Hateful heresay


Jenna Liu

[dropcap color=”#” bgcolor=”#” sradius=”0″]W[/dropcap]hen senior Sean Garfias was growing up, he knew he was a little different from his male classmates. The majority of his friends were girls, while the rest of the little boys stuck with their own. He found his true calling in singing, rather than sports. Then, when the other boys started to notice girls, he began to notice them instead.
Despite knowing that he was gay at an early age, Garfias hid his identity. He went through middle school entrenched in the closet, but could not escape the bullies who tormented him. School eventually started to feel safer in his freshman year, and Garfias finally felt able to come out to classmates.
When he entered RBHS the next year, he expected a new school, new classes and new friends. What he wasn’t expecting were the words that came out of his teacher’s mouth.
“Someone else in the class brought up gay people and [the teacher] looked at us and said, ‘If you have that disease, you need to get out of my class.’” Garfias said. “She said that as a statement and laughed at it. There was a couple of people in there that thought it was funny because they don’t really agree with homosexuality.”
For Garfias, the moment was no laughing matter. He immediately felt uncomfortable and began to hate the teacher who he would be stuck with for the rest of the year.
“It was just really awkward because I don’t know if she knew that about me but I knew that people in the class did know that I was gay, so it was just really awkward to be in that environment,” Garfias said. “Ignorance is something that I don’t tolerate. It just gets under my skin. It was just upsetting to know I had to deal with her as a teacher and learn from her.”
While that teacher is no longer at RBHS, her comments brought back memories of his younger days at Gentry Middle School, a period of time that he described as “awful”. Garfias had no support system at school and was in a constant state of tension and fear.
“I didn’t have any friends, I had no self-esteem. It was really hard to walk from one place to another without worrying about what someone would think or what somebody would say,” Garfias said. “I remember P.E. being a problem a lot, you know, having to change with the other guys. [Everything] was just awful. I was placed in a section with the big, sporty, jock, popular guys so it wasn’t any easier for me.”
[quote cite=”Sean Garfias”]Ignorance is something that I don’t tolerate. It just gets under my skin. It was just upsetting to know I had to deal with her as a teacher and learn from her.[/quote] For many minorities, the fear of violence, both physical and mental, is a fact of life. Violence Prevention Works, a bullying prevention campaign, reported that seventy-eight percent of gay teens are bullied at school.
One of the most infamous examples of discriminatory attitudes devolving in violent atrocities was the Holocaust, when Adolf Hitler ordered the genocide of six million Jewish people. Though the Holocaust is universally condemned, the same stereotypes that precipitated the event have not disappeared. Junior Ben Rouder, who is Jewish, regularly deals with inflammatory comments about his faith.
“At first it’s friendly. It’s like, ‘Oh, I dropped a quarter. Are you going to get that because you’re Jewish?’ And I play along [with it] because I don’t think it’s a big deal in a sense. Over time it comes to the point where it’s the only thing [people] talk about,” Rouder said. “ It gets really annoying after a while. They’ll make Holocaust jokes and things like that. I just want to be friends and fit in.I know they’re not anti-semitic, so I just play along. After a bit it gets really, really exhausting. You start to feel like you’re crumbling on the inside.”
While Garfias didn’t bear physical marks that some bullying leaves, the “verbal violence” he endured still affected him greatly. Unlike cuts and bruises, his scars cannot not be easily seen.
“About sixth or seventh grade was when I was first diagnosed with depression,” Garfias said. “[My experience] really challenged me to learn to turn the other cheek and just to ignore ignorance and to look out for myself. I think it made me stronger but if I could choose not to do it again, I wouldn’t.”
additional reporting by Grace Vance
Have you ever experienced hate speech because of the way you identify?