Homophobia High: Why Education and Mutual Respect Are Critical to the Cause

Have you ever looked at someone and decided you didn’t like them before even talking to them? Are you not even giving them a chance to speak for themselves on what they like or might have in common with you? I’m sure we have all done this at one point or another, for a myriad of reasons. Many of them may be for something involving their physical appearance or what clothes they are wearing. Maybe you didn’t like their haircut or thought their outfit was ugly. It is normal human behavior to find people that you think you might fit in with, to find a clique where your interests can be appreciated and discussed with respect. 

Unfortunately, the human race is also capable of downgrading others by jumping to conclusions about who the person is, and immediately discarding them for more bigoted reasons. Someone may assume that because I’m white, I can’t dance. Someone else may assume that because I was born in a Christian home and was homeschooled, I won’t be adapted to society and common pop culture. One major predicament that evolved from this mindset is people also making those assumptions about sexuality. If someone has feminine characteristics but identifies as a cisgender male, one might assume that he is gay. If a cisgender female has masculine traits or loves sports and hanging out with guys, one may assume she is a lesbian. What’s funny is, often the people who are least assumed to be members of the LGBTQ+ community are the ones who are actually a part of it.

Some people don’t do any actual thinking before jumping to these kinds of conclusions, often leaving others hurt, frustrated, confused, or belittled. There has been a global, but specifically territorial stride in LGBTQ+ rights and recognition in the past decade. Before the June 26, 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision that the Fourteenth Amendment requires all states to grant same-sex marriages and recognize same-sex marriages granted in other states, gay marriage still wasn’t legalized in many parts of the country.

Generations have been stuck on ideas, specifically, those being that gay is wrong, shameful, perverted, sinful, and disrespectful toward your family. Many different cultures have this ingrained in their belief systems, common ideologies, and religions. So how did it all start? Where did the first domino fall that caused all the hate, bigotry, and close-mindedness? The answer is simple: the minority was targeted. Only an estimated 5% of the world’s population is believed to be lesbian, gay, or bisexual, with a much smaller percentage being transgender.

How could a single person, in a group of twenty, ever make an impact when people are talking about how “gay people are disgusting” or saying “I’d rather never marry than have a gay son!” How is that one person able to stand up for themselves? For the longest time, they simply didn’t. They sat, and endured the hateful comments from everyone that were constantly hurled at them, and often hid their true identities to protect their reputations and their social lives in general. For the longest time, being gay meant you had lost all of the things humans find pleasurable in life, specifically love. Love is the thing that keeps many of us going, and keeps us motivated in life. When you take away love, what is life? So, because some who were gay couldn’t date openly, in some cases, it was done in secret. They searched for that someone, somewhere, who was just like them. 

One way in which students at this (and many other) schools are striving to quell the discrimination against LGBTQ+ teenagers is the Pride Club, which has been around for more than a few years now. This club offers a safe haven for teenagers to express their feelings openly, without fear of disapproval or discrimination. Not everyone here is supportive of gay and lesbian teenagers, as is the case with almost any school you go to, but it’s safe to say that most of the students and teachers here are supportive of LGBTQ+ pupils. The fact that our school has an incredibly diverse population means many in our community already understand what it is like to be the object of stereotyping and discrimination. 

Many of the students and teachers at Osbourn have opinions on how homophobia is handled. Some students believe that the issue isn’t acknowledged at all. “Personally, I’ve seen homophobia in many different forms here at Osbourn–  sometimes it’s overt, but sometimes it’s as simple as a passing comment,” said senior Logan Monhollen. “The issue is not only how widespread it seems to be, but how it’s handled– homophobia is just treated alongside bullying as if they’re the same, but it’s a lot more insidious and needs a much more prioritized stance from the staff,” he continued. 

Some LGBTQ+ students feel like those around them seem to not acknowledge the topic of homophobia at all, specifically the habit of describing something as “gay” if it is bad or lesser than. “I have experienced homophobia a lot. I was referred to with an obvious slur at one point and told multiple teachers about it, but the student never really got in trouble for it. I hear people use the word gay as an insult or a derogatory term. It’s a good thing for there to be so many pride flags around the school because it shows that a lot of people support the LGBTQ+ community,” said freshman Kai Johnson.

Some don’t necessarily think the use of “gay” as slang for bad is necessarily evil, but just inappropriate based on how it is used. Hailey Hakenson, a senior, generally considers it along these lines: “I think it depends on the context in which the slang is used. In the given example of ‘that’s so gay,’ I feel as though it’s just outdated and rude in today’s society. Not only does it feel strange within our growing LGBTQ+ community, but it doesn’t even hold the same dread that it used to bring to marginalized groups. It just feels off whenever you hear it, I guess. However, words reclaimed  by the groups they originally demonized is a whole other story.” 

Many teachers at Osbourn are much happier with how homophobia is handled nowadays, compared to when they were in high school. “I’ve experienced it from the outside looking in. When I was in high school, the LGBTQ+ community wasn’t as present, and back then, it was very rare for people to be openly homosexual or LGBTQ+,” said  Mr. Deniega. 

Another teacher, Mr. Kite, who teaches theater, agrees with this perspective but thinks there is still work to be done. “Homophobia has certainly changed forms and has become less acceptable and direct over time, but as with all forms of hate, it never seems to truly go away. It morphs into different, just as insidious monsters. Education is our primary tool against homophobia. The acknowledgment and celebration of LGBTQ+ people are vital to combating both external and internal homophobia. As a theater teacher, I am focused on the power of story and its ability to affect empathy and change. I haven’t been at Osbourn long enough to truly grasp the breadth of homophobia here, but I do know there’s a healthy population of teachers that are supportive of our LGBTQ+ population.” 

Some students believe that they personally are making the right steps moving forward and feel other people should too. “Personally, I think homophobia is becoming less prominent than it used to be, but I think people still need to be aware. If people respected each other, it would be less of an issue. If people didn’t discriminate against others and worried more about themselves, we could build a better community,” said Senior Class President Maya Litchfield. Fellow senior Riley Mostoller added, “I just feel like people should be able to do what they want to do, and not be judged for it.”

I can’t express enough how grateful I am to be alive today, where gay marriage is allowed and you can walk freely, out in the open with your partner of the same sex without being publicly ridiculed, thrown out of businesses, or never hired for a job. Although instances like these still do happen in America, they have been minimalized in recent years due to the protection of rights under the laws of the United States. 

However, in many countries around the world, being yourself is still illegal. Imagine a world where you had no love and weren’t able to be yourself. For once, I wish straight people could experience it, because, as Lady Gaga once said, until it happens to you, you won’t know how it really feels.

As a gay person who grew up in a Christian religious home, and who knew he was gay since the age of thirteen, I can definitely say it is not a pleasant thing to go through. Nobody, I think, in the history of humanity would ever choose to be gay. No one wants to be in the minority. It’s just the way I am. If I could change it, in the beginning, I would have. In the end, however, I can say I’m thankful for the gift God has given me that some people may call a curse.

All the pain, all the nights of loneliness and self-loathing, and all the nightmares and anxiety about what will happen in the future have made me one of the strongest people you have, or will ever meet. I wouldn’t be the same person I am today if I was not gay. In fact, I would likely have a different relationship with my parents, would attend church every Sunday, and would follow everything that was put in front of me, without thinking about it twice. 

That didn’t happen. God said “No, Matthew. Your plans aren’t My plans, and I’ve set things in front of you to change you into a better person, and hopefully allow you to change the people around you.”

I can already say that my little brother Benjamin has been affected, as he has already come to love and accept the real me. My parents haven’t and likely will never accept me, but I know that they love me, and having loving parents is something many children across the world will never have the blessing of obtaining.

My life isn’t bad, but it would have been so much easier if people in this world didn’t discriminate, didn’t jump to conclusions, weren’t close-minded, had love and acceptance in their hearts toward everyone, and didn’t belittle others in order to make them feel better about themselves.

If only people weren’t so quick to judge others. Maybe then the world would be a better, more accepting place.