In looking at the state of gay and lesbians teens in 2001, it would be impossible to ignore the surge of high school violence and abuse that has culminated in shoot-outs on campuses from Columbine to Santana High. Tormenting already tormented teenagers with homophobic slurs (which were targeted at Charles Andrew Williams, allegedly responsible for the shooting at California's Santana High in March) is often part of the norm where adolescent cruelty is a life passage. As Kevin Jennings, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, wrote in a 1998 Advocate perspective, "The cycle of violence starts early--in the nursery rhymes kids learn to recite; in the classrooms, where students hear antigay comments 26 times a day on average and where teachers do nothing an astounding 97% of the time." Fortunately, many of the gay teens we talked to are finding their way through these stormy years. Some are even falling in love, breaking up, coming out, and teaching others how to make the world a better place for all teenagers. Here are their stories ...
George Loomis 19 YEARS OLD * FRESNO, CALIF.
A gay teen takes on a school district for failing to protect him from harassment
By Sabrina McIntosh
GEORGE LOOMIS WAS SITTING in his high school Spanish class one day when his teacher commented on his eating. "Only two kinds of men wear earrings, pirates and faggots, and there isn't any water around here," the teacher said. The comment was the start of Loomis's nightmare. Singled out as gay, he was harassed by his fellow students. Worse still, he contends, the administration at his high school in Visalia, Calif., did nothing to stop the harassment. Eventually he was told he would have to leave the school and enter a tutoring program. Suddenly, the former student council member was forced to give up the last months of his senior year and with it his chance to enter his dream school, the University of California, Berkeley, which was looking for' a diploma from a high School and not a special program.
In January, Loomis took action. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. he filed suit against the Visalia Unified School District. Loomis is seeking unspecified damages from the district for failing to stop the harassment, "George was very brave in coming for. ward and putting the Spotlight on not only his school but schools around the country," says Robert Kim, staff attorney with the ACLU in San Francisco, "He is a real catalyst and a hero."
Loomis, 19, now lives in Fresno, just an hour away from Visalia, and is attending California State University, Fresno. His boyfriend, Aaron Jura, has been standing by him as he takes his battle to the courts. The suit and the attendant publicity have taken a toll on Loomis, who has little contact with his family. He is also constantly under threat of physical attack. `I'm still facing harassment from people, even strangers who have heard about the lawsuit," he says, "My car has been vandalized, I've had to move a few times. I've had to quit jobs." Still, he remains upbeat about his case and his own future. The soft-spoken Loomis sat down with The Advocate to discuss his case and the experience of being a gay youth today.
When did you realize you were gay?
I've always known I was gay, but I didn't always act on it, At 6 years old all of my friends were girls. I became more confident with my sexuality as I grew older.
How did you come to terms with it?
I was trained when I was young to think that being gay was wrong and an abomination, but I've come to terms with who I am and to realize that there's nothing wrong with being gay. Being gay is a part of you. It's not accepted by a lot of people. and I've had a lot of struggles with being gay, I've endured a lot of harassment because of it, Through all of it I've remained confident in being gay.
What role models did you turn to while establishing your gay identity? …