Several recent incidents at schools around the country raise the question: why do we treat homophobia like it's an opinion worth respecting?
Last month, Jay McDowell, a teacher in Howell, Michigan was suspended when he kicked a kid out of class for a homophobic comment. And just last week, kids at St. Charles North High School in Illinois wore "Straight Pride" shirts without being disciplined — because, in the words of a school official, "while there are two sides to an issue, you can hold onto your side of the issue and advocate it, but you also have to be respectful of people who hold the opposite opinion." Um, do you?
In a wise-beyond-his-years speech, fourteen-year-old Graeme Taylor defended McDowell and linked homophobia to racism. The kid had a good point. If a student had walked into McDowell's class and shouted a racial slur, he'd likely be suspended, not McDowell. And if kids had worn "White Pride" shirts to St. Charles North High School, their administrators probably wouldn't have been talking about "two sides." This is not to say that we've eliminated racism in schools, or that no teachers, students, or administrators harbor racist sentiments ("too Asian," anyone?). Obviously racism remains a problem in school and out, but we've at least gotten to a place where few school administrators would come out and say that racism and a desire for racial equality are equally valid points of view. We need to to recognize that homophobia isn't just "one side of an issue." It's bigotry, and we need to treat it as seriously as we would any other form of prejudice, rather than letting homophobes hide behind the language of "respect" when they fail to respect others.
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