THE BLOG

Gay and Transgender Teens and Intolerance

01/30/2006 04:56 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011


Adults could learn a thing or two about tolerance from the 15-year-old and his "cross-dressing" friends. As one reader sweetly posted after I described my son's enviable fashion sense and his penchant for girls' jeans. I'm glad my son and his friends don't care about such petty things and aren't hung-up in the least about gender. If anything they're gender blind. One of his friends has such feminine features he's almost pretty. Like many teenage boys he also--brace yourself--dyes his hair and has a knack with a flat-iron. I feel neurotically protective of this friend. Because of his looks I'm always worrying he's going to be jumped on the way to our house or get cornered in the quad at his big rowdy high school.

We always forget the changing whims of fashion. Think back now. Way back. Remember the long, Jesus-like hair? Tie-dyed T-shirts? Headbands? And I'm just talking about the guys now. During the sixties my Republican father constantly harangued my two youngest brothers about their hair. "YOU LOOK LIKE A GODDAMNED HIPPIE!" he'd roar. He really had no need to worry. Both brothers evolved into fervent Republicans with country club memberships and short hair.

I've been obsessing over teenage boys and fashion because of two disturbing incidents involving transgender and gay teens this week. The first has to do with five high school teachers in San Leandro, California. The teachers got their religious panties all in a bunch when they were asked to put a poster in their classrooms. The poster was quite nicely designed with a rainbow and pink triangles and a warm and fuzzy slogan that read "This is a safe place to be who you are." But the teachers didn't like it and refused to display it. Why? Because the poster was part of a school district program to promote tolerance for students who are--oh, let's just stop beating around the bush and say it--homosexual!

I guess there's just no pleasing everyone, is there? The teachers, being the big-hearted souls they are, felt the poster violated their religious beliefs. Or something like that. I say hogwash. If your religious sensibilities are so offended by gay or bisexual or transgender teens, then go teach at Pat Robertson High School for The Intolerant and Bigoted. Whatever. Don't do it on my dime. Or the public's. Obey the law.

The second incident made my stomach turn and was so upsetting I kept having to put the article down to breathe. And actually led to the very tolerance policy in San Leandro those teachers were fighting. The story was about a teenager from Newark, California. I happen to be familiar with Newark. It's a gritty suburb across San Francisco Bay, and let's just say that even as a flaming heterosexual I wouldn't want to grow up there.

The teenager's name was Gwen Araujo. Gwen lived and identified as a girl but was born Edward. And biologically she was a boy. In 2002 Gwen was at a party when four men trapped her in the bathroom. A few weeks before Gwen had had sex with two of them. It seems that the men--Michael Magidson and Jose Merel--now had regrets about that. They decided to do a genitals check on Gwen. I guess they were pretty upset by what they found. Because afterward they beat Gwen to a pulp and strangled her to death. Jason Nabors, one of the four, apparently had regrets about. He led police to Gwen's shallow grave in the Sierra foothills. He also testified against his subhuman friends.

Justice can be infuriatingly slow, but last week during a packed court hearing three of Gwen's killers were sentenced. Magidson and Merel got 15 years to life. Jason Cazares, who struck a deal with prosecutors, got six. Which seems a crime in and of itself when you hear Sylvia Guerrero. Guerrero is Gwen's mother. At the sentencing she said:

"We each have been given a lifetime sentence of loss and sadness. While any one of them cold have stopped this from happening, none of them did."

No, they didn't. It took two trials for the men to be convicted. Men who were so disgusted by Gwen's gender orientation that they felt compelled to destroy her. Incredulously jurors in the second trial refused to rule Gwen's slaying a hate crime. If this wasn't a hate crime, then I'm the late Strom Thurmond in drag. Defense attorneys also tried to blame the crime on Gwen. She had deceived the men. Actually, come to think of it, she deserved being beaten. Nice.

How are we supposed to teach young people acceptance and respect when the adults around them preach bigotry and hate? Or implicitly condone prejudice by failing to condemn it?