Tuesday, May 06, 2008

On The List

Okay, so I have a couple of problems with the way this issue has been handled. I think it's possible for school administrators to go too far in their pursuit of order and decorum. I think that PDAs can be kind of icky when they go too far. I think high school kids will, to some extent, be high school kids. And I think that, despite recent security concerns and efforts on the part of many school administrators and even the protestation of the courts, kids should still have some right to privacy, because they're supposed to be learning to be adults and part of being an adult is seeing to your own business without needing constant monitoring.

That's why I think that people on both sides of the issue have... issues. And I have issues with that. For instance:

Issue the first: The infraction in question is a public display of affection. Now, it's been several years since I was a high school student, but when I was, public displays of affection tended to be public. You didn't need to make a list and track them down or monitor them or anything, 'cause they were, like, right there. In public.

Issue the second: I don't know if this is a failure on the principal's part or a failure of reporting, but the ABC report doesn't say that the boys who were outed had actually participated in any alleged PDAs. It only said that they were on the list of students to be "monitored," and that that's how the outing occurred. Which means they're suffering negative consequences for doing nothing wrong.

Issue the third: This is just supposition, of course, but in general, people who have something they're trying to keep quiet tend to, y'know, try and keep it quiet. Two guys who are trying to hide their coupledom from the rest of the school aren't likely to be among those causing PDA problems in the hallways.

Issue the fourth: This isn't entirely an issue of discrimination. This is a serious invasion of privacy for gay and straight students. There's no reason that the high-school administration should keep track of the ever-shifting configurations of teenage romances unless they're actually in the process of causing trouble--in which case, see above re: Issue the first.

Issue the fifth: This is still kind of a civil liberties issue because the gay kids are far more likely to suffer negative consequences for their relationship than the straight ones are. According to the ACLU's lawsuit, both boys have dealt with harassment from other students and one has even lost educational opportunities because of the outing.

Issue the sixth: A PDA is a PDA whether it's gay or straight. Even if Andrew and/or Nicholas had been engaged in a fervent hallway make-out session, the principal had no reason to call and say, "Your son was caught making out with another 'mo in the hallway." A simple, "Your son is being disciplined for breaking the rules by engaging in a public display of affection," should be entirely sufficient.

Issue the, what, seventh? Seventh: Nicholas's mother, who was apparently unaware that her son was gay until so informed by the school, reports that the principal said she "had a problem with homosexuality" and that "homosexuality will not be tolerated." If that is, in fact, the case, there is a clear case of discrimination here on top of the indiscriminate violation of privacy, and that ain't cool.

PortlyDyke over at Shakespeare's Sister has a really powerful post up about the pressures of simply being gay, even being "out," in a society that isn't entirely accepting of it. She writes about a challenge she made to a close friend of hers:
Spend an entire week pretending that you're not a couple. Don't write a check from a joint bank account. Hide all the photographs in your home and office which would identify you as a couple. Take off your wedding rings. Touch each other, and talk to each other, in public, in ways that could only be interpreted as you being "friends". Refer to yourself only in the singular "I", never in the "we". When you go to work on Monday, if you spent time together on the weekend, include only information which would indicate that you went somewhere with a friend, rather than your life-mate. If someone comes to stay with you, sleep in separate beds. Go intentionally into the closet as a couple. For a week.

They took my challenge.

They lasted exactly three days.

My friend returned to me in tears on day four and said: "I'm sorry. I had no idea what it is like for you."

Chances are, these kids were under enough stress as it was just trying to keep their relationship quiet in what was obviously a hostile environment, and there may well have been a few hetero couples on the list that were making similar efforts for their own reason. Even assuming that the list in question was made in good faith and in an effort to maintain decorum in an educational setting, the effort required to put the list inside a desk drawer or folder where it couldn't be seen by other students would be minimal at the very least.

And if the principal did, in fact, out a couple of high school students for no other reason than her own discomfort with homosexuality, she should be removed from her position. High school is hard enough, trying to get into college, wondering if that one tough teacher is out to get you, without having to wonder if that one tough teacher really is out to get you.

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