August 14, 2003
Nor bends with the remover to remove

Eugene Volokh posts on a lawsuit against a new New York high school reserved for homosexual, bisexual and "questioning" students. At the end, he nicely evaluates the school's concept in general:

I suspect that the backers of the high school (and of the smaller program that has apparently already existed for years) are correct that homosexual students get quite a bit of abuse, probably mostly verbal but often physical, from their classmates, and the school district has a duty to stop that. But my tentative sense is that having a separate program just for homosexual students isn't the best solution, because it (1) undermines any "treat people the same regardless of their sexual orientation" message the school is trying to send, (2) makes it easier for other schools to inadequately protect the homosexual students who stay there ("Look, I know this kid is being abused, but the school district has apparently recognized that schools can't really effectively protect homosexual students against such abuse, and that this is what the Harvey Milk program is for -- he should just go there"), and (3) distracts schools from an even more fundamental need to protect all students, whether they're being abused because they're homosexual, fat, short, or unpopular for any other reason.

Yes. Removing kids from someplace because they're being bullied seems to be attacking the problem at the wrong end. Isn't it the bullies who should be dealt with? Without gays, wouldn't bullies just transfer their aggressions to some other vulnerable kids?

This is something that's always bothered me about identity politics. I am all in favor of efforts to gain more respect for gays, women, ethnic minorities, etc. But all of that should spring from the general rule that we should treat all people with respect. I expect that some people, especially teenagers, will always find the concept of homosexuality viscerally repulsive; I am sure that teens will always find some of their peers irritating or ridiculous. But to be a civilized person means suppressing those visceral reactions and being decent to them anyway. It's amazing how often that seems to escape people.

Posted by Camassia at August 14, 2003 04:52 PM | TrackBack

"But to be a civilized person means suppressing those visceral reactions..."

In my mind a "civilized person" has gained a level of intelligence and awareness to "understand" others regardless of their differences. They do not need to suppress their feelings.

Additionally, I don't believe homophobia to be a "visceral" reaction. I believe it is a learned predjudice.

Regarding segregating ANY group of people, I think it's a mistake. We really do need to "learn" tolerance for others.

I'm with you on taking the fix to the correct end of the problem.


Posted by: David on August 15, 2003 03:25 PM

Well, not disliking anyone is something to strive for, but it's not terribly realistic for most people, especially teenagers. I think most of us know somebody who just rubs us the wrong way, and whom we dislike all out of proportion with what they 'deserve.' I think people also have real disagreements about what's a 'good' reason to dislike someone. (So it's not OK to dislike gay people ... how about Republicans? Lawyers? Skinheads?) That's why rule 1 of civilized discourse is that you don't just attack somebody you dislike. Further development can follow only after that.

As to homophobia, certainly people have it for different reasons, some of which are learned. I do think people have pretty strong visceral feelings about sex acts, ranging from 'Oh yeah!' to 'Blecch!' If I knew what everybody in my office was doing in bed I probably wouldn't be able to look at them the same way again, which is an excellent reason for maintaining my ignorance. A lot of homophobes I've known don't really have moral or religious objections to the practice so much as they can't get over their disgust at anal sex. Again, rule 1 of civilization should be that that's not a reason to attack someone.

Posted by: Camassia on August 15, 2003 04:38 PM

Perhaps a "learned prejudice" = "a conditioned response" = "a visceral reaction" (i.e. one that is no longer evoked at the conscious level). In any case, David is correct that it's not instinctive, and also right concerning how we should behave toward others.

Posted by: Rob on August 15, 2003 04:39 PM

As usual, it's near impossible to know whether something is innate or just learned early and subconsciously. Either way, it goes deep, so I wouldn't hang a whole lot on being able to train people out of it. But I don't think it automatically means hating gay people. There's a lot more to a person than his sex life, and with maturity one can learn that.

Anyway, I agree that ideally we'd be so compassionate and benevolent we'd never have to suppress anything. But I was talking about what makes a person civilized, not what makes her perfect or holy. In my view self-control is a large part of what makes humans, with all our nasty thoughts, able to live together. Civilization with no nasty thoughts ... well, that's civilization on a different planet. Especially when we're talking about high school.

Posted by: Camassia on August 15, 2003 09:46 PM
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