© 1996 Casco Bay Weekly | Rick MacPherson | February 8, 1996

Safety in numbers

What are kids learning in school?

During the first four months of this school year, the Portland public school system documented 30 instances of bias involving sexual orientation. That's nearly half of all reported bias incidents.Related Portland Press Herald Story

Among Outright youth who attend Portland public schools and who were interviewed for this article, the consensus seems to be that intolerance toward issues of sexuality is fairly common. All described incidents of verbal abuse, intimidation, threats of being outed and physical abuse.

While Superintendent of Schools Mary Jane McCalmon said bias report forms were available in several locations within the schools, all reports collected were completed by a teacher or administrator. None of the youth interviewed recalled being made aware that they could fill out forms by themselves. Said one high school student, "If they told us, it must have been really brief. If students actually reported the amount of anti-gay abuse that goes on - especially during the [November 1995 anti-gay] referendum vote - the numbers would be scary."

Curiously, Outright coordinator Cathy Kidman indicated that Portland educators seldom take advantage of Outright's services. "We are asked very rarely as a group to speak at programs at the Portland schools," Kidman said. "Very rarely does Outright speak to students in Portland schools about what we do."

Superintendent McCalmon responded that she was not familiar with Outright or its programs. "We do have a sex ed curriculum in place," explained McCalmon. "But so little time and money prohibits intensive coverage about the issues only gay and lesbian kids deal with."

Kidman takes the position that issues of sexual identity are of primary importance for young people. "It is not a special need to feel safe," she said. "All youth have the right to feel good [about themselves]."

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