Triumph over trauma.
George Loomis was an above-average high school student. He was active in student government and even served as the student representative on the Visalia [Calif.] Unified School District board of trustees. His grade point average was above 3.5. Then last October, Juan Garcia, his Spanish teacher at Golden West High School, turned to him and spoke.
"He looked at me and said, `Only two kinds of men wear earrings, pirates and faggots, and there isn't any water around here.' After that he started calling me `pirate,'" Loomis, 18, recalls. "He said that during class, in front of all the other students. I was humiliated."
Loomis didn't reply to the teacher's comment. But that single joke unleashed a torrent of abuse that eventually drove Loomis from school. Other students followed the teacher's example, and for months Loomis was the victim of name-calling and personal attacks.
Loomis is not alone in his plight with school educators, says Jim Anderson, a spokesman for the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. "Sadly, far too many students face harassment, not only from other students but from the administration and teachers," Anderson says. "In our National School Climate Survey, 36% of lesbian and gay students reported hearing antigay epithets from faculty or school staff." GLSEN and other groups have been working to reduce those numbers. Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays announced in August that it was launching a program called "From Our House to the Schoolhouse" to educate teachers about antigay harassment. And legislation took effect this year in California to protect students harassed because they are gay.
That legislation arrived too late to help Loomis. "I was spit on and yelled at. It was horrible," he says. "I would come home and cry. It finally got to be too much." When Loomis found the courage to go to principal Bob Cesena, he did not get the result he wanted. "He told me it was unfair of me to go over my teacher's head and that I had to work it out with Mr. Garcia," Loomis says.
The school district will not comment on any of Loomis's statements, although they don't deny that Garcia made the comment. "The events happened when the student was still a minor, and it is our policy not to discuss anything that involves minor students," says district official Anthony Escobar.
Rather than face the teacher again, Loomis retained an attorney and asked for compensation from the district for doctor's visits and the counseling he underwent as a result of the harassment. His request was denied.
"I was sent to a school psychologist who told me if I wanted to be safe, I would have to leave school and go to an independent study program," Loomis said. "[School officials] said they would not protect me from this."
Loomis left the school in December and began the independent study program, for which he attended class at another high school for an hour a week and completed his schoolwork at home. His problems did not end there, however.
"I was working at a portrait studio," Loomis says. "One day a counselor from that school came in with someone. I was standing near her when she said, `That boy's a faggot.'" When Loomis went back to school, he confronted the counselor. "I went into her office and said I had heard what she said," he recalls. "She immediately denied saying it. Then I told her I had the name and phone number of another customer who had heard it too. That's when she changed her story. She said she was sorry if she offended me and that she'd been talking about another student."
The counselor then called in the principal, whom Loomis says told him he had violated the terms of his independent study contract and would have to go to adult school. Loomis started the adult school program in January.
The district's silence about his case is not keeping Loomis quiet. He feels he will be of more use to the gay rights cause by becoming an activist. "When we go to the store, people recognize him," says Loomis's partner, Aaron Jura, 19. "This whole thing is a tragedy. The system works for everyone else, but a gay person is totally left out."
Loomis's ordeal put a strain on his relationship with his family. While he is still close to a few relatives, many won't talk to him. In fact, when a family member was married recently, Loomis was not invited to the wedding.
The harassment affected his educational future as well. When he was kicked out of school, he lost any chance of being accepted to a University of California campus. He is looking instead to attend California State University, Fresno, on a scholarship.
"I had already been interviewed by U.C., Berkeley," Loomis says. "They called me for the interview after finding out about my grades and student government experience. U.C. campuses don't take students who had to go to independent study or adult school. I've lost out on that dream. I don't want anyone else to lose their dreams."
For more on programs designed to end antigay harassment in schools, go to www.advocate.com
McIntosh is assistant editor for News Link, a gay/lesbian newspaper in Fresno, Calif.
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|Publication:||The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)|
|Article Type:||Brief Article|
|Date:||Sep 26, 2000|
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