The House of Commons in Great Britain passed a bill regarding gay marriage on the count of 400 votes to 175 at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb 5.
As the highest court in the land listened to debate concerning the legality of the Defense of Marriage Act, students are debating its merits as well. Some students here wonder what they can do to bring such opinions to light.
“I think it should be a state decision. It doesn’t cross federal lines,” junior Josh Baumer said. “The people in each state, I think depending on how liberal or conservative you are — it’s what each state individually believes. It could even go smaller, like regionally or by counties.”
But some students say a federal ruling is important. Gay Straight Alliance, a club at RBHS, has the goal of “promoting tolerance and accepting one’s environment“. Students such as Mary Arnold, a member of GSA, have felt the scorn of other people’s beliefs concerning homosexuality.
“I had to change gym classes four times eighth grade year because the girls thought that I was going to like rape them or something,” Arnold said.
The repercussions of the attacks on gay teens resonate not only with bullied students but also can cause emotional trauma for their friends. Junior Claire Bryan said she has endured the hardship of having a close friend bullied because of her sexuality.
“I had a friend freshman year that almost killed herself because she kept being called a f****t every day at school,” Bryan said, “but she’s still around now, and I’m pretty sure her parents moved so that she could go to a different school. She was my best friend.”
In recent years, Bryan says she has seen some uplifting changes in the way people react to learning of a peer’s sexual preference, and she sees this attitude reflected in state laws, as well. In Illinois in 1962 the issue of gay marriage came to political and judicial stage. Now nine of the 50 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage. Maryland was the most recent.
“There are positive things, like you have more states legalize equal marriage,” Bryan said, “but that puts it into more light, which makes the best come out and the worst come out due to that.”
In fact, the Pew Research Center reports this month there are slightly more people saying they support same-sex marriage than there are those who say they are opposed to it.
“If they’re open about their sexuality, and they aren’t straight,” Arnold said, “they are going to be called names and get judged whether they know it or not because it’s a norm in our society, unfortunately.”
However, GSA club sponsor Stephanie Harman, who is on maternity leave, said in the recent past it has become easier to have this discourse.
“It’s just a conversation that more and more people are having, and more people are comfortable with it,” Harman said, “which affects how students are willing to talk about it.”
Students say they have less difficulty in talking to others about their sexuality because of the friendships they form with their peers. Opening up to someone you can trust makes it easier to talk about in a larger crowd.
“When you’re talking about a friend or a sister, that changes the game a lot,” Harman says. “Everybody had to be so in the closet that you didn’t know what they really thought. Now, everybody’s having that conversation now, and almost everyone knows someone who is gay, lesbian or bisexual now.”
Conversations open up through outlets such as mainstream media and social media that push forward the ability to talk about homosexuality in an easier fashion through sheer numbers of people opening up to other ideas. However, people also see groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church on television shouting about homosexuality being wrong and sinful.
“I think it’s not about the amount of judgment that’s being thrown around; it’s the awareness of diversity in our community,” Arnold said. “Recently there’s a big uproar, and it’s a current topic … it’s on people’s minds. More news is happening about it; therefore, it’s thought upon more with both the positive and negative aspects of that. I think everyone is entitled to their own opinion. People like [the Westboro Baptist Church] are just rude and inconsiderate about it.”[pullquote align=”right”]“I had to change gym classes four times eighth grade year because the girls thought that I was going to like rape them or something.” -junior Mary Arnold[/pullquote] Bryan said Westboro Baptist has the right to speak, thanks to the First Amendment of the Constitution. He said all people should have the ability to speak their minds and wants to adhere to that right despite the oppositional statements made by organizations such as the Westboro Baptist Church.
“If you try to stop anything [the Westboro Baptist Church] does, there’s just a bunch of issues with freedom of speech,” Bryan said. “I actually watched a documentary about them recently. It’s really interesting to see their point of view, but I do not agree with what they do and don’t like what they do, but it’s interesting how they got their point of view.”
Students also say they realize the attitudes espoused by Westboro Baptist are in the minority. For instance, Christian organizations such as the Gay Christian Network support those who are gay or lesbian by sharing God’s love and serve LGBTs and those who care about them. Minister Alan Chambers of Exodus International spoke out on actions of other churches in one of his sermons.
“I pray [homosexuals] don’t feel alone anymore. I feel like we make it bigger than it is,” Chambers said. “I hope that God can brand into you that you are certainly not alone. Sometimes there is no greater thing that someone can do than just be there with someone and showing up.”
To hear the full sermon and following podcasts, go to Exodus international’s website.
Members of GSA, such as Bryan, weigh the rhetoric of various Christian groups to formulate opinions on what they believe about LGBT students.
“I think that a lot of Christians are being more open to the idea that homosexuality is OK,” Bryan said. “I think a lot of denominations are anti-gay as well though, so I think [Westboro Baptist Church] does reflect a lot of Christian views; they just take it to a more out-there level.”
Students aren’t looking just at possible changes in the law and at church positions. For instance, civic, faith-based and educational organizations operate the Boy Scouts of America, which has proposed a new policy allowing local sponsoring groups to make their own decisions about the stance their troops take on accepting gay Scouts.
Senior Bobby Backus, an Eagle Scout, which is a rank earned by approximately five percent of Boy Scouts, said being a Scout is about having fun and helping others and not about being intimate with one another.
“I believe homosexuality is a personal choice,” Backus said. “Although I am not 100 percent sure whether homosexuality is wrong or not, I am sure preteens shouldn’t have to worry about that decision at such a young age. If a boy becomes intimate with another boy, and one is asking the other to stop, then it should stop.”
He said if the original idea of scouting stays intact, then he could agree that it is fine for the national organization to change their policy.
Although students can oppose Christianity because of extremist groups, they still understand where these groups are coming from and think these organizations only want to have publicity to their name.
“They put themselves in the light, but I think that’s because they want people to pay attention to what they are saying,” Bryan says. “So, I think they have a lot of extreme views about other things, but they focus on that because it gets them the most attention.”[pullquote align=”right”]“I think that’s one of the great things about Rock Bridge … that you can kind of be who you are, and people let you because they are being who they are.”—Stephanie Harman, Gay-Straight Alliance sponsor[/pullquote]Harman tries to enlighten her club members that these are extreme situations and not to give any response to the actions of organizations such as Westboro Baptist Church.
“One of the things we talked about is one of the things they want is that reaction, and the best thing we can do is not give them a reaction,” Harman says, “Because the more reaction they get, the more publicity they get and then that starts to make them look legitimate, and I don’t think they are.”
Although Harman realizes prejudices exist, she thinks the environment of Rock Bridge High School allows these not to be as prevalent as they would be in other places.
“I don’t think I’ve had anyone experience anything too negative here,” Harman says. “I think that’s one of the great things about Rock Bridge … that you can kind of be who you are, and people let you because they are being who they are.”
Though the thought of Christianity being a leader in the prejudice against LGBTs may cross Harman’s mind, she said these things occur only in extreme cases and are unlikely to happen in real life.
“I think [the Westboro Baptist church] is so far outside the norm. I mean if you walk down the street and talk to an everyday person, chances of meeting someone who maybe holds that opinion, yes,” Harman says, “But are they going to be rude about it and get in your face? I feel like the chances of that are very slim, and for a group to take it to that extreme is way outside of the norm, and that’s good.”
By Justin Sutherland