The Washington state senate passed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington on Feb. 1. The bill must now be passed by the state House of Representatives, which appears to be likely, and must receive the signature of Gov. Chris Gregoire.
Washington is on track to become the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage and the second largest state to do so behind New York.
“An overwhelming amount of constituents have sided with my own belief, that all Washington citizens deserve the chance to be equal under the law,” state senator Rosemary McAuliffe (D-Bothell) in a press release. “We are free to believe whatever we choose, however we must take steps to ensure we live in a state and world where our laws protect human rights for all.”
After governor Gregoire signs the bill, conservative religious groups plan to collect signatures to try to force the issue to the November ballot.
If the referendum succeeds, our state’s airways may be crammed with advertisements from many out-of-state interests on both sides of the issue, especially since this year’s ballot will include a presidential election, an open governor’s seat, many congressional elections and an initiative to legalize marijuana for personal use.
With this major development in gay rights for our state, it is easy to forget that the problem of gay bullying still exists, even in the halls of MTHS.
According to the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) a 2009 survey of 7,261 middle and high school students found that at school nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the past year.
“Last year, I got picked on a lot,” sophomore Jayla Gomez said. “In one of my classes people would pick on me, off campus people would make fun of me and when I was walking home someone pushed me into a puddle.”
The harassment doesn’t stop just with students. Some Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) students have encountered homophobia among staff members and substitute staff members.
“I was using a girl’s bathroom and a sub walked in glared,” senior Lk Karnoski said. “She did a double take and walked outside to check to see if the [restroom] signs were correct. I actually confronted her about it because it was very uncomfortable for me.”
Staff members and administration urge any instance of bullying to be reported right away.
“Any bullying anywhere is a major problem,” assistant principal Peter Schurke said. “While I’m sure that there is still bullying in the halls and in the classrooms, the number of reports that have been coming in have been going down.”
Despite pleas from staff members, many LGBT students are uncomfortable, embarrassed, many times scared.
“Bullying is not going to be tolerated,” Schurke said. “If bullying is happening, we need people stepping up and reporting it. I hope they feel comfortable [reporting it].”
“It made me really depressed and I would just shut down,” Gomez said. “I just really didn’t want to talk about it.”
Some students are simply too caught up with everyday life and find reporting an issue to be a long, inconvenient process.
“They wanted me to jump through bureaucratic hoops to file a formal complaint because my verbal reiteration of that happened was apparently not enough to do or say anything,” Karnoski said.
MTHS does have a Gay Straight Alliance that works to be a place of acceptance for all students, regardless of sexual orientation and organizes the version of “National Day of Silence” at MTHS every April to draw attention to the bullying of LGBT students.
“We have had kids be absolutely terrified [to come out] in the past,” P.E. teacher Susan Lahti said. “All of society is advancing, but I’d like to think that Terrace is advancing faster than the rest of society.”
Some students see progress for the rights of gay students but often less for the rights of transgendered students.
“Overall, Mountlake Terrace is a pretty good school to go to if you’re gay,” Karnoski said. “If you’re transgendered, you’re kind of out of luck anywhere just because it is such a small and misunderstood minority.”
Even as our society progresses and is becoming more accepting of LGBT people, bullying is still happening in schools.
“I think we’ve come a long way, but we still have a ways to go,” Lahti said.