The write-up named “Anti-gay Slurs Common at School”, written by Laura Sessions Stepp (Reading 34, p.267) offers another perspective on the contentious issue of verbal assaults on gay students. What stands out in the narrative is the fact that verbal slurs pertaining to one’s sexual orientation are being directed at High school students, whom one would expect not to have a concrete idea of their orientation but rather a fluid one. So, the offence in such a scenario is on two grounds – firstly the conception of homosexuality as an inferior basis for interpersonal relationships, and secondly the decadent culture of verbal abuse seen among teenage school goers.
The author illustrates the prevailing apathy and indifference among the policy makers and other authorities in school. The case of teenaged boy Justen during his time in Sherman High School and later in Sherman Senior High illustrate how pupil like Justen Deal, who are suspected to be gay, are treated differently by their peers and are subject to abuse of different sorts. In the case of Justen, the lack of support from the school administration is all the more poignant, given the fact that he had briefed his teachers and principal about the hurtful comments directed at him. Even after Justen was assured by the school administration that they would look out for the abusers and take action against them, the abuse continued to flow. To be fair to Sherman Senior High staff, teenage students are very clever in imparting snide remarks and other forms of derogatory comments without getting themselves into trouble. Since the teachers cannot always be at the side of Justen to overhear whispered comments and insults, it is very difficult to curb peer verbal abuse.
Laura Stepp, while pointing to the inherent difficulties in disciplining offending students in this regard, does not propose any effective solutions to stop this trend. Nevertheless, the essay is successful in portraying the hurt and pain suffered by homosexual pupils through her plain and lucid style of writing. It seems that a broader awareness of what homosexuality entails as well as legislations and policies toward curbing verbal abuse against the group is the way forward. A successful implementation of awareness programs and policy enforcements will help alleviate the existing inequalities in the social experiences of “straight” and “gay” students. There is already some evidence that suggests a more hospitable social atmosphere for homosexuals in the future. For instance, the following passage indicates the kind of impact persistent activism for gay rights can have in the coming years:
“He [Justen] visited West Virginia Gov. Robert Wise’s office asking the governor to convene a task force to investigate harassment. He testified before the legislature on an amendment to the state’s hate crime bill that would have included protection based on sexual orientation. His comments made both Charleston newspapers, including the front page of the Daily Mail.” (Laura Stepp, p.268)
Laura Sessions Stepp, Anti-gay Slurs Common at School – A lesson in Cruelty, Section 2, Reading 34, p.267.