Last week, a Mahomet Daily article detailed a disturbing series of events involving the physical and verbal harassment of LGBTQ+ students at Mahomet-Seymour High School, and the administration has yet to respond appropriately. You can read the full story there, but here is the short version (following the example of the original article, they/them pronouns are used to keep the students’ identities private).
During homecoming week, there was a day designated as U.S.A. Day. Many students wore red, white, and blue or camouflage attire. One student chose to wear a Pride flag as a cape. They also exercised their right to not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, something they’d chosen to do on other days as well. In addition to being verbally harassed at school, the student was harassed on social media. Another student was verbally and physically assaulted that day, called anti-LGBTQ+ slurs and knocked down, while the assaulters recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Other LGBTQ+ students were splashed with water while harassers held bibles and recited scripture.
Setting aside the utterly bizarre and white nationalistic, fundamentalist Christian nonsense, it was extremely concerning to see the milquetoast response from the administration of the school. Rather than immediately admonishing the bullying, the administration told students wearing Pride flags to remove them because of the distraction. Here was principal Chad Benedict’s initial response to Mahomet Daily:
At Mahomet-Seymour High School, we have approximately 1,030 students. Each of those students comes to us with unique talents, personalities, and beliefs. Conflicts arise among our students. We work through situations on a daily basis in a way that we hope brings not only a solution for those involved, but also more understanding for varying points of view. In a time where there seems to be so much controversy and struggle in our society, we want to teach acceptance and compassion for fellow classmates. This is an ongoing process that takes time. It is not easy and cannot happen in a single school day. We are aware of some unfortunate conflicts that took place last week and are working through them.
Students identifying as LGBTQ+ were targeted and harassed by other students. This goes beyond an “unfortunate conflict”. Being gay, or trans, or bisexual, or nonbinary isn’t a point a view, and choosing to attack someone because of gender or sexual orientation is a hate crime. This is not a “good people on both sides” sort of situation.
School needs to be a safe and supportive space for LGBTQ+ students. It doesn’t matter what the general political or religious leanings are of the community, or how many students identify that way. It can literally mean the difference between life and death.
According to The Trevor Project, suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people aged 10 to 24, and the statistics for LGBTQ+ young people are staggering (note: The Trevor Project uses the LGB acronym to make the distinction between lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth and trans youth):
LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth.
LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth.
Of all the suicide attempts made by youth, LGB youth suicide attempts were almost five times as likely to require medical treatment than those of heterosexual youth.
Suicide attempts by LGB youth and questioning youth are 4 to 6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their straight peers.
In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.
And here is the key statistic: “Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.”
When the institution where a teen spends most of their waking hours doesn’t stand in full, unconditional support of their existence, it is emotionally, mentally, and physically damaging. The subsequent statement offered by the district did not go far enough, instead taking an “all lives matter” approach. They would be well served by partnering with Uniting Pride, something the organization offered to the district in their statement of support for Mahomet students to ensure they are taking the proper steps to protect LGBTQ+ students. Thankfully, there are other students, community members, and staff who have voiced their support for LGBTQ+ students.
LGBTQ+ students are vulnerable to discrimination, not just in Mahomet. We hope that this incident will be a wake up call for all institutions to recognize and validate the experiences and identities of their students, and create a school environment where they are free to express themselves without fear of harassment.
The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, Patrick Singer, and Mara Thacker.