Discrimination. Bias. Bywords of the bygone civil rights era, now rendered irrelevant by a new world order? Today, more than two and a quarter centuries into an endeavor purportedly dedicated to equality, yet another group is pushing for its legal rights, long undermined by taboo and misinformation, hatred and miscommunication. Discrimination by sexual orientation permeates all situations, be they social, institutional, or governmental. Schools play host to offensive language, religious groups actively persecute homosexuals, and government policies unfairly treat supposedly equal citizens. There must be an end; we are not bound to tolerate hatred.

At the root of discussion and understanding is language. When considering weighty and controversial topics such as sexuality, the terminology has often become muddled in the public mind. Therefore, it would be prudent to clarify specific terms. Foremost is the term sexual orientation; it is a special case of sexuality. The attraction need not be consummated, nor in any way realized, merely to exist. Since gender is generally binary, it follows that two categories of orientation be postulated: homo- and heterosexuality. The former is attraction to the same sex as oneself, the latter to the opposite sex. Bisexuality is somewhere between the two, implying attraction to both sexes, as follows from the term. The less formal, yet still proper, terminology of gay and lesbian also refers to homosexuality, the former usually to male homosexuals, and the latter to female. Whereas orientation is an attribute of interpersonal relations, self-image is more internal, the manner in which one pictures oneself. Those whose self-images are not consistent with their genetically determined sex are referred to as transsexual. Transsexuality does not especially mean homosexuality, but they are closely enough linked to merit legal grouping together, and therefore enough to merit grouping here (Levy 2001).

The noun terminology homosexual and heterosexual will be used, despite the objections of R. W. Connell, Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In reviewing prior sociological works for his life history analysis “A Very Straight Gay: Masculinity, Homosexual Experience, and the Dynamics of Gender,” Connell determined that “using the term ‘homosexual’ already reifies sexual object choice into a type of human being” (Connell 1992). The objection is reasonable, indeed, not until the seventeenth century was homoeroticism expelled from the legitimate repertoire of dominant groups in the masculine hegemony. Until then, homosexual behavior was, although considered “deviant,” still within the bounds of masculinity (Kinsman 1987). In the elapsed centuries, tolerance has become homophobia.

Unbridled growth of anti-gay sentiments has led to such tragedies as Jamie Nabozny’s school experiences, a series of daily physical and verbal abuses including being urinated on, a mock rape, and kicking until he suffered internal bleeding. The abuse only ended when Nabozny moved away to Minneapolis at age 16. In 1997, Nabozny’s federal lawsuit ended with a $1 million settlement for violation of the equal protection clause of the constitution (Rothman 1997). Even the Littleton and Paducah school shootings may have been partly provoked by pejorative taunts of homosexuality (Jones 2000).

Outside of the education system, discrimination is no less widespread. Among the general public, many homosexuals have come under fire in situations ranging from the 1998 dragging death of college freshman Matthew Shepard, to Reverend Jerry Falwell’s accusations that homosexuals, among others, directly caused the September 2001 World Trade Center and Pentagon attack, to homosexual software developers receiving death threats when working on educational software (Melymuka 2001).

Citing their religious convictions or other moral objections, many independent organizations have instituted policies barring homosexuals from involvement. The most infamous of these is that of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), whose “don't ask, don't tell” policy has infuriated gay rights activists and prompted denial of access to schools and funding cuts by the United Way, among others. Against such a backdrop, the position of the Girl Scouts is amazing: not only does the organization not exclude homosexuals, it encourages acceptance of gay and lesbian couples and other alternative family structures.

Paralleling the position of BSA, the United States military also enforces a “don't ask, don't tell" policy, specifically “that the member has stated that he or she is a homosexual or bisexual,” among other determinations. The Code continues, also including those with “a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts.” The findings of Congress with regards to the law posit that “the presence of homosexuals would create an unacceptable risk to … military capability” (10 USCS § 654b). Despite the claimed “risk” in their military service, the Department of Defense has since determined that discharges served under these provision are to be indefinitely suspended, per the stop-loss order issued as part of the armament following the September 2001 terrorist attacks (Musbach 2001). It is this hypocrisy which has concerned many gay rights advocacy groups, who see it as evidence that the armed forces have no legitimate concern with the ability of homosexuals and are perfectly willing use them, or even that gay military personnel are being used as disposable forces.

In the greater scope of society, looking at the workforce, discrimination runs rampant as well; homosexual workers are unevenly treated by employers. Most telling is that, as of 1987, 18% of Anchorage, Alaska employers reported that they would fire a homosexual, 27% would not hire one, and 26% would not promote one (Badgett 1995). This discrimination has not decreased; “there is a … ‘lavender ceiling’ when it comes to development or promotion” (People Management 1998). The “lavender ceiling” hangs low across fields; discrimination runs deep and fast.

The unclear issues of orientation lie in stark contrast to the clear-cut definitions of sex discrimination. In some cases, sexual orientation discrimination can be shown as sex discrimination. In Goins v. West Group (2000), a case involving bathroom usage by an anatomical male with a female self-image was declared sex bias for discrimination based on sexual stereotypes (Levy 2001). One of many laws in contention is the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA). Developed to stop discriminatory lending practices, the ECOA forbids discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex or marital status, or age. Disputed is whether or not “sex or marital status” includes sexual orientation. The act has been clarified slightly by Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (1989), in which the {United States|US] Supreme Court clearly stated:

"As for the legal relevance of sex stereotyping, we are beyond the day when an employer could evaluate employees by assuming or insisting that they matched the stereotype associated with their groups."

This, combined with Goins v. West Group, seems to set a clear precedent for further cases alleging discrimination under the ECOA, but no more cases have as yet been brought up, so the time has not yet come for the ECOA to see full interpretation vis-a-vis the situation of homosexual borrowers. (Eckert 1998).

Even the ivory towers of justice are not insurmountable, for there, too, the dark shadow lurks. In family law, of custody, adoption, and marriage, the courts show a distinct bias, in spite of standing law, against homosexuals. While the mandated primary determinant of child custody is the child's best interest, “courts … routinely departed from the evidence-based standard in favor of a per se rule of not awarding custody to a lesbian or gay parent,” as describes Jeffrey Gibson, writing for the American Bar Association (ABA). The ABA is acutely aware of the extent of sexual orientation discrimination and accordingly is strongly advocating judicial reform (Gibson 1999).

Transcending the issues of partner benefits, custody, and adoption is the greater issue of the nature of homosexual relationships. Schools, language, wages - everything radiates from how homosexuality are seen by society.

Society’s kaleidoscopic vision presents a hundred-faceted, variegated, amorphous view of homosexuality. Innumerable assailants put alternative sexualities under a steady barrage of torment, yet why have so many for so long denounced them?

Misinformation, be it intentional or accidental, leaves the public misled and susceptible to further manipulation. Building on a muddled base, misconceptions form, bringing people to judge that which they have not understood. Atop the hill of misguided anger stand those actively attacking homosexuality – fundamentalists, crusaders. These crusaders are not King Arthur fighting for all that is Good; they are the crusaders who raped and pillaged Turkey, Lebanon, and Israel under the banner of Christendom. Now as then, a dearth of sound facts, widespread misunderstanding, moral and religious antagonism, and strict taboo undermines freedom.

Many would cite the proven inferiority of homosexuals, primarily that homosexuality is a mental illness, and that it is something that at all responds to “treatment,” as would a disease. In the former part of the twentieth century, sociology classified homosexuality as just that – routinely pigeonholing it as part of the “sociology of deviance.” A typical discussion might consider “alcoholics, mentally disordered persons, stutterers, homosexuals, and systematic check forgers” all as a single class of deviants (Connell 1992).

Today’s science offers no support to such generalizations, instead summarily dismissing the “truths” of the past, now the misconceptions of the present. In 1973, the American Psychological Association (APA) removed homosexuality from its respected list of disorders, and in 1975 went so far as to specifically denounce conflicting claims. Furthermore, the notion of “curing” homosexuality is similarly unfounded, leading the APA to, after research and deliberation, deny the effectiveness of conversion therapy, deciding that it “does more harm than good” (APA 2001). A leading proponent of homosexuality is Exodus International, a non-profit ministry to homosexuals worldwide. The stated objective of the ministry is “Freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ,” which they hope to accomplish through counseling. Their literature continues, describing homosexuality as “one of many disorders that beset fallen mankind,” running directly opposite the body of scientific evidence (Exodus International 2001; APA 2001). Despite all efforts by science, the public is still told that gays are inherently inferior, suffering from some malady.

Without the clear truth, misconceptions are fostered: the meanings of terms, the nature of homosexuality, the taboo of ignorance. Widely extant, notions that homosexuality necessarily entails sexual promiscuity, or any behaviors, further denigrate those among the community who do not subscribe to such socially unacceptable behaviors. These perceptions permeate much of society – the interviewees in Connell's study bemoan how they are seen as purely sexual, while seven of the eight subjects he worked with were involved in long-term, monogamous relationships. Characterized by Alan Andrews, Connell presents the nature of homosexuality’s inception:

"There was a lot of pressure on boys at the age of 16 or 17 to not be virgins, and I was a virgin. So I always thought it would be really good when I meet the right girl. But it happened to be a boy."

This is no rampant deviant behavior – rather, it closely parallels youth for many heterosexuals. Mark Richards’ first homosexual relationship was “a classic boarding-house story,” falling in love with a schoolmate. They are normal (Connell 1992).

Despite the truth, all that society sees in homosexuality is the drag queens and the media's AIDS-infested construct of a subversive group, meddling and threatening the heterosexual world. While it is indeed extra-hegemonic, homosexuality is no threat. It is no demon, no crime, no moral cesspool.

Nevertheless, misconceptions spawn further misconceptions; the intricacies of terminology coupled with incorrect assumptions and generalizations obscure fact. In schools most of all, students hear the terms of homosexuality, but, in the absence of clear guidance, gay can become the most common of pejoratives, and fag can pass by unnoticed. In an article for the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN), veteran educator Alan Horowitz characterized the situation in schools with a succinct episode from one of his first grade classes:

Kelli whined, “Jordan said if you hug your dad it means you’re gay.”
“No, if you hug your dad it doesn’t mean you’re gay,” I responded. Then I listened as I walked away.
“Gay is a bad word,” Kelli scolded.
“No, it’s not,” replied Jordan. “If it was, Mr. Horowitz would have said something.”

The innocent misunderstandings of Kelli and Jordan show the youth misconceptions growing whenever those supervising will not stop them. If similar language and misunderstanding showed up with regards to race, or gender, or any legally protected class, the educator, the parent, the adult would step up and clarify. Speaking anonymously, one sixteen-year-old pansexual expounded, “It’s all about respect; if you can’t say nigger, why can you say fag or dyke?” (Lyon 2001) Only in sexuality, where taboo reigns supreme, will charged language and harsh pejoratives be ignored. On the role of teachers in guiding student behaviors, one New Jersey teacher commented, “I don’t take a side. It’s not my place. I say it’s personal” (Firestone 1994). Others do not know where their limits are; the public is quick to jump on anything connecting homosexuality and schools.

When California’s Grossmont Union High School District held public hearings about the proposed addition of sexual orientation to the district non-discrimination policy, they drew “a thousand people or so, yelling and screaming how this was going to lead to decay and corruption,” as described board president Ted Crooks. However, the Unites States Supreme Court has established that it is within the rights of an educator to discuss homosexuality, or any topic, so long as it “fulfills a legitimate pedagogical objective” (Jones 2000). Without clear guidance, misinformation soon begets misconceptions; taboo forbids correction.

The taboo and public sensitivity with regards to sexual orientation has prevented a strong nationwide net of anti-discrimination laws, leaving homosexuals with inadequate legal protection. In California, long known for its liberal and independent laws, including stringent anti-discriminatory provisions, the same initiative process hailed as the instrument of democracy was used 34 times from 1977 to 1993 to restrict the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual citizens, most often by repealing existing or preventing further laws. Ninety-two percent of civil rights initiatives nationwide in the same period sought to restrict the rights of the minority, leading to the present patchwork protections (Gamble 1997). Uncomfortable with the topic, voters and representatives legislate out protections for homosexuals, for citizens.

At the root of the public distaste for anything connected to homosexuality is morality. Many heterosexuals will, prompted for why they do not practice homosexuality, eventually come down to the feeling that it is just “wrong.” While most will not go so far as to put their basis in religion per se, the Judeo-Christian proscription of homosexuality has laid roots throughout the moral fabric of the United States. Leviticus 18:22 is the biblical root of much religious opposition, seemingly a direct and irrefutable commandment. However, in a series of interviews conducted by the author, homosexual Christians felt that the verse needs to be considered in the historical context, where homosexuality is not extant (Lyon 2001). Taking the opposing side, the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), an organization affiliated with well-known commentator Pat Robertson, tells of one man “ready to give his soul to Satan,” mixing homosexuality and drug use, making little distinction between the two (CBN 2001). Such fire and brimstone fuels anti-homosexual sentiments, while degrading more moderate religious groups.

The general public does not understand homosexuality, so the void is easily filled with scientifically unsound hyperbole. As an area of uncertainty, many simply avoid the issues, sidestepping potential correction in fear of the taboo. Most dangerously, the moral convictions held so dearly form the basis for the most vehement and barbed attacks, when religion steps into the fray. From heated battle, none emerge unscathed.

“I was sitting there, outside the library. Ten boys approached me. One of them kicked the books out of my hands. When I went to pick up my books, he started to kick me. I think I blanked out.”
- Jamie Nabozny, New York Times interview, February 1997

Jamie Nabozny was in ninth grade. The events of that day brought Jamie by ambulance to a hospital for surgery, with internal bruising and profuse bleeding. One might assume that the ten perpetrators were dismissed, or at least suspended, from school. None ever did. When Nabozny came to Assistant Principal Thomas Blauert about the incident, he laughed. Nabozny’s situation is, unfortunately, not unique. Every day, sexual orientation discrimination claims more victims. Students are physically and mentally abused. Workers are unevenly paid and promoted. Families are denied normal loving relationships and child custody.

In Ashland, Wisconsin, where Nabozny lived until fleeing to Minneapolis, Minnesota, the school officials turned a blind eye to his plight; following a mock rape during summer school between seventh and eighth grade, middle school principal Mary Podlesny responded that “boys will be boys,” and that if he was to be openly homosexual he had to “expect that kind of stuff” (Rothman 1997). In the subsequent lawsuit, the United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, held that the district was bound to protect Nabozny and other homosexual students as it would any others, per the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, ruling, “We are unable to garner any rational basis for permitting one student to assault another based on the victim’s sexual orientation” (Nabozny v. Podlesny et al. 1996).

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

The grammar school standby is sadly inaccurate; epithets sink into an unassuming young mind. As the age of orientation declaration, coming out, falls - from 20 to 13 years old from 1979 to 1998 - schoolyard taunts take on a new dimension (Jones 2000). In his guidelines for dealing with homophobia in school, Horowitz classifies usage as definitive, erroneous, or pejorative. Definitive usage is completely proper and well-informed -- the goal. The mistakes of Jordan and Kelli were erroneous and without malice. Without malice, however, is not to say without harm (Horowitz 2001). Taunts arising from similar improper and pejorative usage have been implicated in the Littleton, Colorado and Paducah, Kentucky school shootings, to say nothing of the innumerable victims with painful memories and unhealing wounds (Jones 2000).

Fortunately, not all homosexuals have borne the full pain of homophobic hatred. In the majority of cases, where violence has never shown, language still offends, angers, hurts. Among the respondents to a fairly informal series of surveys and interviews conducted as part of this research, every subject mentioned the effects of language. One bisexual female, never subject to direct verbal abuse, characterized the feelings of many: “I cringe every time I hear it.” No subject felt comfortable with pejorative usage, all hurt. Most concerning was the unknowing usage by children -- “The ones that say things and don’t have any idea about what they are talking about. It almost hurts me more just because it’s sad to see people growing up like that.” Let it never be said that words were harmless.

In 1999, Elizabeth Saewyc of the School of Nursing and Division of Adolescent Medicine at the University of Washington led a groundbreaking analysis of sexual activity and orientation among adolescent women. In the course of their research, Saewyc and her colleagues found that lesbian and bisexual teenagers, having “come out” to family and peers, are often forced out of the home by abuse and rejection. They drop out of school and move onto the streets. As do many homeless teenagers, homosexual adolescents resort to prostitution for survival; in every category considered, a statistically significant portion reported having done so, despite only a 50% response rate on the question, presumably due to fear of reprisal (Saewyc 1999).

As parents’ and teachers’ own fears and prejudices interfere with the education of homosexual youths, gay teenagers struggle with the “male hegemony” resulting from centuries of enforced equation of masculinity with homophobia (Connell 1992). In general, “heterosexual immersion,” heterosexual sexual activity solely for “‘curing’ themselves of their sexual interests,” is the result of identity confusion associated with unsupported and unguided establishment of sexual identity (Saewyc 1999). Performing such acts merely to counterindicate homosexuality is the sad result of taboo. As none will accept alternative lifestyles and variance in orientation, homosexuals themselves doubt their worth, endeavoring to flee the purported evil.

As homosexual teens, for lack of support, turn to risky sexual behaviors, many also struggle in school. In her research, Saewyc analyzed the results of the 1987 Minnesota Adolescent Health Survey, determining that a disproportionate percent of those students older than the usual for their grade level identified themselves as homosexual. Saewyc attributes this statistical abnormality to a higher flunking rate among homosexual students (Saewyc 1999). Unfortunately, there has been no research addressing this aspect in detail, so her explanation is not beyond contest.

Students are primarily hurt by misunderstanding and ignorance, so it might follow that in the more mature workplace discrimination would be less harmful and less prevalent. Again, faulty logic -- with age, bias and hatred only intensify.

Anti-discrimination law rarely includes homosexuals as a protected class, leaving only patchwork provision for cases of sexual orientation discrimination. Most telling in employment is income: gay men earn 11-27% less per annum than their heterosexual counterparts. In her 1995 analysis “The Wage Effects of Sexual Orientation Discrimination,” M. V. Lee Badgett of the University of Maryland expounded on previous surveys, conducting the first study of its kind to adopt the econometric techniques used with race and gender discrimination. Badgett concurred with those preceding her in that gay males earn significantly less and that lesbians earn well more than the national mean., yet she notes that “lesbians and gay men who voluntarily disclose their sexual orientation to employers or coworkers may trade off the risk of diminished career advancement or income loss.” Hence, high-income people are much more likely to disclose, skewing statistics (Badgett 1995). In my own interviews, limited disclosure or nondisclosure was fairly unanimous, so that none experienced discrimination (Lyon 2001). The disparity between males and females is attributed to a greater likelihood of gay behaviors being perceived as such than of lesbian behaviors (involuntary disclosure); the masculine hegemony precludes non-homosexual intimate male-to-male relationships (Connell 1992). Discrimination freely cheats the honest employee in the workplace, instilling fear and restricting income.

While wages are important, career advancement is essential to survival in the working world. Recently, the issue of consistent non-advancement has seen increased attention: “There is definitely a ‘lavender ceiling’ when it comes to choosing people for development or promotion,” playing off of the persistent series of “glass ceiling” characterizations (People Management 1998). Badgett’s study concurred, “Employers…refuse to promote lesbian, gay, or bisexual employees” (Badgett 1995). The lavender ceiling aggravates the independently dangerous problem of wage inequity.

While there are no federal laws, some states and municipalities have enacted laws protecting homosexual workers, i.e., Vermont’s 1992 law prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination (Laabs 1992). Scores of municipalities took action to secure the rights of the homosexual community throughout the 1970s and 1980s, but more recent pushes by various right-wing activist organizations have led to many repeals of gay rights statutes (Gamble 1997).

In addition to wages and advancement, jobs provide benefits for workers and, often, their families, but as homosexuals, many are ineligible for partner benefits as accorded the spouse of a heterosexual worker. This is not as yet illegal in any way, but some governments have taken action to provide partner benefits. Illinois does not have a statewide provision for homosexual unions, so, in 1997, the City of Chicago enacted the controversial Domestic Partnership Ordinance, providing to same-sex partners of unmarried city employees the same benefits provided to spouses of city employees. The criteria are nearly identical to those of marriage, so the ordinance in effect creates a marriage-like class of relationships particular to homosexuality. The similarity prompted Crawford v. City of Chicago, alleging that the city overstepped its jurisdiction in instituting marriage laws, in which a state district court overturned the ordinance (Crawford v. City of Chicago 1999).

The root issue at stake in Crawford v. City of Chicago was the legal nature of homosexual relationships. In custody, adoption, and legal union, homosexuals again feel the pains of discrimination. Another Illinois case, Diehl v. Diehl, illuminates how custody after divorce is complicated -- even decided -- by sexual orientation. The 1991 case was similar to many divorce cases:

Barbara Diehl filed for divorce 14 March 1989 from her husband, Carl Diehl. Their lone child together, Jenny, was less than three years old. Barbara filed for, and received, custody of the child at that time. Following the dissolution, Barbara moved around in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas, occasionally living with a friend, Jennifer Berger. Supported by the testimony of one of his acquaintances, Carl accused Berger and Barbara of engaging in lesbian behaviors, pleading that Jenny is being hurt by the influence of homosexuality. The court did not establish the nature of the relationship between Barbara and Berger, determining that it was of no consequence. However, the court did see fit to remove custody from Barbara and award it to Carl, with visitation only “without Miss Berger being present or any female with whom Miss Diehl may be residing…” (Diehl v. Diehl 1991). The language here is unnecessarily broad, almost indicative of reflexive actions to protect the child from the menace of homosexuality.

A very similar case was brought before the First District Appellate Court of Illinois in 1993. Another marriage case, the husband, Jimmie Pleasant, Jr., appealed the granting of unsupervised visitation to his wife, Sandra Pleasant on the grounds that her openly lesbian behaviors constituted serious endangerment to the child, Jimmie Pleasant III. The post decree court granted his request, removing all rights of unsupervised visitation from Sandra. While the intricacies of the case present many interesting points, suffice to say that the Appellate Court found the lower court’s judgment extremely biased. Specifically, the Honorable Justice Cerda ruled:

We are disturbed by the lower court judge’s numerous homophobic comments. His personal beliefs improperly clouded his judgment. Consequently, for the last four years, a little boy has been deprived of unrestricted visits with his mother.

The frank dismissal of the lower courts’ rulings is atypical in a court of law, accentuating the unacceptability of such bias. While Sandra was returned her original unrestricted visitation, most do not appeal (Pleasant v. Pleasant 1993).

These cases are not the sole instances of such discrimination. In eleven states, explicit or de facto laws prohibit awarding of custody to homosexual parents. Writing on behalf of the American Bar Association, Jeffrey Gibson expressed similar views: “Courts…routinely departed from the evidence-based standard in favor of a per se rule of not awarding custody to a lesbian or gay parent.” The standard to which Gibson refers is the nexus test, by which the child’s best interests are considered, requiring evidence of a clear connection between harm to the child and the parent’s actions before any factor, including sexual orientation, is considered. Only seventeen states, however, use the nexus test, despite a consensus that “there is no evidence … to suggest that parents have a determining influence on the sexual orientation of their children” (Gibson 1999; Tasker and Golombok 1997).

Closely paralleling custody, adoption law often exhibits blatant discrimination against homosexuals. As homosexual couples are bound to have difficulties in having children, adoption is often the most attractive proposition. While either of the parents may adopt without difficulty, many couples wish to both be legal parents of the child, not only for emotional reasons, but also to ensure the legal status of the child upon the death of a partner. These ends are, in some states, accomplished through second parent adoption, in which another legally unrelated person may also become the parent of the child. This sort of arrangement is implemented in fewer than half of the states, while others, including Florida and New Hampshire, categorically prohibit any adoption by homosexuals (Gibson 1999).

Sexual orientation discrimination undermines the integrity of our society. The GLBT community is valuable, even as is the black community, or the Moslem community. Moreover, discrimination hurts the general public: as the child does not learn for all the taunts, tax dollars are wasted. Hate crimes, such as the dragging murder of Matthew Shepard, make citizens uneasy and unsafe. When gays are discriminated against in jury selection, the Constitution is threatened – citizens do not receive “equal protection under the law” (Reichart 2000).

Discrimination bloodies our hands. From schools’ taunts, to the shrinking paycheck, to the loveless child, there is no escape from reality. At every turn, the chimerical demon of bias creeps in – will we ever slay the beast?

Mayhap. Often the road to tolerance has become convoluted – in 1998, Alaska saw the extremity possible in ending the aforementioned gross instances of discrimination.

If twins, one male and one female, both wanted to marry a woman and otherwise met all the Code’s requirements, only gender prevents the twin sister from marrying under the current law. Sex-based classification could hardly be more obvious.
- Alaska Superior Court (Brause v. Alaska 1998)

In Brause v. Alaska, the Superior Court took great liberties in its interpretation and logic, so it bears to reason that no other states have adopted the logical acrobatics seen here. Nevertheless, every country, state, and municipality is now facing the specter of sexual orientation discrimination and must chart its own course, a course that fits each community, and will fit no other. Aiming to secure concrete rights for gays and lesbians, advocacy groups across classification are conducting ongoing campaigns to teach tolerance and understanding in the face of an often homophobic society. Among these are the Lambda Legal Defense Fund (LLDF), the Gay and Lesbian Student Education Network (GLSEN), Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (P-FLAG), and more than 600 Gay-Straight Alliances in schools nationwide (Jones 2000). Also striving for an end to misinformation and ignorant hatred, some school districts have developed sexuality education programs, working with existing curricula to instill tolerance. In the most firm, yet still insufficient, response to discrimination, legal protections have struggled through each of the three limbs of government, in the form of executive orders, court interpretations, and, most importantly, legislation. Unfortunately, although each endeavor has shown promise, none has sufficiently addressed the mounting problem of sexual orientation discrimination.

The homosexual community, striving for equality, has organized various awareness campaigns. GLSEN’s work in coordinating, supporting, and protecting students in the often homophobic circumstances of school was instrumental in helping high school students organize in opposition to homophobia. Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) have, in the past few years, multiplied sixfold to more than six hundred in 1999. The LLDF protects homosexuals in courtrooms, fighting for legal protections – both the Diehl and Pleasant custody cases retained LLDF lawyers as amici, serving in its common role in supporting with legal advice. The more generalized purposes of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) include protection for sexual orientation cases. Support is not the limit of advocacy organizations; the “pride” movement throughout the last quarter of the twentieth century brought with it a plethora of support groups specifically targeted at the homosexual community.

Crippled by internal dispute and public generalization, grassroots awareness has failed to sufficiently reduce sexual orientation discrimination. Solutions must address the core problem of widespread misapprehension -- schools provide a possible outlet. Termed sexuality education, often schools expand existing sex education or health programs to include discussion of homosexuality. New Jersey's work in implementing such a program was analyzed by William A. Firestone, director of the Center for Educational Policy Analysis at Rutgers University. Firestone found that, of 506 responding family life education teachers in public schools, only 38% covered sexual orientation. Even fewer -- nine percent -- of elementary school teachers cover orientation, effectively guaranteeing that students will be raised without being corrected in their misconceptions. Fewer than a quarter of elementary educators felt free to discuss a wide variety of topics with their students, leaving tolerance by the wayside. Some teachers are uncomfortable, feeling "that their objective was to provide facts more than to deal with feelings." Indeed, more than two thirds saw pure fact provision as their primary objective. Hard facts can wield power, yet, for the young, teachers must take an active role in teaching tolerance and equity, for otherwise all will further be hurt (Firestone 1994).

External pressures from parents compound the difficulties in education; in many cases forcing districts to revise curricula. One suburban district acts cautiously, "I don't want to put any red flags in front of the committee's eyes," summarized the district's supervisor. Another is slipping in sexuality education under the innocuous name "Health 9." Be it successful or not, covert education is no solution (Firestone 1994). As it stands, society is absolutely unbending in resisting sexuality education.

The most change has come from the most flexible part of government: the courts. Charged with interpretation of legislative and executive work, various state and federal courts are testing how to best work with the operative laws, such as the ECOA and the Constitution's Equal Protection clause. In Brause v. Alaska, logical gymnastics led to a strong reinterpretation. Rulings in Adoption of Evan, Pleasant v. Pleasant, Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, and Goins v. West Group have all established the rights of homosexuals in business and in family life. Nevertheless, many never go to court, as they are shamed by society into submission.

Courtrooms are not the extent of pro-rights rulings – On 23 June 2001, President George W. Bush signed Executive Order No. 13160, forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in “Federally conducted education and training activities” (Executive Order No. 13160). While alone the order is somewhat insignificant, it may serve as a model for future decisions.

Least willing to support rights for homosexuals are legislators nationwide, perhaps because their positions are considerably more tenuous. The “pink revolution” brought anti-discrimination laws to the floor and into law, but now legislators and voters are slowly repealing twenty-five years of progress (Gamble 1997). Laws are not invulnerable; public opinion, swayed by propaganda, will quickly turn an initiative or a congressman. Without the concrete approval of legislation, sexual orientation discrimination will continue to threaten our freedom.

All solutions have failed. This is not for lack of effort, for lack of passion, for lack of support. Every solution was concentrated, attacking from its own corner. The Homo erectus had no chance alone to take down a mammoth. Rather, a stratagem is needed.

The weaknesses of each complements the strengths of the others. Together, weakness and strength combine to greater than the sum of the parts, providing support, legal protection, and tolerance. Some measure of sexuality education should be implemented, but not in the style that was tried in New Jersey and elsewhere. There, focus was on the health risks and the existence of homosexuality. While this sort of knowledge is useful, it bears no comparison to teaching tolerance. Tolerance and understanding of homosexuality must be given equal standing as ethnicity, race, gender and the countless attributes about which Americans pride themselves on being tolerant. With understanding and open minds, gays and lesbians may proudly bear themselves, not bowing to violence and hate. Even religion’s opposition may change if the believers see that homosexuals are “just folks,” as mused one of Connell’s subjects. Once the mindset can be softened to allow for it, legislation will bolster homosexuals’ right to have rights.

Love. Heterosexuals may love, marry, have children, keep their children. Discrimination is about taking away love, snatching life, leaving pain. Often perpetrators do not see their hatred; others see their own as morality. Most of all, let the fight continue, so that so many may no longer be silently cheated: out of mind, out of wealth, out of love.

Works Cited

  • Adoption of Evan. 48 Mass. App. Ct. 1118; 723 N.E. 2d 48. 7 February 2000.
  • American Psychological Association. “Answers to your question about sexual orientation and homosexuality.” 2001. American Psychological Association. 16 September 2001 <http://www.apa.org/pubinfo/orient.html>
  • Badgett, M. V. Lee. “The wage effects of sexual orientation discrimination.” July 1995. Industrial and Labor Relations Review.
  • Bush, George W. Executive Order No. 13160. 23 June 2001.
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