Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

November 23, 2003

River Hill kiss: Many missed the point

As one of the two instigators of the recent gay-rights controversy at River Hill High School in Clarksville, Maryland, I feel the need to debunk some rumors and media fabrications I have heard regarding the motives behind the tabletop kiss and the nature of the disciplinary action against us. Most importantly, I want to ensure that the underlying message that Stephanie Haaser and I sought to communicate does not get lost in the sensational nature of the act itself.

The idea for our little demonstration came about when Stephanie was assigned an English project on nonconformity. While most of her classmates opted for minor, inoffensive deviations, Steffi asked me to help her stage a Thoreau-esque act of civil disobedience to protest the rampant homophobia here at River Hill. Both of us have gay friends, many of whom are afraid to come out because of the inevitable hostility and harassment leveled at those who express alternative sexual orientations. As anyone might conclude from the cruel slurs thrown about in the hallways and the casual use of "gay" in the derogatory, homosexuals are not welcome here.

Thus the kiss in the cafeteria stemmed entirely from our desire to support the gay community and to encourage those still in the closet to come forth.

Contrary to popular opinion, it was neither a cheap ploy for attention a `la Britney and Madonna (as Fox 45 News seemed to suggest), nor was it an act of affection. The fact that Stephanie and I are both heterosexual, in tandem with the act itself, demonstrates our deep commitment to an issue that does not directly affect us but permeates the social environment around us.

Sexual orientation seems to be the last unconquered frontier of discrimination, the one remaining area in which hatred toward a minority typically goes unchallenged. Most disturbing to me is the fact that the River Hill faculty typically turn a blind eye to this form of prejudice, thus implying that it is somehow more acceptable than, say, racism. It is not. I have no doubt that any student heard uttering the notorious "n-word" in reference to a black person would face severe consequences, and rightfully so. Why then, do we condone the use of the "f-word" in reference to gays? I find it ironic that we were suspended for "disrupting" the functioning of the school by "creating a scene" in the lunchroom (which is plenty rambunctious to begin with), while students yelling "faggot" in class or in the hallways apparently do not constitute enough of a threat to a safe and inclusive learning environment to warrant any sort of reprimand at all.

Students and administration alike were shocked by the events of Nov. 5, as Stephanie and I intended them to be. The two-day suspension we received as a result of our "performance" was no great hardship for either of us; it is nothing compared to the alienation and ostracization experienced by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students everywhere. Yet the media has consistently and wrongly focused on our punishment as the central injustice here, when what really needs addressing is the broader issue of discrimination in the school community.

Many of the news reports featuring the River Hill kiss controversy, with the possible exception of The Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun, have done little justice to our cause. Continuing to allow ourselves to be exploited in the public eye as a couple of sexy "lesbos" will accomplish nothing. On the contrary, it will most likely garner resentment and disgust from the very people we are trying to enlighten.

So while I hope that the media hype will die down shortly, I will continue to fight for this cause on behalf of the gay community. My friends and I are taking steps to organize another peaceful protest, write letters to newspapers and spread the message of tolerance. It would be naive to suggest that this prejudice will ever be fully eradicated, or that our close-minded detractors can all be won over. But I sincerely hope that a few years down the line, people will look back on this controversial same-sex kiss as the radical but necessary kick-start of a more prolonged, deliberative movement to bring about change.

Katherine Pecore


River Hill High School Class of 2004

Schools must deal with homophobia

I want to thank all the students at River Hill High School who spoke out and demonstrated against homophobia. If this issue is not addressed in our schools, we send a message to every student - gay or straight - that gay people are not first-class citizens. We do this with no other group, and as long as the Howard County school system considers this topic "too controversial" to deal with, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students stay cowering in the closet.

School must be a safe place for all students.

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