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Orient Express
by Chad Blair
Honolulu Weekly, July 5 - 11, 2000
Page 9

[The article has a picture of three sign holders; the three signs say "BOE STOP the DECEPTION", "STOP 'GAY' AGENDA, and "STOP HOMO PROMO".]

I began getting teased, called "faggot, dookie driver and cocksucker" when I passed other students in the halls ... A student grabbed me by the throat and I grabbed him back, but he threw me to the ground, driving my face into it with his foot and started kicking me and stomping me like I was a cockroach ... I went to the emergency room with multiple contusions to my head and possible rib fractures. --- Kahlil Parker, McKinley High School Student

    Everyone knows that high school is no picnic, but for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth, it can be a trip to hell.  Nationally, some 70 percent of gay youth have reported being targets of verbal, physical or sexual harassment in high school, with 42 percent saying they have been physically assaulted.

    So serious is the matter that the state Board of Education is considering proposed changes to Chapter 19 of their Administrative Rules for state public schools.  The changes, which were influenced by Mainland trends, would protect students from harassment on the basis of race, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, religion, disability or sexual orientation.

    It is this last consideration that has generated the most attention --- pro and con.  Originally, sexual orientation was not considered an issue until Hawai`i's Safe Schools Coalition led a campaign to amend the rule changes.

    The Schools Coalition, a partnership between the Hawai`i-area program of the American Friends Service Committee and the Hawai`i Department of Health's STD-AIDS Prevention Branch, is supported by the Hawai`i State Teachers Association, the state Commission on the Status of Women, the Hawai`i Civil Rights Commission and many other groups.  Just last week, Honolulu City Councilmember Andy Mirikitani introduced a resolution for the Council's support of the rule changes.

    For the most part, written and oral testimony at public hearings over the past few months has been in strong support of the Chapter 19 changes.  But a small, vocal minority has testified against the sexual-orientation clause because they feel it condones homosexuality.

    At a BOE meeting held June 20 at Pearl City Highlands Elementary, about 35 people demonstrated that opposition, one carry a sign that read, "Stop the Homo Promo."  Another student testified, "I don't want homos in our schools."

    The opposition has only added to the existing hostile environment.  According to the Schools Coalition's Camaron Miyamoto, "A 15 year-old who was planning to testify in support of the proposed revisions recently received a death threat in school due to his perceived sexual orientation.  He was told that he should 'fucking die' because he is 'something God hates.'"

    BOE chair Mitsugi Nakashima told the Weekly that the only prominent individuals he has identified opposing the rule changes have been Mike Gabbard, a Republican candidate for Congress, and state Rep. Bob McDermott (`Aiea, Salt Lake, Aliamanu).  "Mr. Gabbard characterizes this as a plot, so to speak, on the part of gays and lesbians," Nakashima said.  "But I don't see how that's a concern --- that's not the board's motivation.  Most people see the fairness of the situation, regardless of sexual orientation.  People deserve protection under the law."

    Hawai`i Republican Party Chair Linda Lingle would seem to agree.  On June 20, she wrote to the BOE indicating her support for the Chapter 19 changes.  Three days later, Republican McDermott released a statement:  "I am saddened to see the party of Ronald Reagan turn into the party of political correctness," wrote McDermott, who calls homosexuality "a chosen behavior" not worthy of "minority status" like that of racial groups.

    Nakashima commented that he didn't believe those opposing the rule changes would sway the BOE.  "My readings of the testimony is that the board members would support what has been proposed," he said.  "I also believe personally that this action must be taken by the Board of Education."

    That action will not come until August at the earliest.  The rule changes are now being looked over by the Department of Education.  If approved, another public hearing would probably be scheduled for final input.

    If passed by the BOE, the rule changes have the force of law, says Nakashima.  That might inspire school employees to help defend targeted students by punishing harassers, something it appears many have thus far been reluctant to do.  As a 17-year-old lesbian, a recent O`ahu high school graduate, told the BOE:  "Many students have so much hate for themselves because they are constantly ridiculed and beaten, and because no action is taken when these students seek help from their teachers and counselors."  Trevor Kauanoe`oka`aina Bombard, a Honolulu high school grad, testified, "I was asked when I would like to be raped, with the option allotted to me to have it done with a broomstick or a knife. ...  When I complained to the school authorities, my counselor suggested we share a moment to read some Bible passages.  Apparently, his Christ would save me from eternal damnation of hellfire."

    The consequences of sexual-orientation harassment are not confined to schools.  The Department of Health's STD/AIDS Prevention Program coordinator Nancy Kern explained, "We are involved because we see a concern regarding public health in the state for LGBT youth.  Research has demonstrated that because we live in a society that discriminates and denigrates against this population of young people, self-esteem is reflected in a negative way, which can lead to risky behavior."

    According to school-safety reports in Massachusetss, Vermont and Seattle, LGBT students are two- to five-times more likely than their heterosexual peers to report skipping school because of feeling unsafe; three times as likely to have been threatened with a weapon at school; twice as likely to consider suicide and four times as likely to attempt it; more likely to become teen parents; and more likely to turn to drug use as compared with non-LGBT students.

    Says the Schools Coalition's Miyamoto:  "We are looking to end the hate so that our teachers can educate.  All students deserve an education free from violence, discrimination and intolerance."

[End of Article]