By way of high school tradition, we are all too familiar with the juvenile concept of campus hierarchy.
For homosexuals, the divisions have been drawn deeper at some schools in recent weeks, as members of the oppressed social group have experienced a more intense wave of discrimination from administrators and fellow students more serious than your common playground joke.
The problem isn’t anything unlike similar issues seen on college campuses throughout the nation. During the last decade, USC has worked hard to combat any discriminatory sentiments and establish itself as a gay-friendly campus.
Three years ago, USC was recognized with a top “five-star rating” by the Campus Climate Index for its “inclusive, welcoming and respectful” environment and placed in the Top 20 Best of the Best LGBT Friendly Colleges and Universities in The Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students.
These accomplishments have been achieved because of the university’s willingness to bring visibility to gay issues within the student community. Through open discussion and efforts to keep gay-themed topics from becoming taboo, a liberalization of administrative goals has occurred.
Perhaps at the high school level, however, the opportunity to engage in this discussion is missing.
Last week in Greenbrier, Tenn., an openly gay 15-year-old Cole Goforth was sent home for wearing a shirt that read “I Love Lady Gay Gay” in support of his own orientation as well as his favorite pop star. After hearing about the incident, Lady Gaga, a new advocate for gay rights, took to her Twitter to express her disapproval with the school saying, “I love you Cole, you just be yourself.”
Another situation in Mississippi has played out before the media since March, prompting Hollywood stars and national organizations like the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to throw in their support. High school student Constance McMillen was prohibited from bringing her female date to the prom by the local school district, and after she resisted, the district canceled the entire event altogether. With her lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, McMillen sued, and the court ruled in her favor.
But her troubles weren’t over as the backlash was just beginning. Her upset peers created a Facebook group called “Constance quit yer cryin,” where classmates expressed their anger toward McMillen. Through personal attacks and alleged death threats, the page became a digital vehicle for hate speech.
Nonetheless, the school refused to reinstate the event, so the parents of the students decided to organize one on their own. Unfortunately, McMillen, her date and five other students — two of whom had learning disabilities — were maliciously sent by event organizers to a phony prom separate from her schoolmates.
The level of ridicule and humiliation and lack of tolerance involved is shocking. In today’s modern-day setting, a common misnomer is that young people are more socially accepting of the LGBT community.
In reality, children are more likely to grow up and adopt the socialized views they are taught by their parents and exist in their households. When parents take part in the hate antics, it is more apparent that school systems and other strands of society lack necessary protections for certain groups who are unjustly treated.
Exercising their social and political muscles, gay celebrities have rushed to McMillen’s defense, engaging themselves in the discussion. Talk show hosts Wanda Sykes and Ellen Degeneres and celebrity blogger Perez Hilton have all publicly announced their admiration for McMillen while Lance Bass and Green Day are some of the names sponsoring a gay-friendly prom in Mississippi next month. In support of McMillen, the event is geared toward gay high school students but is open to everyone.
These encouraging actions closely mirror ones being taken on our own campus. This Friday, the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Student Assembly will hold its annual Second Chance Prom, a yearly event for LGBT and ally undergraduate and graduate students. Titled “Under the Sea: Into the Future,” the prom is just one of many transformative events held on campus in support of greater acceptance among students.
The organization’s Welcome Back Barbeque and National Coming Out Month activities not only spread awareness but help new students experience the kind of tolerant campus USC is trying to define.
Even with its fair amount of healthy debate, dissent and discourse, USC and its students are in the right direction — one that other schools should learn from and follow.
Christopher Agutos is a junior majoring in political science and public relations. His column “Pop Life” runs every other Tuesday.