I love words. I always have. The power that they hold is immeasurable. We have all had that moment when reading or hearing what seemed to be the most perfectly crafted string of syllables and all of the sudden this feeling of… well I am not quite sure how to explain it, but it’s there, and it overflows you. And you see that’s the thing about words, with all that power they still fail you at the most inopportune times; or even worse that power can be used as a tool for hate.
Let me set the scene. You are sitting in your high school cafeteria reading through the most current issue of the school newspaper. Football score, check. Ad campaigns for student body president, check. Article about Mr. Science Teacher winning “awesome” science award, check. Opinion piece on why you as a queer identified individual are not normal and should be punished by death, check??
That scenario could have actually been the reality for a student attending East High in Wichita, Kansas. The school paper printed the opinion of a student that attends East High that included citation of Bible verses advocating violence towards homosexuals. District officials, the faculty advisor, and student editors believe it is free speech and is therefore protected by the First Amendment. But let me ask you a question, how safe would you feel knowing that daily you walk the halls with someone who hates a part of who you are enough to believe you deserve to die because of it?
Growing up comes with its own laundry list challenges; not feeling safe in your own school should not be one of them. To allow this type of hate speech to be circulated in the school newspaper in the present climate of school bullying spits in the face of progress. On a positive note, I am not the only one that believes that. A petition gained more than 1,140 signatures of individuals that believed that East High should “take steps to address damages that this article may have caused.” In the face of all the adversity, East High still sticks to the belief that the column deserved to be printed and that “the views of one person do not necessarily represent the school or district position.” The thing I believe East High is failing to account for is the devastating effect of allowing. Allowing sends the message to every teacher and student that such hatred will be overlooked, and I don’t know about you, but I am pretty tired of blatant homophobia being overlooked.