By Bretton Barber
Between The Lines has provided the LGBT community with an important resource for many years now. They are not afraid to cover a story, and the reporting it has is diverse and interesting. As a 17 year old gay male, I have read BTL and valued its contents since I realized I was family. But while the paper does a fine job of covering the gay community, I have been unable to see all of myself in any of the people that were writing the articles or columns. It is for that reason that BTL has given me the opportunity to write a column from the perspective of a gay youth. I think this is an important step for all the young readers that are underrepresented in many areas of society, particularly the media. Thanks so much to BTL for this wonderful opportunity.
First, let me tell you all a little bit about myself. I am a senior at Dearborn High School and one of the few openly gay people there. I also attend Henry Ford Community College through a dual enrollment program, and I am starting a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) there. Much of my time is also spent at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as an intern. The area of civil liberties is one of my biggest charges in life, and it is partly my interest in and knowledge of them that has landed me this column.
Last February, with the question of war in Iraq still being debated, I felt a need to discuss it, particularly in school. Being vehemently opposed to war of any kind, I presented a paper to my English Class about the similarities of George Bush and Saddam Hussein, and wore a t-shirt that very clearly expressed my feelings toward the president and his foreign policy. It had a picture of him, with the words “International Terrorist” written around it. Although the shirt caused no disruption of any kind, my vice-principal approached me at lunch and asked me to turn it inside out, take it off, or go home. Being steeped in civil liberties and the ACLU since the 7th grade, it took me about a second to choose the latter option. I contacted the ACLU, and after determining my case was one which fell into the scope of their work, they agreed to represent me. We tried to avoid litigation in allowing me to wear my shirt. Unfortunately the school wouldn’t budge. We filed a lawsuit in federal court, and recently the judge ruled I must be allowed to wear the shirt to school.
While I have always been educated and interested in politics and civil liberties, I never thought what I learned and read about on a daily basis would happen to me. Once it did, I realized that youth’s rights are violated more often than one might think, particularly gay youth’s rights. As a young gay man, I was very concerned about the status quo, and felt that there was even more I could do to change it.
Violations of gay youth’s rights it is a common occurrence in every day America. A wonderful example is that of Thomas McLaughlin, a 14 year old student in Arkansas. Last year Mr. McLaughlin was harassed by the school district for being openly gay in school. They forced him to read from the Bible, outed him to his parents, punished him for talking about his sexual orientation, and then punished him again for talking about his punishment. Luckily he was willing to stand up, and he called the ACLU. After filing a lawsuit the school district agreed to expunge his disciplinary record and made sweeping changes to its policies regarding discrimination of students based on sexual orientation.
I have dedicated much of my energy to expanding civil rights. Whether that means writing and meeting with my elected officials, attending protests and gatherings, starting new projects and belonging to different organizations, or just talking about relevant issues with my peers, it has always been something I enjoy and want to do. Through this column, I hope to deliver information that will make it easier for you to take action in promoting the rights of gays and youth, and possibly provide you with some tools to make change and promote equality in this country. But I won’t stop there.
I also hope to offer you my views and opinions on a variety of different issues. There are many situations that are unique to the community of gay youth, and I promise you I will not be afraid to talk about them and share with you my personal experiences. Between coming out, relationships of all kinds, sex, drugs, and high school, I hope by discussing them openly in print it will be easier to deal with and make decisions about them.
Thanks to all for reading and I hope you will join me again. This is a new beginning for all of us, and I am confident it will progress into many great things. I look forward to growing with you, and hope that you will enjoy my company.