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School Shouldn't Hurt:

Lifting the Burden from Gay,

Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered


A report of the Rhode Island Task Force on Gay, Lesbian,

Bisexual and Transgendered Youth

March 1996

Table of Contents

History and Mission

Identifying the Problems and Finding Solutions

Identifying the Problems

I. Verbal Harassment in the Schools and a Lack of Adequate Policies to Address It

II. Violence Against Students

III. Gay and Lesbian Invisibility

IV. Suicide and Isolation

V. High Drop-Out Rates and Poor School Performance

VI. Teacher and Administration Hostility or Indifference


I. Policies Protecting Gay and Lesbian Students from Harassment, Violence and Discrimination

II. Training for Teachers and Other School Personnel

III. Increased Presence of and Access to Materials Pertaining to Gay and Lesbian Issues

IV. Increased School Support Systems for Gay and Lesbian Students

V. Further Dialogue Among Students, Educators and Parents

Appendix A--Definitions

Appendix B--RI Task Force Members

Appendix C--Forum Panel Members

Appendix D--Resources



History and Mission

On December 6, 1995, Rhode Island youth made history in this state by courageously speaking out about discrimination directed against gay, lesbian, bisexaul, and transgendered students* in their schools. At a statewide forum sponsored by the Rhode Island Task Force on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Youth, students, teachers and parents had the opportunity to share their experiences and those of their peers who suffer from isolation, harassment, threats and violence. The purpose of the forum was to gather information on the realities of school life for gay and lesbian students and to develop recommendations to allow all youth to obtain an education free from discrimination and harassment.

Modeled after the Massachusetts Governor's Commission On Gay and Lesbian Youth, which was the first of its kind in the nation, the Rhode Island Task Force has been organized to ensure the safety of all students regardless of sexual orientation. The Task Force is made up of government officials, service providers, youth, parents, educators, and administrators from the Rhode Island Departments of Health and Education.

The testimony presented at the forum provided evidence that many schools are unsafe places for gay and lesbian students. The participants and speakers outlined possible actions and policy changes which would help make schools safer places for all students to learn, regardless of sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation.

Identifying the Problems and Finding Solutions

The discrimination which faces gay and lesbian youth in schools is a serious issue that we must face as educators and policy makers. The goal of this report is to assess the needs of gay and lesbian students in Rhode Island school and to make recommendations on how to address the present situation.

This report consists of two sections: 1) identify the problems facing youth based on real or perceived sexual orientation; and 2) facilitate the implementation of policies and programs which would improve conditions for gay and lesbian youth in our schools. To gather information for this report, a public forum was held to record the testimonies and recommendations of those affected by discrimination based on sexual orientation. These testimonies form the basis of the report. National studies and professional articles are also cited.

The report covers the following problems identified at the forum:

The recommendations listed below were developed by the Task Force after consideration of the testimony by forum participants and suggestions by panelists.

The following is a list of five recommendations:

The report which follows will outline each of the problems and recommendations in further detail.

Identifying the Problems

1) Verbal Harassment in the Schools and a Lack of Adequate Policies to Address It

"People kept coming up to me and making fun of me, they would call me horrible names and I would cry all the time. Letters were put in my locker saying things about AIDS and how my parents shouldn't have had me and how I should just die. Kids would threaten me after school and follow me home yelling things at me. No one should have to go through what I went through in school."

read by Liz Gately
student at Lincoln School

Statements similar to this were made by the majority of students who testified at the forum. While extremely disturbing, testimonies like this come as no shock to those familiar with the present conditions for gay and lesbian students. National studies have revealed the level of harassment based on sexual orientation in schools to be quite substantial.

A survey of 2,074 gay and lesbian adults conducted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in 1984 found that 45% of males and 20% of females reported having experienced verbal or physical assaults in secondary schools because they were perceived to be gay or lesbian.

Although this report will focus on high school, it must be noted that the beginnings of the hatred and harassment of gays and lesbians start much earlier:

"I remember the first time I was called a faggot, it was in second grade. It was when I kicked a ball to a foul. I didn't know what they meant, but I knew it was bad."

Tim Ryan
HIV Education Coordinator
Youth Pride Inc.

The harassment experienced by most of the people testifying started at a young age. Many of the forum participants recalled being called a "faggot" or "dyke" before they even knew what the words meant. This name calling is partly responsible for the internalized homophobia and the negative self-image felt by many gay teens. These teens are growing up to be what society is teaching them to hate. The fact is that verbal harassment, while inflicting no physical harm, is destructive and painful.

"I have been called a faggot and a sissy all my life. It is easy for adults to say that I should just ignore it, and that is generally what they say--I have been hearing that my whole life along with the saying 'sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me'...But that isn't really true. Words do hurt me, and besides that I have been pushed, punched and threatened."

Anonymous in Cranston
read by Sean Hazard

"I don't feel safe from abuse at my high school. I am relentlessly persecuted for being gay. By the time I was in ninth grade, listening without responding to others bashing homosexuals was more painful than the harassment I deal with now. Up to now, a person has masturbated in front of me while I was in the school lavatory, I have had cigarettes thrown at me, students have driven their car within a foot of me to drive me off the road while I was walking, and people call me vulgar names almost daily. What I am describing now is not simple child's play and name calling. It is very specific harassment that threatens my safety at school."


In addition to many of the accounts of verbal abuse that students endured, there was also a feeling among the students that no one understood the extent of their abuse. One subject that will be covered in a later section is the lack of help students received from faculty and administrators with regard to the harassment:

"In the hallways verbal harassment is rampant. And even if teachers hear it they can hardly do anything about it. It's really hard to pinpoint who is doing it, but even when you do catch the people like this one kid I took to the Vice-Principal and he got a slap on the wrist. The sexual harassment policy at my school states that you should be suspended for doing something like that. (Our school policy) really doesn't cover gay issues at all."

Woonsocket High School

The lack of action on the part of the administration was a common problem expressed by students. Many students felt that there was no avenue to prevent verbal harassment. While teachers and administrators are partly to blame for a lack of discipline in these cases, the blame also lies with ineffective or nonexistent policies in the schools. It is difficult to resolve cases of harassment against gay and lesbian students without an explicit written policy posted in the school for all to reqad. The handful of students who attended schools with a policy concerning gay and lesbian discrimination felt that it provided them with a sense of safety and security.

2)Violence Against Students

"When I was 15, a sophomore at East Providence High School, I came out to a few of my friends. Eventually it got around the school. One day, on the second to last day of school, I went out to the parking lot and the captain of the football team met me in the hallway and said, 'You can't go by me, faggot'...I dropped the art project I was carrying and he beat the crap out of me."

Tim Ryan
HIV Education Coordinator
Youth Pride Inc.

Violence against homosexuals or those perceived to be homosexual is a problem facing not only schools, but society in general. Our disregard for the well-being and safety of gays and lesbians has caused them to be one of the most persecuted minority groups. In fact, discrimination and abuse based on sexual orientation seems the last acceptable form of hatred and prejudice in our country. Nationally, violence against homosexuals is considered to be the most common form of hate crime:

The most frequent victims of hate violence today are Blacks, Hispanics, Southeast Asians, Jews and homosexuals. Homosexuals are probably the most frequent victims.1

It was therefore not uncommon at the forum to hear students recounting episodes of physical abuse experienced by them or their friends. Violence against students, even in its mildest form, also leaves students fearing and loathing their schoos. It must not be forgotten that "gay bashing" can seriously threaten the lives of students:

"From the time I was 3 years old, I was constantly harassed by my classmates. People would harass me verbally and physically. I have been stuffed into lockers and I have had people beat me over the head with a baseball bat. I 'came out' my senior year, and during that year alone, I can remember countless incidents of people harassing me verbally, with literature, or physically; from people writing epithets on my locker to people physically threatening me, even a death threat when I accepted my boyfriend's invitation to his senior prom at East Providence High School."

Christopher Judge
graduate of a private school in Providence

Harassment and abuse are particularly pervasive against students who do not conform to societally accepted gender roles. For example, regardless of their sexual orientation, male students with traditionally feminine mannerisms are more likely to be the victims of violence than their more gender conforming peers. Violence perpetrated against them is also often more severe. Testimonies, similar to the previous one, left the few students who had not experienced harassment and abuse feeling very fortunate. Students at the forum who had not experienced verbal or physical harassment were the exception and not the rule.

"My story is unusual, I haven't experienced physical or verbal abuse. I have friends at other schools in RI and Mass., such as Attleboro, Narragansett, Hope High and East Providence who have been physically assaulted to the point of having bones broken and have been forced to drop out. Some have had the luck to come to Youth Pride and work to get their G.E.D. I'm in a safe place because the place I live wants to be a safe place, and we need to make every place a safe place."

Jenny Aisenberg
Student at Wheeler School, Providence

The threat to gay and lesbian students' safety must be removed as it prevents them from obtaining a quality education. It is apparent that poor school performance, low self-esteem and a high suicide rate among gay and lesbian students is closely related to the threats and physical abuse to which they are commonly subjected. Studies show a disturbing connection between physical assaults and suicidal ideation among these students. It is impossible for some students to tolerate the constant barrage of attacks:

41% of gay and lesbian youth reported they had experienced violent attacks, many at the hands of classmates. Suicidal ideation was found among 44% of youth who had experienced the assaults.2

3) Gay and Lesbian Invisibility

"Whenever there was education about AIDS or anything there was never a gay side to it, there was only the straight side to it."

Student in Warwick

While the previous statement refers only to health class, it is representative of concerns students had with regard to gay and lesbian "invisibility." Many students expressed their dissatisfaction with the level of gay and lesbian representation in the schools. Society's attitudes, behaviors, and tendencies to render gay and lesbian persons invisible permeate all societal institutions including the family and the school system. The students' feelings of discomfort and isolation are reinforced as their schools further perpetuate the myth of their nonexistence. This silence leads to homophobia and internalized homophobia as myths about sexual orientation are circulated but accurate information is not.

The problem is further compounded when gay and lesbian teachers, who could serve as role models, are understandably apprehensive:

"One of the other problems I have seen is that there are a lot of gay and lesbian teachers, principals, vice-principals...whatever, in this state. I know them, I've seen them. I have a lesbian director of a school telling my son it is OK for him to be gay and pround of himself, but not being able to be open about who she is. In the first school that my son was having a problem with, in elementary school, he was being called 'fag' and 'queer' on a daily basis, I felt lousy as a parent dropping him off there. I knew there was support in that school, there were people in that school that personally knew what my son was going through, but they didn't feel safe with their peers, so there was no way that the students could be safe."

Gay Teacher and Father of a Gay Son
Providence resident

Paula Lopes: "Are there a lot of gay and lesbian teachers who are not out, and do you think that is because they don't have support of the administration or the school committees?"

Providence resident: "Yes, definitely."

The lack of visibility and the subsequent absence of role models in schools leads many gay and lesbain students to feel alone and ashamed during their adolescence. The high rate of suicide among gay and lesbian youth is the result of a sense of profound isolation and aloneness experienced by these youth. To successfully remove this threat to the well being of gay and lesbian students, the issues of gay and lesbian visibility must be addressed.

4) Suicide and Isolation

"Straight people can talk about how they feel they sympathize with gays, lesbians and bisexuals. But they don't know until they have to stand there in front of a group that hates them for who they are, and tell them that you are gay; you feel very threatened."

Aletha Taber
President of the gay/straight alliance at URI
resident of Middletown

"I remember the first time I came out, I was four. I told my mother I wanted to marry my friend Joshua, and she said I couldn't because boys don't get married to each other. From that day on I knew what I was, was bad. Being picked on, being shunned from games, teachers not taking the time to answer my questions in class, not being able to play with the boys because I was a faggot, and not being able to play with the girls because I was a boy left me by myself. The summer of fifth grade was when isolation for me personally was too hard to handle."

Tim Ryan
HIV Education Coordinator
Youth Pride Inc.

"When I would go to lunch I would have to sit through 45 minutes of gay jokes and 'Oh my God, how could someone possibly by gay?!' A lot of the time I ate in the classroom by myself because I just couldn't stand it anymore."

student from Warwick

Homophobia often causes gay and lesbian youth to hate themselves as much as they perceive society hates them. Growing up "different" in a society that assumes and demands heterosexuality can be devastating for young people. It is important to understand that it is not their homosexuality creating the problem, it is our homophobic response to this sexuality. Self-loathing and active discrimination by others causes many gay and lesbian youth to be profoundly isolated from their peers, schools, and families.

Many gay men and lesbians sensed something "different" about themselves as early as age four or five. The age at which most acknowledge their homosexuality is between 14 and 16 years for males, and 16 and 19 years for females.3 The realization of sexual orientation, therefore, often occurs at an age where peer acceptance is critical. Isolation from peers in high school is a serious problem for many gay and lesbian youth:

Eighty percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth report severe isolation problems. They experience social isolation (having no one to talk to), emotional isolation (feeling distanced from family and peers because of their sexual identity), and cognitive isolation (lack of access to good information about sexual orientation and homosexuality).4

The problems of isolation and homophobia lead to distressing statistics regarding suicide for gay youth. A 1989 study by the US Department of Health and Human Services showed gay and lesbian youth were 2 to 3 times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual young people. 30% of completed youth suicide are committed by gay and lesbian youth annually and suicide is the leading cause of death for gay and lesbian youth.5

"There was no one in my school for me to talk to about my issues. I felt completely alone and unsupported. I had nowhere to unload the burden I was feeling unless I ended it all."

Christopher Judge

"Low self-esteem among our gay and lesbian youth is a senseless and tragic result of our homophobic society. It leads to the appalling attempted suicide rate of 30% among our gay and lesbian teens."

Marc Paige
Providence resident

The problems associated with the ostracism and isolation experienced by students is compounded by a lack of family support. Unlike other groups who experience discrimination, gay and lesbian youth often can not seek the support of their families to counter the impact of prejudice.

Half of all lesbian and gay youth interviewed report that their parents rejected them due to their sexual orientation.6 26% of gay youth are forced to leave home because of conflicts with family members over sexual identity.7

"I left home when I was 15 years old. My family did not accept my way of life. Everybody found out in school. I left my house when I was 15, I didn't know where to go."

Vinnie Velasquez
Progreso Latino

The isolation for gay and lesbian youth of color is particularly acute as they often fear rejection from two communities. It is quite difficult for them as they face homophobia in their racial or ethnic community and racism in the gay and lesbian community. Often, they are rejected and isolated in both environments and can seek comfort from neither.

The damage caused by years of growing up in a homophobic or racist environment often remains. Self-hatred is pervasive and not easily erased:

"By the time I was in seventh grade I had learned to become a homophobic kid. I couldn't stand the fact that I was gay. The following year my sister came out. My family became mor supportive and I became more supportive, and it was OK for other people to be gay, but it still wasn't OK for me to be gay--I still had a lot of homophobia in me."

Brian Corbonne

It is difficult to convey the emotions that gay youth feel while coping with their sexuality. The extreme hostility they face leads far too often to self-destructive behavior:

"He said he liked the numbing effect of drinking or getting high, but also he despised himself for doing this. His depression deepened, he expressed feelings of self-loathing and worthlessness to me and his mother was frightened by signs that David was cutting himself superficially in incidents of self-mutilation. He began acting out in school and discussing suicide. David was then placed in a psychiatric hospital for two months and prescribed medication to alleviate the profound depression he was experiencing. I once expected that David would graduate at the top of his class, attend a prestigious college and contribute his many gifts to the world. Now I don't know what the future holds for him, but I hope that other gay and lesbian students won't have to suffer as he did."

Anonymous School Counselor
(referring to a promising student who had come out in high school)

5) High Drop Out Rates and Poor School Performance

"I dropped out of school at 17, after being a different schools in Providence. I am gay, and was made fun of so much that I got sick of being in school. I couldn't stand worrying about what was going to happen to me each day when I got there, so I stopped going. I was beaten up all during my time in school, and the fights and threats started when I was pretty young. As I said, I did try different schools including a private one. The last one was pretty good; but by then I was so fed up, that I had lost any interest in school"

Anonymous in Providence
read by Taylor Emory

"It was really hard to go to school and to concentrate on my work. I went from an 'A/B' student to barely passing. It was hard to go to school because it seemed like nobody cared."

Anonymous in Cranston
read by Liz Gately

Examples similar to the previous statements are too common in Rhode Island and throughout the nation. The harassment incurred by gay students has led to an extremely high drop-out rate for them:

45% of gay males and 20% of lesbians experience verbal or physical assault in high school. 28% of these youths are forced to drop out of high school because of harassment resulting from their sexual orientation.8

This type of harassment often leads student to escape from school any way that is possible. Unfortunately, there are few options for high school students, aside from dropping out. Many students expressed their desire to receive a G.E.D. so that they could leave school

"I will be dropping out of school tomorrow. And on the 14th, three days after I turn 17, I will take the G.E.D. test. I have decided that even if I don't get to go to college, but I pass the G.E.D., I will never re-enroll in high school after I have the diploma. It is not always the problems of the student if they drop out, the schools factor greatly into these decisions."


The effects of harassment can even be seen in students who excelled early in high school. The difficulties they felt in school often led to poorer school performance.

"I attended Burrillville High School from '93 to '95; 3 years in a bigoted setting where ignorance and hatred played a daily on-going saga that seems to never end. This environment made me distraught and caused me to quit school. Now, for a straight 'A' student in grade school to drop to barely passing grades needs direct attention."

Michael Segee
Burrillville High School

"I would like to tell you about a student who has been a victim of the kind of homophobia that can destroy adolescence... an 'A' student in honors classes, he had been involved in gifted academic programs since elementary school. In addition to his many abilities, he was friendly, compassionate, and funny... Though he was never physically assaulted, the constant ridicule and denigration damaged him. Many of the students who did not actually participate in the harassment, shunned him in fear of being labeled a homosexual. He became increasingly isolated and withdrawn. By his junior year his grades had plummeted to 'D's' and 'F's,' and he was occasionally truant... Since that time he has been in and out of treatment facilities and has left school."

School Counselor

6) Teacher and Administration Hostility or Indifference

"To hear the words 'fag,' 'queer,' 'flamer' and 'homo' day after day, class after class can and will emotionally impair you. So where do you turn to when you are discriminated against in high school? Granted there were certain people I could go to; but there were definitely more dead ends than anything else. I was gay bashed in school, and the Assistant Principal let it slide because it was an after school function. On another occasion I was called a gay slur too extreme to repeat. The Assistant Principal felt that this was freedom of speech."

Michael Segee
Burrillville High School

"My sophomore year in high school I had a semi-formal, and I wanted to take my girlfriend at the time. I decided to tell one of my teachers and she decided that maybe it wasn't a good idea, and maybe I should make everyone else feel comfortable by bringing someone else."

Student in Warwick

Teachers are often apathetic to the concerns of gay and lesbian students. The indifference of teachers and administrators affects gay and lesbian youth quite seriously as teachers represent the only protection against harassment and discrimination. If offending students receive a message that their harassment will not be taken seriously, they continue or even escalate their behavior. Many students at the public forum described teachers knowing of abuse and not stopping it, and even watching while it went on. This apathy by school personnel often creates a feeling of hopelessness for gay and lesbian students as they feel they have nowhere to turn. These students internalize the teachers' apathy and feel victimized further. While verbal harassment alone should be grounds for immediate attention, violence is often associated with it, making the situation worse.

Many students expressed dismay over the lack of concern teachers and administrators had about gay and lesbian issues as well as a lack of awareness that some of their students might be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered.

"If you talk to a teacher (from my high school) you would never know that there were gay students in the school. You would never know that there was anyone taunted as much as the kid I knew in seventh grade was."

Brian Corbonne

"I think it is important for teachers to realize the harassment that happens every day at high school. When I told one of my teachers who knew that I was gay why I was leaving, he felt embarrassed and naive, as well as shocked and appalled, because he never knew that I suffered such levels of harassment."


"Before I came out, I was respected by my teachers. But soon after I came out, some of my teachers started to give me dirty looks, not calling on me in class, avoiding me at any cost and refusing to give me help after school. I actually had a teacher, as I walked by his desk, whisper under his breath 'God forgive her,' as if I were sinning just being alive. I've heard teachers in class make little comments about homosexuality and homosexuals. How are we supposed to respect each other if our mentors of today are condemning and not respecting the differences in people. How am I supposed to respect myself when someone I look up to say he hate who I am."

Mary Ellen Scott
Tolman High School

"Another story I would like to tell is about my boyfriend. He has gone to many schools in the area, each school that he has attended, he left because he did not feel safe or supported by students or faculty. He was abused by many of his peers at schools and had to deal with ignorant faculty members when he brought these issues to them. One particular incident that I want to share is when he called out to a teacher for help. She ignored him and continued on to ask other students if they needed help. He once again asked her and she just walked out of the classroom. This situation went on for the rest of the school year. The principal stated that he could do nothing to change the situation."


Both students and panel members expressed outrage at the conduct of some teachers and administrators when dealing with gay youth. Many saw the indifference and hostility as the antithesis of the role teachers and administrators should be assuming:

"I witnessed several faculty members making homophobic reactions toward some students. For instance, I knew of a boy who expressed himself through his way of dress that a member of the faculty felt was traditionally more feminine than masculine for him to be wearing. This particular faculty member took the initiative and asked him to dress more appropriately. Statements like this should not be made to a student; however, if they are made, the faculty member should have reevaluated what was just asked and she should have questioned them as to who had the problem. We, as human beings, educators and social workers, working with kids have a responsibility that if we have a problem or fear, that we need to become more educated, and we need to open our minds to accommodate our students instead of our students being forced to deny who they are to accommodate us."

Heidi Butterworth
school social worker in Woonsocket

"It struck me that so many of the kids mentioned teacher indifference and non-support. It flies in the face of what teachers are supposed to be there for: to help and educate our students."

Josephine Kelleher
Superintendent of Schools

One of the factors influencing teachers' and administrators' actions were their own insecurities regarding gay and lesbian issues. Teachers are susceptible to harassment and discrimination as well:

"Teachers feel that if they help a gay student out, it is guilty by associate. They don't want to help because they don't want to be labeled a gay man or lesbian. My psychology professor went through bashing, even though he has been married for 20 years with three kids. I think it comes down to teachers not wanting to become involved because of guilty by association."


The indifference of teachers and administrators towards homophobia is one of the barriers to increased support for students. Without the support of faculty, it is very difficult to bring about change:

"I went to Cumberland High School. I came out during my junior year. My senior year, I decided that it was time to have a gay straight alliance at my school. We (myself and my psychology professor) took the time to research Wheeler and Lincoln School for Girls' gay straight alliance. We put the time and energy to type it up and present it in a positive proposal. I was told by my principal that we don't have students like that in our high school, and if we did it is a problem of social workers and school psychologists. She simply said that we don't need groups like that in our high school. From that point on, speakers from the RI Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Speaker's Bureau were denied in my classroom. I think that it is teacher ignorance that is the basis of this (harassment and insensitivity)."

Anonymous student
from Cumberland


1) Policies Protecting Gay and Lesbian Students from Harassment, Violence and Discrimination

The American Psychological Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Association of Social Workers and the National Education Association all support providing a safe and secure educational atmosphere in which all youth may obtain and education free from discrimination, harassment, violence and abuse. They believe it to be critical to establish and environment which promotes an understanding and acceptance of self.9

Testimony at the public forum pointed to the importance of clearly written policy which should be included in the current literature banning harassment and discrimination. The inclusion of this policy will show that harassment and violence against gay students will not be tolerated. It will force both teachers and students to reevaluate the attitudes that perpetuate homophobia. These policies should be posted in a prominent location and included in the student handbook. In addition, to help schools become safer for all students, legislation similar to the existing legislation in Massachusetts should be enacted in Rhode Island. This will ensure appropriate statewide standards for treatment of its students.

"The school departments and committees are responsible for policies on anti-discrimination. I think it could go through (referring to policies protecting gay and lesbian students), the example is the anti-weapons policy. There was a strong sentiment for no tolerance when it came to weapons in the school. It made it into every single one of the 36 school districts' written policy; and it made a big difference on the views of students towards guns. It will take a large and concerted effort though."

Josephine Kelleher
Superintendent of Schools

"I've had a lot of dealings with people in this state, and a lot of different schools, dealing with this issue. One of the things that people have talked a lot about was saying that it is the problem of educators, not of the students. There is a lot of harassment from kids...from other students, from other kids harassing them. My perspective on being a teacher is that the students only do what they are allowed to do. If there were rules in schools, if there were educators in schools who would do something to jump in on behalf of the students, it would cut down on that."

Scott Leary
Gay Father, resident of Providence

"Many, many teachers are in support of equal rights for everyone, including gays and lesbians. But, there is a definite need to get the point across about the issue, since most teachers are not aware of what is going on for gay and lesbian students."

Marty Perry
resident of Middletown
1995 Teacher of the year

"I needed a more supportive environment, so I found one for myself at School One. School One has a non-discrimination policy for race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, etc. I chose that because if someone was to call me a 'faggot' there, I could bring him up on community charges and have fines brought up against him. So I went from a very hostile, mean and harassing environment where I could not concentrate and where I failed out of school to a very open, loving and accepting environment where I ended up graduating at the top of my class."

Tim Ryan
HIV Education Coordinator
Youth Pride Inc.

"In Massachusetts there are laws to protect gay and lesbian students. Since the laws have been put into effect, things have changed. The school is not perfect, I still get harassed, but things are changing. Two months ago I would have never though my school would have a GSA, or that I would even be here. Without the laws there would be no protection of gay and lesbian students."

Massachusetts student

"We need a law so we can say something to our teachers if they don't stop the harassment. We need something to point to and say, look this is serious."

Christopher Judge
recent graduate of private school in Providence

2) Training for Teachers and Other School Personnel

Teachers, administrators and other school staff are supposed to provide all students with a safe place to learn regardless of their personal feelings about any individual student. It is inappropriate for a teacher to let his or her personal feelings interfere with a student's right to learn in a safe environment. Yet students testified that when it comes to issues regarding homophobia, some staff members show insensitivity to the safety and well-being of gay and lesbian students.

The lack of knowledge and sensitivity displayed by school personnel is often a problem as their behaviors and attitudes often serve as a model to others. If teachers participate in or condone anti-gay behavior by not speaking out against it, problems will persist for many gay and lesbian students. Teachers, counselors, nurses, administrators, coaches, librarians, aides and other support staff must understand the impact of homophobia on all youth, and must learn to address it appropriately. Trainings on issues related to homosexuality and the impact of homophobia in schools must be provided for all personnel.

"Not only can students be cruel, but teachers can also be cruel. For the well-being of all gay and lesbian students, faculty should first be educated about these issues so they can be better prepared to deal with gay and lesbian issues. I also feel that schools should adopt a policy of safety for all students."


"I don't know if you can really understand how I feel, but if you can, I hope you can change things so it is easier for people like me. Maybe professionals could talk to our teachers and kids to make them less homophobic, maybe then they would know I can't help how I am."

read by Sean Hazard

"Teachers and Administration need to be more impartial to racial, economical and sexual identity issues. They are supposed to be there for the children not against them."

Michael Segee
Burrillville High School

"The only way they occur (changes in the treatment of gays and lesbians) is through people becoming sensitive. Persecution tends to come from feelings of difference and perceiving others as being not like them."

Paula Lopes
John Hope Settlement House

"I think providing resources and education for teachers, teachers' groups and administrators on the problems facing gay and lesbian students would be the most beneficial first step for the Task Force."

Marty Perry
gay teacher, Middletown

"I would advise the Task Force to disseminate information and advice to superintendents and principals on the advice to give to kids (pertinent to gay and lesbian issues). A lot of teachers and administrators want to help these kids, but aren't sure how to go about it."

Josephine Kelleher
Superintendent of Schools

"The difference between my two educations was that in one place my teachers and administrators actually took the time to figure out what my needs were, and to actually meet them. In the other place, they didn't give a jack-dandy."

Tim Ryan
HIV Education Coordinator
Youth Pride Inc.
(referring to the difference he felt transferring from East Providence High School to School One).

"I think it is an unreasonable burden to expect students to educate the teachers (on gay and lesbian concerns)."

Ken Fish
Director of School Improvement
Rhode Island Department of Education

3) Increased Presence of and Access to Materials Pertaining to Gay and Lesbian Issues

One of the major problems for gay and lesbian youth is the lack of access to accurate information about their sexuality. As stated earlier, this is a significant problem for them as they begin to believe the negative statements and stereotypes with which they are bombarded. Without access to information which shows that they can lead active, healthy and productive lives, gay and lesbian students may not believe they have many options other than living with shame and fear.

To counter this problem, schools must provide accurate information about homosexuality and the impact of homophobia. Teachers must include the topic in discussions about a range of tolerance and diversity issues. The issues could also be included in anti-violence campaigns, harassment discussions and unity forums. Finally, schools should add gay-themed resources to their libraries, invite relevant speakers to address the issue, and display bulletin boards, posters or stickers with pertinent information. A partial list of resources is included in the appendix.

"I think it would be helpful if education about these issues began at a young age. Educating youth about different races, religions and lifestyles can prevent stereotypes and harassment of minorities."

Jim Taricani
Department of Communication
Governor's Office

"The best way to protect kids is to change the climate of the school. Bringing in guest speakers and having peer counseling groups tends to increase the overall acceptance in schools. Good speakers would make a big difference, preferably a teacher who is established in the school."

Shirley Smith
PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)
and school counselor for 20 years
resident of Tiverton

"I would like to recommend that schools have more assemblies to educate students and teachers. They should be having more classroom discussions, whether it be in health class or as issues arise in general classes. The faculty should be trained as to how to implement the Safe Zone packets that YPI (Youth Pride, Inc.) has provided for them, instead of just pushing them to the side."

Heidi Butterworth
school social worker, Woonsocket
resident of Barrington

"I remember going to the hospital when I was younger, and they talked about health issues and they gave me a box with tampons. But, in that little package they should have given me stuff about gay and lesbian stuff, and they never did."

Vinnie Velasquez
Progreso Latino

"As a school project, one of our teachers had us come up with a school policy that would counteract the discrimination that we found in school. After a lot of problem solving, we decided there was no other way than to educate the people and to make sure that things are available (such as) information, support groups."

Aletha Taber

"One thing that one of my schools did, when I was really getting picked on, was having the class read a book with a gay character in it in our English class. That seemed to help for a while, and even though I felt on the spot, the harassment was a little less. That teacher was the only teacher who stopped gay remarks."

read by Taylor Emory

"One way to increase the visibility of gay and lesbian issues and to make students more aware of the level of support that already exists is to increase the amount of communication in schools about gay and lesbian issues. Unfortunately, many teachers are worried about losing their jobs--this is especially true in the public schools."

Paula Lopes
John Hope Settlement House

"The best thing would be to start educating the students at the elementary school level and to educate the teachers, because all these ideas get put into kids' heads in the playground at elementary schools. Every time someone says 'faggot,' you know it's bad. You just grow up with that idea."

Brian Corbonne

"I think one of the other things that we can look at is promoting an anti-bias curriculum in our elementary schools. We have a licensed pre-school at the YWCA and we use an anti-bias curriculum with our preschoolers where we are really trying to introduce to the preschoolers that there are a lot of differences in people and that we celebrate those differences. We have heard from a lot of the testimony here that kids have been harassed in elementary school, and I think that the place we need to begin is with our very young children."

Barbara Comber
Executive Director,
YWCA of Northern RI

"I am going to tell you a personal story... This story shows that children are not born fearing and hating those that are different, they have to be taught prejudice. When my daughter was 10 years old, she began using the phrase 'It's so gay,' and also began bringing home 'fag' jokes from school. She didn't know what a 'fag' was and she didn't know what 'gay' meant, but she was beginning to learn that whatever 'gay' and 'fag' were, they were bad. I came out to my daughter at the age of ten, and it took her about ten minutes to realize that Mom was still Mom. She also realized that 'fags' and 'gays' are real people who are members of families and not just a mysterious 'other' that can be made fun of without hurting feelings. That is why it is so important to talk about these issues, in an age appropriate way, to children starting in the fourth grade."

Julie Smith
former Coordinator of the RI Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Speakers Bureau
parent and teacher

4) Increased School Support Systems for Gay and Lesbian Students

It is critical for gay students to feel valued and supported in their school environment. Support programs such as peer mediation, counseling and gay/straight alliances can help in reducing the feelings of isolation and hopelessness for gay and lesbian students. These programs benefit all students as they increase students' self-esteem, leadership abilities and conflict resolution skills.

Peer mediation programs have been adopted by many high schools as they allow student leaders to resolve conflicts for the rest of the school community. Peer leaders can help gay and lesbian students by modeling appropriate behavior and appropriately punishing offenders. To help with issues of homophobia and harassment, mediators must be trained and sensitive to the hostile environment faced by gay and lesbian students. In addition to peer mediation, counseling programs within schools must be staffed by personnel who are aware of and sensitive to the issues of sexual orientation. Finally, gay/straight alliances are student groups which allow students of all sexual orientations to discuss issues related to homophobia. They provide a place where gay and lesbian students can feel supported by their peers and have been helpful in developing a more comfortable environment for gay and lesbian students.

"We cannot leave the burden of creating a safe environment on the shoulders of the students who need it. These things need to be approachable, very safe. I think gay support should be proactive, not reactive. If we wait until there is an obvious need, we have waited too long. How is a kid going to summon up the courage to jump out of the closet when there is no visible safety net out there? Educators need to be supportive of homosexuality, even we have no students who are out of the closet. Part of creating a supportive atmosphere is not only being there for gay teens, but being there educating straight ones."

Paul Minden
St. George's School, Middletown

"Most of the students in the gay/straight alliance identify as straight, but it's nice to know that they support me. I'm not scared being 'out' because they would defend me."

Christopher Judge
student at Providence private school

"Given the fact that most kids don't go to see counselors because of the stigma attached, peer counselors are a great way to increase support in the schools."

Shirley Smith
Tiverton resident

"When I started working at my high school, out of the 1700 students there, there seemed to be no acknowledgment of there being any gay or lesbian students in the school. After about 3 months of working at the school there were several incidents that occurred in which gay, lesbian and straight students could have benefited from some type of support. This particular high school, after long hours and School Board approval, became the first and only high school, thus far, in the state to have a gay/straight alliance. They have made an excellent start."

Heidi Butterworth
Woonsocket High School

5) Further Dialogue among Students, Educators and Parents to Discuss Issues Related to Homophobia and School Safety

It is clear that schools need to begin or continue dialogue on this issue in their own community or school district. As the public gains information and hears personal accounts by students and school personnel, they will understand the need to implement policy and programs to meet students' needs. We must facilitate the understanding of this serious problem with ongoing dialogue in each community. This can be done at parent/teacher organizations, diversity discussions or open meetings or in the setting of your choice.

"I think the focus should be on the community in general. The forum that was held in December was well done and beneficial. It would be great if more forums could be done around the state. And also if people called their legislator to let them know what was going on and how they felt it would help gay and lesbian policy."

Jim Taricani
Department of Communication
Governor's Office

This report will be distributed to schools, legislators, and other policy makers. We would appreciate feedback about this issue in your schools. If you would like to comment on the report, gain additional information or receive another copy, please call Jackie Harrington at the Department of Education at (401)277-4600 ext. 2369 or Paul Loberti at the Department of Health at (401)277-2320.

Appendix A--Definitions

sexual orientation--A person's emotional, physical, and sexual attraction and the expression of that attraction. Although a subject of debate, sexual orientation is probably one of the many characteristics that people are born with. Most people become aware of their sexual orientation during adolescence.

homosexuality--A sexual orientation in which a person feels physically and emotionally attracted to people of the same gender.

heterosexuality--A sexual orientation in which a person feels physically and emotionally attracted to people of the opposite gender.

bisexuality-- A sexual orientation in which a person feels physically and emotionally attracted to people of both genders.

transgender identity--The experience of having a gender identity that is different from one's biological sex. A transgender person may identify with the opposite biological gender and want to be a person of that gender.

"coming out"--Also, "coming out of the closet" or being "out," this term refers to the process in which a person acknowledges, accepts, and in many cases appreciates her or his lesbian, gay, or bisexual identity. This often involves the sharing of this information with others. The process of coming out to oneself and to others occurs for different young people (and adults) in a variety of paces and ways.

homophobia--The fear, dislike, and hatred of same-sex relationships or those who love and are sexually attracted to those of the same sex. Homophobia includes prejudice, discrimination, harassment, and acts of violence brought on by fear and hatred. It occurs in schools on personal, institutional, and societal levels.

internalized homophobia--The fear and self-hate of ones' own homosexuality or bisexuality that occurs for many gay and lesbian individuals who have learned negative ideas about homosexuality throughout childhood. Once gay and lesbian youth realize that they belong to a group of people that is often despised and rejected in our society, many internalize and incorporate the stigmatization of homosexuality and fear or hate themselves.

heterosexism--The assumption that all people are or should be heterosexual. Heterosexism excludes the needs, concerns, and life experiences of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people while it gives advantages to heterosexual people. It is often a subtle form of oppression which reinforces realities of silence and invisibility for gay and lesbian youth.

invisibility--The constant assumption of heterosexuality renders gay and lesbian people, youth in particular, invisible and seemingly nonexistent. Gay and lesbian people and youth are usually not seen or portrayed in society, and especially not in schools and classrooms.

Compiled with the help of the following resources:

"Assessment of Services for Sexual Minority Clients Provided by a Human Service Agency," DCYF, 1993
"Definitions," The Medical Foundation, 1993
"Gay and Lesbian Adolescents," Ritch C. Savin-Williams, 1990
"Lesbian and Gay Adolescents," Dennis A. Anderson, 1994

Appendix B--Members of the RI Task Force on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth

Chair: Jackie Harrington, RI Department of Education
Chair: Paul Loberti, RI Department of Health


Frank Walker, RI Department of Education
Ken Fish, RI Department of Education
Linda Nightingale Greenwood, RI Department of Education
Bill Eyman, RI Department of Education
Mary Marinelli, RI Department of Health
Ann Thacher, RI Department of Health
Pam Goodwin, RI Department of Human Services
Dr. Josephine Kelleher, Superintendent of Schools, Woonsocket
Christine Brennan, Woonsocket Schools Department
Robert Manganaro, National Education Association, Rhode Island
Pauline Nunes, State President, PTA
Joseph Pasonelli, President of RI Association of School Principals
Representative Nancy Hetherington, Cranston
Representative Edith Ajello, Providence
Representative David Cicilline, Providence
Diane Curran, Educational Alliance
Timothy Duffy, RI Association of School Committees
Vinnie Velasquez, Progreso Latino
Marcia Reback, RI Federation of Teachers
Dr. Dennis Ghindia, RI College
Rev. Steve Amaral
Wendy Becker, Youth Pride, Inc.
Humberto Galvao, Youth Pride, Inc.
Chris Judge, Youth Pride, Inc.
James Stascavage, RI Alliance for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights
Marty Perry, teacher, Middletown
Ann-Marie Harrington, Youth Pride, Inc.
Shirley Smith, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians And Gays
Beth Milham, Straight But Not Narrow Coalition
Alisa Algava, Brown University Student
Julie Smith, RI Gay and Lesbian Speakers' Bureau, parent and teacher
Sally Gabb, Traveler's Aid Society
Ron Platt, RI Project AIDS

Appendix C--Forum for RI Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Youth Task Force

December 6, 1995, 3:30-6:30pm
List Auditorium--Brown University
Providence, RI

Ginger Casey, Channel 10 News

Tony Malone, National Conference
Damali Ayo, National Conference

Senator June Gibbs, Middletown
Senator John Roney, Providence
Representative Edith Ajello, Providence
Scott Mueller, Rhode Island College
Ken Fish, Director of School Improvement, RI Dept. of Education
Paula Lopes, John Hope Settlement, Education Specialist
Marty Perry, Teacher, Middletown
Paul Loberti, Chief Administrator, Office of AIDS/STD, RI Dept. of Health
Jim Taricani, Department of Communication, Governor Almond
Nancy Horgan, PFLAG Representative
Josephine Kelleher, Superintendent of Schools, Woonsocket
Humberto Galvao, Youth Representative, Pawtucket
Jennifer Aisenberg, Youth Representative, Providence

Appendix D--Resource List

Rhode Island Organizations

Rhode Island Gay and Lesbian Help Line

Staffed by volunteers trained to be sympathetic listeners. Provides info and referrals on a wide range of gay related topics. 7-10pm daily.

Rhode Island's Lesbian and Gay Newsmagazine
PO Box 6406
Providence, RI 02940-6406

Produced entirely by volunteers meeting on the first Tuesday of the month. Mailed free of charge to anyone who requests a subscription.

Youth Pride, Inc.
134 George M. Cohan Blvd.
Providence, RI 02903

Statewide organization providing social services for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender youth including support groups, drop in center, social activities, a leadership council (QUAC) and HIV education. Also provides training and education to the community on issues related to HIV or gay youth and homophobia.

Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network--GLSEN
Call Marty Perry 401/847-7482

National organization with RI chapter for gay, lesbian, straight teachers dedicated to reducing homophobia in education and supporting teachers.

Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)

National organization of supportive family and friends. Call the Gay/Lesbian Helpline (751-3322) for general info and the nearest local chapter. Newport County/Fall River has a monthly meeting in the evening. Call Barbara Costa 401/624-6944, or Shirley Smith 401/624-8566. Providence chapter meets 4th Sunday, varied locations. Call Myra, 401/751-7571, or email

RI Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Speakers Bureau
Call Dana Levit 401/726-9469

Program of the Alliance Education Foundation doing public speaking, training and education on homophobia and related topics.

RI Alliance for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights
PO Box 5758
Providence, RI 02903

A statewide, nonpartisan organization formed to promote and secure full civil rights for gay men and lesbians.

"B5" Bayard, Bessie, Baldwin, Bentley Brunch
c/o A. Taylor
PO Box 3172
Providence, RI 02906

An opportunity for African-American lesbians and gay men, and their significant others of any race, to socialize and network.

National Organizations

Lambda Youth Network
PO Box 7911
Culver City, CA 90233

Send self-addressed stamped envelope with age and one dollar to receive bibliographies, talk line numbers, newsletters, pen pals.

National Advocacy Coalition on Youth and Sexual Orientation
1711 Connecticut Ave., NW Suite 206
Washington, DC 20009

The National Advocacy Coalition on Youth and Sexual Orientation, sponsored by the Hetrick-Martin Institute, addresses public policy issues related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth through the collaboration of a broad spectrum of national and community-based organizations.

Teaching Tolerance
A Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center
400 Washington Ave.
Montgomery, AL 36104

They provide diversity awareness teaching packets for schools on how to combat prejudice against minority groups, including gay and lesbian youth. For more information on programs, write for Teaching Tolerance, a seasonal publication of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The Bridges Project: A project of the American Friends Service Committee,
a Quaker organization
1501 Cherry St.
Philadelphia, PA 19102

The Bridges Project provides information, resources, referrals, and assistance to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth and their allies nationwide. They provide a very good and comprehensive packet of information and resources upon request.

The Massachusetts Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth
State House, Room 111
Boston, MA 02133

To request a copy of the Education Report by the Massachusetts Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth, Making Schools Safe For Gay and Lesbian Youth.


Centers for Disease Control, "Attempted Suicide Among High School Students--United States, 1990" in Health Objectives for the Nation, US Department of Health and Human Services, Sept. 20, 1991, Vol. 40, No. 37, pp. 433-435.

Cook, Ann Thompson. "Who is Killing Whom?" INSITE, and Federation of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Washington, DC 1991.

Hammelman, Tracie. "Gay and Lesbian Youth Contributing Factors to Serious Attempts or Considerations of Suicide." Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, 1993, vol. 2(1) pp. 77-89.

Hetrick, E.S., Martin, A.D. "Development Issues and their Resolution for Gay and Lesbian Adolescents." Journal of Homosexuality, 14: 25-43, 1987.

Hunter, Joyce, "Violence Against Lesbian and Gay Male Youth" in Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1990.

Hunter, Joyce and Schaecher, Robert, "Stresses on Lesbian and Gay Adolescents in Schools," in Social Work in Education.

Gibson, Paul, "Gay Male and Lesbian Youth Suicide" in Report of the Task Force on Youth Suicide. US Department of Health and Human Services, 1989.

McManus, Marilyn C., "Serving Gay and Lesbian Youth" in Focal Point, Spring/Summer, 1991.

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, "Anti-Gay/Lesbian Victimization." New York, 1984.

Remafedi, F.J. and Deisher, R. "Risk Factors for Attempted Suicide in Gay and Bisexual Youth." Pediatrics, 1991.

Remafedi, Gary, "Male Homosexuality: The Adolescent's Perspective." Minneapolis: Adolescent Health Program, University of Minnesota, 1985.

Saghir, MT, et al., "Male and Female Homosexuality." Baltimore, MD. Williams and Wilkens, 1973.


* Hereafter, "gay and lesbian" refers to gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered or those perceived to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.

1 U.S. Justice Department, 1987.

2 Hunter, Joyce, "Violence Against Lesbian and Gay Male Youth," in Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1990.

3 Saghir, MT, Robins, E., Walbain, CE. Male and Female Homosexuality, Baltimore, MD: Williams and Wilkins, 1973.

4 Hetrick, ES, Martin, AD. "Development Issues and Their Resolution for Gay and Lesbian Adolescents." Journal of Homosexuality, 14:25-43, 1987.

5 Gibson, P., LCSW. "Gay Male and Lesbian Youth Suicide," Report of the Secretary's Task Force on Youth Suicide, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1989.

6 Remafedi, G. "Male Homosexuality: The Adolescent Perspective," Pediatrics, 79: 326-330, 1987.

7 Remafedi, G. 1987.

8 National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, "Anti-Gay/Lesbian Victimization," New York, 1984.

9 APA Statement on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Youths in School: July, 1994.

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