Saturday, May 28, 2011
By Nefertiti Martin
Today’s guest post by Girls for Gender Equity (http://www.ggenyc.org) community organizer Nefertiti Martin is part of the Hey, Shorty! Virtual Book Tour. Check out this link (http://www.heyshortyontheroad.com/tourdates) to see other stops on the Tour and find out how you are able to support it too!
Sexual harassment is unwanted and unwelcome sexual attention that can come from anyone to anyone no matter what race, gender, class, sex, age, size, etc. LGBTQ-based harassment is often viewed now as “bullying,” but the Coalition for Gender Equity in Schools strongly believes that LGBTQ-based harassment is, in fact, a form of sexual harassment. The negative attention one receives through this harassment is based on one’s perceived or actual sexual orientation.
Once I found myself sitting in class, yelling to the top of my lungs at some kid because he said, “George Bush is gay!” I wasn’t defending the former president, or even myself, who was quietly queer at the time. I was defending my best friend who was openly gay and sitting in class with me, which rarely happened since he rarely came to school. I knew he went through a lot at home, and when he did come to school, it wasn’t a great experience, to say the least. I was defending him for the times when I could not before. I heard rumors about how the guys “bullied” him in the boys’ locker room. I could only imagine what that bullying must’ve been like for him in that space, knowing how sexually explicit the boys could be, how everyone openly ridiculed and speculated around his sexuality, and how he had to change clothes there alone, without school staff present.
I couldn’t be in the boys’ locker room with him, but I was there in the classroom, and I could do something then. I risked getting detention or being jumped after school, but it was worth it. It was only after I cursed the kid out that the teacher even said anything. The teacher really didn’t know what to say beyond the comment that was made was intolerable in his classroom.
Eventually, with support from a number of teachers, my best friend and I founded a gay-straight alliance. We created a safe and welcoming space for people like us to be during lunch. We both left the school shortly after the creation of this space, but we knew it was important for us to establish this group before we left, in hopes that the kids who came after us would have a much better experience than we did. It’s been almost 5 years, and the group still exists today.
Thinking back on it now, our entire school should’ve been a safe and welcoming space for everyone. But the reality is that safety is not guaranteed in every school environment. I don’t blame the kid who I called out in class, or the teacher who didn’t know what to say, or the kids who bullied my best friend whenever he actually showed up at school. There’s no blame to place on individuals really, when we’re not taught to address things like this, and society teaches us how to mistreat one another, and schools seem to exist only to educate academically. No one ever spoke to students or the school community as whole about acceptance of LGBTQ or any other identities. It was left up to those of us who got tired of being mistreated to create a safe haven for ourselves and educate those we could. It should not have been left up to us.
Protocol to address harassment exists even before an incidence occurs. Title IX (http://www.titleix.info/10-Key-Areas-of-Title-IX/Sexual-Harassment.aspx) exists. Respect for All (http://schools.nyc.gov/RulesPolicies/RespectforAll/default.htm) exists. And it is up to the school community -- including parents, staff, and students -- to foster a true sense of community through enforcing and upholding the values created to ensure the safety of all students.
LGBT-based harassment is not just bullying; it’s sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is not just being made to feel uncomfortable. It is also being made to feel unsafe, and therefore, sexual harassment is an issue of safety. Safety must be addressed in preventative measures, not reactionary measures or measures to tolerate and not truly appreciate all identities. Safety is about caring and being educated and having enough understanding to respect those around you. We must shift our school and social culture to one that celebrates who we are instead of maintaining our current culture of fear and violence.
Nefertiti Martin is a self-identified queer young woman of color. Her community activist spirit and passion for learning has led her to participate in various organizations that work to advance LGBT youth, women, and people of color communities, including The Possibility Project (formerly known as City At Peace NY), FIERCE, the Hetrick-Martin Institute, In the Life Media, the Lesbian Cancer Initiative, and Theatre Askew Youth Performance Experience. Nefertiti is a former Sisters in Strength youth organizer (2008-2009) at Girls for Gender Equity, and now works there as a Community Organizer. Nefertiti desires to continue on her ever-winding path of financial and spiritual empowerment. She resides in the Bronx.