Rights protest grows at high school

Two students object to girls' suspension after kiss

November 12, 2003|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

A civil rights demonstration that started Nov. 5 with two heterosexual girls kissing in the River Hill High School cafeteria, an act that earned each a two-day suspension, spilled into this week when two other students held a protest yesterday outside the Clarksville school.

Sixteen-year-old juniors Mia Freyer and Anna Boyland - carrying signs that read "Down with homophobia!" and "Don't hate or discriminate!" - stood along Route 108 to fight prejudice and the disciplinary action taken against their friends. They received instant feedback from motorists, who alternately gave them the thumbs-up or an obscene gesture.

"If people can make out in the hallway and teachers turn a blind eye to it, why should two girls get punished for it?" asked Boyland, who said she's heterosexual. She added that she has seen a clear bias in the school against homosexual and bisexual students - she says they face frequent bullying - and prejudice against those perceived to be either.

River Hill Principal Scott Pfeifer said he didn't realize there was a problem, but that often the administration is the last to know.

"The students have a level of knowledge that doesn't always coincide with the level of knowledge staff has," Pfeifer said to Freyer and Boyland in a meeting he requested yesterday after their 2 p.m. protest.

"Four out of five [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] students hear homophobic remarks ... every day," said Joshua Lamont, spokesman for the national Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

"What's particularly frightening is that 82 percent report that when a teacher or faculty member is in the room, they never or rarely intervene," Lamont added. "If a student stood up and used the `N-word' in a classroom, I doubt that 82 percent of teachers would not respond."

Freyer, who said she's straight, said she hears the derogatory terms all the time - largely because she stands up for the rights of those with sexual orientations other than heterosexual - and has rarely, if ever, seen school staff step in.

"That's an area we recognize we need to do more professional development in," said Eileen Woodbury, who promotes equity in the Howard County school system. "A lot of times I think teachers are not going to intervene if they're concerned that what they're going to do is escalate the situation. These are controversial kinds of issues."

The suspended teens - senior Katherine Pecore, who earned a perfect 1600 on her SAT, and Stephanie Haaser, a junior with a 3.88 grade point average - caused a fuss last week when Haaser decided to complete her English class requirement to perform a nonconformist act.

"The project itself was really just the catalyst for my actions. I probably would have done it anyway," said Haaser, who stood atop a lunch table, shouted, "End homophobia now!" and kissed Pecore.

"I couldn't tell you how long it was, my adrenaline was pumping. I couldn't really believe I'd done it," said Haaser, whose guidance counselor told her she will probably be denied access to the National Honor Society because of the suspension.

"The reaction was very intense from all corners," she added. "I lost a few friends over what I stood for, either because they're religious or have very strong views, and for that I'm sorry. But I had to do what I felt I needed to do. I don't regret it, even after the disciplinary action."

The girls said they were suspended from school Thursday and Friday for disrupting the last period of the day, and not for the same-sex public display of affection.

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