unedited Tahoe Mt.News November story
By Kathryn Reed
South Tahoe High senior Alex Boyar can rattle off a lengthy list of discriminatory incidents he has had to endure. At homecoming it was a fellow male student grinding against him while other boys laughed. Boyar pushed the kid away. The group joked that their friend got rejected.
Boyar is openly gay.
Being gay even in 2007 isn’t easy. Being a teenager has never been easy. Living in a small town makes it like being in the proverbial fish bowl. Throw all this together and it can make for some unsettling times.
“It’s part of my everyday life,” Boyar said of the verbal abuse. “I get to school, walk through the main circle where there are groups of boys. Usually one will yell out ‘Oh baby, you’re so hot. Will you date me? Or f--- me?’”
Boyar isn’t the only one to endure discrimination. His friend Ethan Niven has heard his share of anti-gay epithets. Niven is heterosexual. He dances and has been in theater much of his life – stereotypical gay interests that other students mock.
“The physical stuff has not been really bad. Mostly it’s taunts and name calling,” said Niven, a senior. People have confused Niven and Boyar – they are about the same height and weight.
It did get physical last month. Niven was walking to the theater to work on the “Tap Kids” performance at about 5:45 p.m. when Viking football players stopped throwing snowballs at each other and started aiming for Niven.
“One said ‘Look at the faggot, the gay kid,’” Niven said. “I was upset about it. I wanted the kids to understand that just because someone is different, acts different or looks different it doesn’t mean they are.”
Teacher Bridey Heidel is the advisor for Ally, the gay-straight alliance now in its third year at STHS. At the beginning of the school year she addressed her peers about what the state Education Code says in regards to discrimination and tolerance. Sexual orientation and gender identity are protected. The California Penal Code says crimes against these groups are hate crimes.
Heidel shared a survey taken a year ago that shows one-third of local students in grades 7, 9 and 11 felt harassed in the previous 12 months.
Then she talked about a letter from a current student.
In part the student wrote, “One incident during class that was especially scary happened when I was sitting with a friend and the boys behind us had been calling me fag, homo (and the list goes on) for the entire year. For the most part I had ignored it, but when I told the teacher – who promised immediate punishment for the boys – all they received, to my knowledge, was a slap on the wrist. I was upset, but not enough to risk being bashed. Then one day I left to use the restroom and these same boys surrounded my friend (in class), berating her and telling her that she was going to be in big trouble if she kept being a 'fag hag’. After that they told her that nothing would bring them more joy than to see me dead. They promised that they would 'erase' me very soon.”
Principal Ivone Larson says tolerance is the issue – that there needs to be more of it no matter the subgroup.
“Our goal is not always punishment as it is re-education,” Larson said of students caught acting inappropriately.
Heidel said race and religion have regularly been addressed, but it wasn’t until the last couple of years that students were pulled aside for using offensive words for homosexuals.
“Kids were surprised they are not acceptable,” Heidel. “I don’t think kids see the severity of saying ‘fag’.”
Football players were caught in a second incident on Oct. 10 involving Boyar.
“One of the football players was mimicking Alex’s walk. They were watching him and talking,” Heidel said. She got out of her car, introduced herself and asked what they were up to. “I told them their actions were a little threatening and that on school property he is protected.”
Cameras captured a snowball thrower on tape from the week before. The school doesn’t have to release the names of students who were punished over the Boyar-Niven incidents. Larson would only say a few students were “dealt with.”
Virginia Boyar, Alex’s mom, is satisfied with what the administration has done – as are the two boys who’ve been harassed.
“What concerned me about this is if you don’t nip these things in the bud and get people accountable, what’s the next thing that’s going to happen?” Virginia Boyar said. And she wondered what Matthew Shepard, the University of Wyoming student who was brutally murdered nine years ago because he was gay, had to deal with in high school.