Dylan N. told his family that he was gay
when he was twelve, but that fact came as no surprise to them. "From a
young age, I was set aside as different," he explained when we interviewed
him in December 1999 in Atlanta, Georgia.
During the first semester of his sophomore
year, Dylan appeared on a local public access television program as a participant
in a discussion about the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender
students at high school. When word spread among his classmates that he
was gay, they subjected him to constant harassment because of his sexual
orientation. Some of his peers began to taunt him routinely by calling
him a "fag," "butt pirate," "fairy," "homo," "queer," "sissy," "ass licker,"
"AIDS whore," and other derogatory terms. "It was all part of the normal
daily routine," said Dylan.
The verbal harassment escalated almost immediately
into physical violence. Other students began spitting on him and throwing
food at him.
One day in the parking lot outside his school,
six students surrounded him and threw a lasso around his neck, saying,
"Let's tie the faggot to the back of the truck."
He escaped from his tormentors and ran inside
the school. Finding one of the vice-principals, he tried to tell her what
had just happened to him. "I was still hysterical," he said. "I was trying
to explain, but I was stumbling over my words. She laughed."
The school took no action to discipline Dylan's
harassers. Instead, school officials told him not to discuss his sexual
orientation with other students.
"Looking back on it, I was so out,"
he said. "I tried to start GSAs [gay-straight alliances]. Like, I tried
to do so much."
After the lasso incident, the harassment
and violence intensified. "I was living in the disciplinary office because
other harassment was going on. Everyone knew," he said. "It gave permission
for a whole new level of physical stuff to occur."
To escape the relentless harassment, Dylan
asked for a transfer to another school in the district. When the semester
ended, the district placed him in an alternative school for students with
poor academic records or behavioral problems.
"The principal [at the alternative school]
had a real issue with me," Dylan said. "The principal told me he wouldn't
have me acting like a faggot at school. After a semester there, I realized
that it was not a place where I could get an education."
Dylan was successful in securing a transfer
to a traditional school the following year, when he was fifteen, but school
officials again directed him not to discuss his sexual orientation with
The gag rule imposed on him by the school
did not protect him from his peers, who learned that he was gay from his
former classmates at his first school. "It was the same thing all over
again," he said. "They'd push me up against the lockers and call me a fag.
They'd chase me around campus in their cars, screaming and yelling `fag'
out the windows." Once, he told us, a teacher walked out of the room while
some of his classmates were throwing things at him.
On another occasion, a group of students
surrounded him outside the school, punching him, shouting that he was a
"bitch," and jeering while security officers stood nearby. When the fight
ended, he related, "I was completely bloody. I was bleeding from both lips,
my nose, behind my ear."
Dylan tried to return to his second school,
the alternative school, but school officials turned down his request to
be placed there again. "What they did was they put me in the adult education
program. Their justification was, I would be around people who were much
more accepting. What they didn't tell me was I would have no chance of
getting a high school diploma," he said.