It’s been a while since I had to study SAT vocab so maybe somebody can refresh my memory on what “pride” means. Is it “making others feel threatened, inferior or otherwise undesirable.” No? Really? A student at St. Charles North High School in Illinois wore a “straight pride” tshirt to school last week, the back of which featured a quote from Scripture advocating putting homosexuals to death. The next day two other students wore the same shirt. The first day the administration let the shirt go by without incident, only asking the student to cover up the quote from scripture at the end of the day. The second day the two students were asked to wear a sweatshirt over their tshirts. The school district says that they allowed the offensive tshirts to remain in the school because this was a “teachable moment” about maintaining your own opinion while respecting others.
There are, to be polite about it, a few problems here. First is the obvious – that suggesting that someone’s identity could be punished by death is not actually a very “respectful” reaction to their “opinion,” if you call your “identity” an “opinion.” Second of all, this isn’t an even tradeoff as the school seems to be suggesting – allowing a student to wear a “straight pride” tshirt is not the equivalent of another student wearing a gay pride tshirt. They’re not interchangeable concepts; they’re not coming from the same place. As Eric Zom puts it in his insightful Chicago Tribune response, “gay Pride” is an antidote to gay shame — the sense of alienation and otherness in adolescence that prompted writer Dan Savage to start the It Gets Better project to reduce the incidence of suicide among gay teens.” Straight pride is, in contrast, a default state for 90% of America, so much so that it is almost never explicitly addressed or declared, in the same way that the “Alarm Clock Users Pride” or “People Who Enjoy Ice Cream” movements are not particularly vocal. When “straight pride” is expressed pointedly, it is always as a response to what that person sees as too much “gay pride.” It’s a kneejerk reaction against the effort of a people to move out of self-loathing. Pretending that these two things are equally valid and equally harmless is, if not willfully malicious, still objectively harmful.
As Jezebel asks, where does anyone still get off talking about blatant homophobia as if it’s a valid “opinion” that needs to be treated with respect? I thought we had pretty much decided we were done having that conversation. They’re right – it’s dangerous and ridiculous to treat the religious ritual killing of gay people as “the other side” to an imaginary debate.
I mean, a debate on what?
A debate on whether men who lie with other men should be religiously murdered by a Illinois high schooler?
And I’d like to add one more thing to their analysis: While arguing about whether a teenager should be allowed to wear a shirt may seem quibbling and trivial, keep in mind that in high school you aren’t allowed to do ANYTHING. In my high school, we weren’t allowed to wear tank tops that had straps thinner than three inches wide. In my high school, someone also wore a straight pride shirt, and nothing was done about it. In my high school, I wasn’t out. Can you guess why? In a (public!) school where the cheerleading team was once disciplined for wearing fishnets underneath denim shorts as part of a team costume, nothing was done about this “Straight Pride” shirt that had my heart in my throat.
It seems clear to me at least that this isn’t just allowing two sides of an issue to develop; there are plenty of schools that still don’t allow GSAs, or the Day of Silence, or maybe even gay pride shirts. This isn’t just allowing something; it’s making an exception, creating a special space for it to continue because it’s too difficult to try to stop it. Thanks, St. Charles North High School, for doing your part to make sure all your students feel safe. A+ for effort.