School Starts And We Haven’t Stopped Name-Calling
by Belinda Dronkers-Laureta on May 11th, 2016

Keeping Families Together

The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

August 24, 2012

School Starts And We Haven’t Stopped Name-Calling


Remember being taunted on the playground? You taunted back: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” But if you remember that, then you know that words do hurt and may hurt a lot longer than any damage done by sticks and stones. Now there is academic verification. The University of Michigan surveyed 114 students between the ages of 18 and 25 and published the resulting data in the Journal of American Health. Conclusion: students who frequently hear “that’s so gay,” “were more likely to feel isolated and experience headaches, poor appetite or eating problems than those who didn’t.”

Many Of Us Already Know That

In 2001 we persuaded Fremont’s school board to administer a survey to all Junior and Senior High School students and faculty to benchmark the incidence of name calling in the Fremont Unified School District. In the course of planning for the survey and its aftermath, we heard testimony from students who were targets of the abusive name-calling. It was an eye-opener; students who had already graduated were in tears remembering their schooldays. LGBT students, or even those who were merely thought to be LGBT, were among the most frequent targets of taunts. The principal lesson we took away from our survey experience is that students who were continuously taunted felt unsafe while in school and their learning suffered.

Between The Law And Its Implementation, There Falls The Shadow

California’s Education Code specifically prohibits discrimination against and harassment of students and staff in schools on the basis of sex, ethnic group identification, race, national origin, religion, color, or mental or physical disability. In 2000 the code was amended to specifically include discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. That became the law, but implementation of that law is a whole different problem.

We heard of a case where two Asian students, harassed a third Asian student in their native language because they thought he was gay. The student being harassed was not out and would not report the problem because he was afraid his parents would find out. Schools depend on the reporting of incidents before they can take corrective action.

A Mormon freshman was harassed because of her faith. One taunt was the question if she had ten mothers to which she replied: “That’s so gay.” She was sent to the principal office and received a warning and notification in her file. Her parents sued school officials on grounds that they violated their daughter’s First Amendment rights when they disciplined her for uttering a phrase “which enjoys widespread currency in youth culture.” Her parents also wanted to know why the school did not protect their daughter against religious harassment by other students. The judge hearing the case ruled against the parents. She wrote: The law, with all its majesty and might, is simply too crude and imprecise an instrument to satisfactorily soothe deeply hurt feelings.”

Schools Should Be Safe For Learning

It is a parent’s nightmare. Your child goes to school to learn and prepare for college, to prepare for a career. Instead, he or she is afraid to go to school and is in fear while in school. There is a law protecting your child but it is difficult to implement. One faculty member told us that until the community as a whole changes its view on LGBT people in particular, children will come to our schools with the attitudes they see at home.

So that is the task, change the beliefs and values of the whole community. It is possible, but it’ll take time and arduous effort. In the meantime, our children don’t feel safe. So let’s take the time and make the effort.

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride


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