groups of kids a feeling of belonging that can help foster healthy self-image. I think if people had been talking about these issues when I was in middle school at Carver, I would have understood my feelings much sooner.
"Instead, I felt alone and scared."
Alone and scared…