Survey results from L.A. High
Resources for gay and lesbian teens

By Julissa Espinoza, 18, L.A. High School
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I was so embarrassed when my school’s dance team performed at an assembly. Everyone pointed at the two gay guys on the team. All the guys started laughing hysterically and yelling, "Faggots, get off the stage!" Even some of my own friends were laughing. What was so funny? These two guys were very good dancers, even better than some girls. I yelled out, "SHUT UP! That’s not funny—it’s rude. It’s wrong!"

Most of them ignored me and some told me to shut up. That’s the typical ignorant and pathetic attitude of my classmates toward gays. When Gustavo Soc, our former student body president, would make announcements over the P.A. during homeroom, almost everyone in my class would say, "Man, that guy sounds gay!" and laugh.

At Los Angeles High School, 49 students responded to an L.A. Youth survey on prejudice against gay and lesbian students, and their comments show that my school has a pretty serious problem with homophobia.

So what is L.A. High doing about it? It seems to me that no one is doing anything about this attitude. Sure, there’s Project 10, a support group for gay and lesbian students, but you never hear anything about it. There’s a Gay and Straight Alliance, but I didn’t even know about it until I started researching this article.

History teacher Mrs. Minster, a Project 10 sponsor, complained about the difficulty of doing outreach about homophobia. She said many teachers are reluctant to post signs about Project 10 in their classrooms, and new district rules have made it hard for her to raise money for outreach materials. "I even try to bring the issue up in my classes but it is very difficult for me to present it because it’s a very serious topic. We have tried to come up with ideas on how to make the students more aware of this topic by maybe getting videos and handing them down to English and history teachers."

Teachers need to be educated

Mrs. Minster added, "Teachers need to be educated but we don’t have the means necessary to do so. Many teachers are gay but aren’t open about it. And others don’t have gay or lesbian friends so the issue won’t hit them as much. In this school we have a lot of teachers who are very homophobic. The principal does not address this issue."

L.A. High student Erika Graham said, "Certain teachers criticize students because of their sexuality. If they walk or talk a certain way, they automatically assume that you’re gay or lesbian."

Esbaldo Contreras, an openly gay L.A. High student, said he has gotten mixed reactions at school. He said, "Some people are just scared and some people understand and they don’t care. There are some guys that don’t care as long as I don’t try anything on them. There are some people who are ignorant and make stupid comments. I know there are people who don’t mind and they respect what I do, it’s my preference. A lot of people respect me and a lot of people don’t."

Teachers address homophobia inconsistently

"At L.A. High, when teachers hear anti-gay slurs or harassment, it seems like every teacher has their own policy because they may intervene but don’t report it unless I want them to report it," said Contreras, adding, "There’s ignorance everywhere."

Does the principal address the problem of homophobia? "I’ve never heard him comment on sexual orientation," said senior Stania Wright.

In response, Principal Dr. Earl Barner said, "I don’t know what they mean by not addressing the issue. There are many programs here in our school the students could get involved in like Project 10, the Teen Clinic and Impact. We also announce it over the P.A. about the Project 10, not recently but I have heard it. We have daily base services available. But it’s not my responsibility to encourage the students to get involved."

Dr. Barner added that L.A. High does not allow discrimination of any kind. "There is no discrimination against students’ beliefs. There is a bulletin given to the employees at the beginning of their jobs where it explains that there will be no discrimination against anybody no matter what."

Gustavo, one of the most well known gay students at L.A. High, told me he had gotten a lot of support from teachers and the administration. "L.A. High is a more tolerant school than many other schools I’ve been to. It’s a better place than other schools because we have programs which students can join but it’s up to them. There is some slurs and harassment but not as much but I’m speaking for myself. Some of my friends have been more harassed than me." Gustavo, who graduated in June, now attends UC Davis.

Dr. Barner said "Gustavo Soc, he is a perfect example that there is no discrimination because he was very active around school and excelled and he was also openly gay."

Art teacher Herb Williams said he remembered a gay student who had left the school. But Dr. Barner said the school made special arrangements to help him fit in. "We were concerned about the rest rooms because he was in the process of being a female. So we allowed him or her to use the Teen Clinic rest room so he wouldn’t get harassed. Also we allowed him to skip P.E. class so he or she won’t get ridiculed."

Is L.A. High safe for gay and lesbian students?

Gustavo said, "I feel L.A. High is not safe, because you get harassed. It’s getting better—a little."

Dr. Barner said, "It seems safe for anybody." If there has been harassment, no one has brought it to his attention, he said.

Gail Rolf, who coordinates all the Project 10 clubs throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District, said that L.A. High is pretty typical when it comes to attitudes toward gay and lesbian students.

She said that with the help of programs like Project 10 and the annual Models of Pride Conference, more gay and lesbian students are graduating, and the suicide rate has been reduced. "But we still lose some kids. It’s not a perfect program, but it’s something."

She said that far too few students get educated about homophobia. She described outreach to students as "woefully lacking" and "shameful." "We are working to change that," she said. But there are many obstacles. Many teachers are unwilling to take on the extra burden of sponsoring Project 10—which is why it doesn’t exist at some district high schools.

"Educating is the way to go—how else are we going to get this issue across?" She added that it is up to school administrators to make it happen. Rolf stressed that teachers also have a responsibility to set aside anti-gay ideas. "All students need equality and respect."

Rolf recommended student panels and classroom discussions as the most effective ways to reach students. "Dialogues are very important. We need to confront it. We need to stop defending our homophobia."

L.A. High graduate Christy Buena contributed to this article.