Students Organize to Push through Civil Rights Legislation

by James Resnick

I am from the state Student Advisory Council (SAC) which represents all high school students from across Massachusetts .  We filed this bill (H.3353) to extend protection from discrimination to students on the basis of their sexual orientation.  We believe it is important to explain why we took up this piece of legislation.

We at the SAC see this bill as a students' rights bill, giving everybody the right to an education.  Because everyone deserves that right.

On a more personal basis, I can look back to three years ago, when I first became a member of the SC.  I was very opposed to this piece of legislation.  My peers on the SAC asked me, "Why are you against this bill?"  I had no response.  I was just very homophobic.

As I look back, I wonder where and when did I learn this type of shallow thinking.  Was it from society?  Family?  School?  You're not born with these types of prejudices – you learn them.  Well, through understanding, education and a reality check, I was able to realize that my past opinions were wrong.  Also, by speaking with gay and lesbian youth and adults, I was able to overcome my ignorance.  And that's what it plainly was – ignorance.

I believe anyone can unlearn prejudices and re-evaluate their thinking process.  I personally know that.  But, I believe I'm one of a minority who have changed their opinion.  That is why this bill has to be passed.  If we don't tackle the issue of homophobia in schools, then it will be that much harder to educate tomorrow's adults compared to today's students.

I'd like to tell you an interesting story.  When I first told some people that I was speaking at this rally, two general questions were asked.  "Why would you speak at this rally if you're not gay?" and then they asked..."Well, are you?" 

The answer is that as a student, period, I want to go to a school that is free from harassment of any kind.  Like a great majority of students, I want to go to school to learn, not to worry about safety.  What this bill will do is force administrators and teachers to stop harassment and teach students to respect each other's differences.

I appeal to the legislature to take the initiative now, not tomorrow, not next week or next year.  For every day you delay this bill, it's another student who is harassed, another student forced to drop out of school.  You have the power to stop harassment for everybody – not just limit the law to protecting students based on race, color, sex, religion or national origin – but to include gay and lesbian students.

Students want to go to school to learn!  Is it so much to ask for that opportunity?  If we come together, then we will obtain our mutual goal – a peaceful school and a peaceful society.  If we are united, we will bring change.

James Resnick, a high school student from Marblehead, Massachusetts,  was addressing a rally at the Massachusetts State House in October 1993, shortly before the Massachusetts Legislature passed "An Act Relative to Discrimination Against Students in Public Schools on the Basis of Sexual Orientation."  His speech was published in Bill of Rights Network, winter 1994.