Jarred Gamwell, an openly gay teenager at James B. Hunt High School in Wilson, N.C., who recently lost a free-speech court fight to use his homosexuality as an advantage to campaign for student body president, says a student was suspended last week for committing verbal and physical assault against him. Gamwell, a junior, said this incident was the first time someone has been punished for harassment he regularly endures. "It can be very hostile at times," said Gamwell, 17. "I don't like walking down the hall by myself. You never know what is going to happen." Gamwell said he has been jeered, pushed, and pelted with tennis balls and coins since he came out in ninth grade. Once a student dropped a plastic garbage container on his head. Robert Kendall Jr., spokesman for Wilson County schools, said he had no knowledge of the suspension of a student for pushing Gamwell. But he said the school system does not permit intolerance of any kind.
Some gay and lesbian teenagers say they draw more ridicule and torment from their peers than any other group of students. They say most schools' policies against bullying don't protect them from abuse based on sexual orientation. A 2001 report by New York-based Human Rights Watch found that bullying, abuse, and violence are part of everyday life for gay and lesbian students throughout
the country. At nearby Enloe High School in Raleigh, Anna Creagh says she has been called "dyke" so many times that it doesn't bother her anymore. The 17-year-old senior has filed more than a dozen complaints, most involving badgering by other students, but school officials did not pursue them, she said. Still, Creagh said that Enloe is more accepting of homosexuality than many other high schools, and most teachers have tried to foster tolerance.
Some parents and students are pressing school districts across the country to add sexual orientation to antidiscrimination policies. Most policies prohibit bullying and teasing based on a student's race, religion, physical attributes, and other characteristics. Wake County, N.C., school board member Bill Fletcher said teachers and administrators should focus on protecting all students from harassment rather than add to what is listed in antidiscrimination codes. "I don't care if they have pimples or wear glasses or wear 20-year-old clothes," Fletcher said. "It's our responsibility to ensure that all of our students are well-treated."