Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hope for the Future: Articulate Young People Challenge Homophobia

This story is certainly making the rounds of the internet in the past several days: a 14-year old gay teen, Graeme Taylor, recently defended his teacher Jay McDowell at a school board meeting in Michigan held to discuss the teacher's suspension by local school officials.  McDowell was accused of not respecting the religious views of two students who spoke out in his class against gays and lesbians, one of them wearing a Confederate flag belt-buckle as he did so.  

Alternet is carrying two postings about the story now, one by Alvin McEwen and the other by Julianne Escobedo Shepherd.  HuffPo also has a summary of the story today, and Mary Elizabeth Williams commented on it at Salon yesterday.  I'm struck, in particular, by Williams's observation that the way in which this story (and a video clip of young Graeme Taylor speaking) has gone viral illustrates the power of online technology to transform public opinion.  I'm struck by the hope Williams sees here.

Graeme Taylor's articulate, well-reasoned, and informed defense of his teacher puts the lie to many of the malicious distortions of members of the religious right who continue to insist that teens cannot know that they are gay, and that all teens who imagine they are gay have been recruited and are being manipulated by selfish politicized adult gays--a topic I discussed recently here, when I described what happened to me at America magazine's "In All Things" blog after I challenged such assertions by a Catholic writer named John Stangle.

As in the case of a young man in my own state of Arkansas, Will Phillips (and here), Graeme Taylor's quiet passion and intelligence give me hope for the future.  When voices like these can be heard around the world through online technologies, and can manage to have a hearing amidst the strident cacophony of "faith-based" lies targeting gay and lesbian folks, there is reason to believe that the next generation will find more humane ways to deal with questions of sexual orientation than my generation has found.

I find hope, too, in a powerful editorial the student editors of the school newspaper of Benilde-St. Margaret’s Catholic School in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, wrote recently to critique the choice of Minnesota's Catholic bishops to attack gay marriage through a politically motivated video campaign this fall.  Joshua McElwee tells this story at National Catholic Reporter and reproduces the editorial, which has, unfortunately, now been censored--removed from the school's website.  

Hope in the articulate and justice-oriented voices of many young people today.  Anything but hope in the actions of the school administrators who punished Jay McDowell for pushing back against verbal bullying of gay students, and the officials of Benilde-St. Margaret's Catholic school who chose to censor a student editorial critiquing the homophobia of Catholic leaders of their state.

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