In Light of Orlando Massacre, Marchers Call for FullRepeal of HB2
Tomorrow, dozens of students, parents, educators and supporters of public schools will begin a 20 mile march to Raleigh to demand that the Governor of North Carolina immediately take action to address the crisis facing our state’s young people.
Marchers are asserting that North Carolina’s students deserve:
- Fully funded schools
- Economic security
- Health care
- Clean air and water
- Freedom from discrimination and criminalization
The tragedy of Saturday night’s massacre at the Pulse night club in Orlando, Florida, highlights the importance of the last point and reaffirms our commitment to love and support all of our students in the classroom every day. We fight against policies like our state’s infamous House Bill 2 that criminalizes our students and creates a context in which violence against them is justified.
50 people are dead and over 50 are wounded because someone had an easy target to direct his anger, hate and/or mental health problems towards. As teachers, we understand both sides of this problem.
The passage of laws like HB2 in North Carolina creates a climate that normalizes discrimination against people who identify as LGBTQ. When we legislate discrimination, it sends the signal that the people discriminated against are worth less and will not be protected by the law. Jim Crow laws prevented Black people from eating at or going to certain places. But they also opened the door for harassment on the streets and not-infrequent murderous rampages by individuals or groups of white people. The laws of the government sent a signal that Black people were inferior. From there, anything goes, and there was no force to mitigate the worst impulses of a racist society and racist white people. We can also look to the pre-Holocaust discrimination of Nazi-controlled Germany or Apartheid South Africa for examples of the violence that inevitably follows legal definitions of inferiority.
When Governor Pat McCrory signed HB2 into law, he sent a signal to our LGBTQ students. With the stroke of a pen, he told them that the harassment, bullying and violence that they face on a regular basis will continue. He told our transgender students that the very real fear that they have going into bathrooms every day or while picking out an outfit would go on indefinitely. He denied the reality of their pain and anxiety, and he legally defined them as less worthy.
We know the consequences of this targeting. Our LGBTQ students struggle every day. They struggle, like all of their classmates, with the transition to adulthood, grades, work and family. On top of already overwhelming adolescence, they face harassment, bullying and social isolation. In addition to the risk of rejected by their homes, families and faith communities, they also fear that they could be murdered over a kiss in public or a desire to dance. Our LGBTQ students are at a higher risk for suicide than their peers, and a lot of us (let’s be clear that not all teachers take an active role in supporting our kids in this way) spend a lot of time trying to love them and affirm them and keep them safe, happy and healthy despite the messages that the world sends them. They have extra work to do, so we do extra work for and with them.
We also have to do extra work with so many of their classmates, who are unfairly burdened with the frequently hateful ideas and behaviors that are modeled for them by the adults in their lives. This Orlando shooter doesn’t come from nowhere, and while many will point towards a fundamentalist and militaristic interpretation of Islam as the source, educators know better. Yes, this shooter may claim an alliance with ISIS, but the kind of terrorism he brought to Orlando starts early and doesn’t have origins across the planet or in Islam. It starts on the playgrounds of our schools and communities across the country.
We work with young people in our rooms every day, starting often as young as Kindergarten, who spout homophobic language and practice the bullying and isolation of their classmates in ways that they don’t even understand yet. We talk with them about the irrational fears and hatred and “othering” behaviors that their young minds have already been infected with. We create classroom rules and practices built to prevent them from hurting their classmates or us (because LGBTQ teachers work with them alongside straight co-workers every day). Many of these bullying kids later realize (or know at the time) that they identify as LGBTQ and will have untold years of work ahead to decolonize their psyches and love themselves. For those that identify as straight, we can only hope that our brief influence can help them avoid a future in which they bully people emotionally or physically, keep someone from getting a job, home or healthcare, or end up murdering dozens of their former classmates at a nightclub.
LGBTQ students deserve our love, affirmation and protection. Our straight students deserve that same love and affirmation, but we owe them and their classmates the push and support necessary to challenge the prejudices and bullying behaviors that the world around them often encourages.
The politicians that govern our communities and the media that move their messages can make these tasks easier or they can make them harder. They have a choice. ICE raids that terrorize immigrant students and communicate a superiority to their classmates make it harder. The Islamaphobic rants and policies that target Muslim students and train their classmates against them make it harder. The over-policing of communities that box in our Black students and prepare their classmates to fear them make it harder. Hate Bill 2 makes it harder.
We are marching from Durham to Raleigh tomorrow to help build a movement that can free our students from bullying, harassment and violence. But we are also marching to build a movement that will keep them from bullying, harassing and committing violence against others.
While we are marching, we will be carrying the Orlando victims and survivors in our hearts and on our minds. We will also be carrying the man who murdered them in our hearts and on our minds.
All of them were somebody’s students at some point.
All of them deserve more.
Governor McCrory, repeal Hate Bill 2. Our students deserve more.