I came across this article on the Fairfax County, VA schools this past
I feel it reflects the level of tolerance in many of our schools for both
harassment of gays and harassment with homophobic overtones. In my
post I alluded to the lawsuits filed by students based on "deliberate
indifference"; this article represents such a lawsuit waiting to happen.
many of our schools tolerate this type of biased behavior. The students
have filed the lawsuits are finding their support outside the school
community. The challenge posed in this dialogue revolves around
building that support from within our schools. And it is a challenge when
such indifference is reinforced by administrative decisions and unwritten
policy reflected below.
Washington Post, July 5, 2000
1150 15th Street NW, Washington, DC, 20071
( Online Mailer:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/edit/letters/letterform.htm ) <<< for
Gays Share Grievances at Hearing
By William Branigin, Washington Post Staff Writer
For Robert Rigby, one of the main attractions of teaching at Glasgow
Middle School in Alexandria was its diversity. He saw students of various
races, representing more than 60 countries and speaking at least 30
languages, attending classes together with little sign of ethnic, racial or
But when it came to another minority, one that includes him, the
37-year-old teacher said he soon found himself immersed in "an atmosphere
fear and silence" that failed to prevent -- and even tolerated --
Rigby, who is gay, became so concerned last March about a gay student
who appeared to be depressed because of daily taunting that he tried to set
up an after-school staff meeting to discuss harassment. The effort, he
said, drew a reprimand and threats of dismissal from Principal G.J. Tarazi,
an allegation that the principal denied.
According to Rigby, who specializes in teaching children with
disabilities, "gay" is a dirty word in Fairfax County schools, and even
discussing anti-gay harassment is taboo.
He made his comments at a public hearing Monday of the Fairfax County
Civil Service Commission, where he spoke in support of an amendment to
standards of conduct governing county employees. The amendment, which the
Board of Supervisors adopted in May, adds sexual orientation to a list of
traits -- covering age, color, disability, marital status, national origin,
race, religion and sex -- that county employees are prohibited from
disparaging in dealings with co-workers and customers.
Rigby, who joined Fairfax County public schools last year after
in Richmond and New Hampshire, said many gay teachers are frightened to
speak out about sexual orientation at work.
"It's a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy," he said. "The teachers can
gay if they don't say so," and there is an unwritten rule "that you don't
speak about incidents of harassment."
"For students, it's a much worse situation," Rigby said. "You don't
hear a lot of ethnic, religious or racial insults. They're dealt with
swiftly by the staff, and kids generally don't make them. What you do hear
is 'queer' and 'fag' and 'dyke.'"
Glasgow Principal Tarazi said he and his teachers work "very hard to
avoid any kind of prejudice on all different levels, including sexual
But it is a continuing effort, he said.
"I'm sure that in every middle school, you will find kids that are
with each other, but we try to correct it," he added. "I'm not saying
perfect. We do have room to grow."
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