Justice for all? Board must act to end long history of discrimination
By Peter McWilliams
I am a graduate of Allen Park High School, and the fourth alumnus
to be inducted into the Allen Park High School Hall of Fame.
I understand I even have a plaque somewhere in the hallowed APHS
I've heard the school board is considering whether or not the rights of gays and lesbians should be protected, as would be the rights
of other minorities.
As someone who experienced three years of unrelenting prejudice
at Allen Park High School for merely being suspected of being gay, I
I know how important such safeguards are.
I was, as the saying goes, "the class queer". I was subject to verbal
abuse, taunts and physical violence on a daily basis. I was never
beaten bloody, but each school day almost without exception, one of
the Neanderthal bullies would hit me, as hard as he could, on
some part of my body below the neck, often on the upper arm.
THEY WOULD sneak up on me and hit me. They would
spontaneously hit me any time they passed me in the halls. They hit
me in class whenever the teacher wasn't looking.
I have always had the math skills of an Alzheimer's patient, so my
senior year classes included advanced English and ultra-remedial
math. The latter class contained most of the self-appointed Protectors
of the Moral Good.
The physical attacks were al-most always accompanied by Queer!",
which back then was the equivalent of "fag" today.
Getting from one class to another without being attacked became an
overwhelming concern. I would walk the halls as though they were
mine fields. I would often be late for class because between classes I
would hide, unable to face the potential of attack.
THEN THERE was the graffiti, the cat calls during or before
presentations I would make to classes or sometimes the entire school,
and the wall of hate-filled silence with which I was met each time I
attempted to speak out against intolderance (usually spoken on behalf
of equal rights for blacks, which made me even more unpopular.)
Fortunately, my interests were always creative, and the handful of
creative people with whom I voluntarily associated judged people
by their character and quality of creative output, not on what does
or does not excite them sexually.
I say "fortunately," because I can imagine the added anguish of
a gay person who wanted to but found it impossible to fit into the
ordinary activities of school life - dances, dating, sports, clubs..
In 1965, it seemed as though I had no recourse; no protection.
I ONCE rallied all my courage and went to see the assistant principal,
who was in charge of keeping students from beating up on each
other, among other duties.
The dialogue with him went something like this:
ME: These guys keep hitting me.
ME: They call me 'queer'.
HIM: Well, are you?
ME: (agonized silence)
HIM: Then there's nothing I can do to help you.
His idea of help was to help me out of my homosexuality. Then the real men of
the school would accept and respect me rather than hit me. Thirty years later, I
am dismayed-though not suprised-to discover that defending the right to get a
high school education from violence, threats of violence, and institutionalized
prejudice is being debated at APHS.
WHY WEREN'T gays given this protection at Allen Park High School
before this? Why didn't the basic decency, training and compassion
of the faculty and administration make such a debate unnecessary?
There's an old saying, "When common sense stops, rules start." It's common
sense not to hate people just because they're different.
Hate and fear may be the instinct, but with only a little examination
we see that we all have desires and goals which put us into a minority.
If we want the freedom to take part in our bit of differentness,
then we must allow others their rights to take part in theirs,
as long as they do not harm the person or property of a
non-consenting other, of course.
IT'S JUST common sense. It's also constitutional and it forms
the cornerstone of the American ideal: free individual expression,
tolerance and compassion.
I am happy, however, that the point is at least being debated.
This discussion could never have gone on in the 1965 Allen Park.
Please understand that the request from one of your charges to protect him
from violence and prejudice is not about, "special rights."
That's a red herring brought on by those who have no rational
arguments- except their own hatred-for madating gays as second-class
All gays want is the same access to housing, education and
employment as everyone else. Nothing special, just the same Bill
of Rights protections every one is entitled to- even unpopular
The problem in ending this prejudice is enormous. And what's the best way
to end this or any prejudice?
EDUCATION, OF course. Which brings us back to the Allen Park
Members of the board, it is your obligation as educators to take
the high ground in this matter. No matter what your personal
feelings about homosexuality or your private religious beliefs,
you must declare the truth.
That's all the proposal before you requests- that gay and lesbian
students receive the same protection and access to education at
Allen Park High School as everyone else.
I ADMIRE the young man and his family who had the gumption
to stand up and say, "1 am a citizen. I am a student, and I am
entitled to the same educational environment as anybody else."
This young man has stood up very tall - his shadow has reached me
all the way in California.
The Allen Park school board should be proud of him. As a member in
good standing of the APHS Hall of Fame, I nominate this young man
or immediate membership.
Why? What shall we engrave on his plaque? Just one word: Courage.
Peter McWilliams is the best- selling co-author of such non-fiction
books as "How to Survive the Loss of a Love."