School Had No Business Outing Lesbian Teen to Her Parents

Jeanne Sager

holding handsTalk about a sticky wicket. A teen girl was busted for holding hands on campus with another girl -- a no no, the school says, whether you're gay or straight. She was suspended. Which meant telling her parents. And just like that, a teen lesbian was outed to her parents by her school.

The girls are crying foul against the district because one of the girls was not "out" with her family, and there's a part of me that can't blame them. Coming out in America isn't just about owning one's true feelings. In many American households, it's risking one's safety. It's not even a stretch to say it can be risking a teenager's life.

An estimated 26 percent of gay teens end up homeless because they're kicked out of their homes by angry parents, parents unable to fathom that a kid coming out is simply part of life, not something spiteful. Of the homeless kids out there on the streets now, PFLAG estimates anywhere from 20 to 40 percent are gay. CDC statistics put the number of gay teens beaten up for admission of their sexuality at one in six. And by beaten up, they're talking incidents serious enough for these kids to seek medical attention. Add to this the horror stories of kids killed by their own parents for being gay, and outing someone could make you an accessory to murder -- albeit unwittingly.

So what are school administrators to do? It's one thing to contact a parent to let them know their child is being suspended. And in that case, it's absolutely necessary for an administrator to divulge the REASON for a suspension. What kind of parent wouldn't want to know that? I'd be running to the school for a very long talk with the principal's boss if he/she wouldn't explain why my child was being punished.

On the other hand, it's easy enough to explain an incident without divulging this sort of personal information. It's one thing to say, "Yeah, your kid was holding hands, which is against our PDA policies." It's quite another to call up a parent and say, "Your kid is a lesbian."

As a parent, I would want to know about my child's sexuality. Not because I'd be bothered if she were a lesbian but because that's an important part of WHO she is. I'd like to think that she would tell me first, that bringing her up in an open-minded household would be enough to let her know she can trust me with this sort of detail.

But if a child was uncomfortable about coming out, there may well be a reason for that. That's something administrators need to keep in mind. Kids know their home lives better than school staff. They can judge when it's not safe to say something to their parents.

As parents, we expect our kids' schools to let us know if there's a problem. But was this really a problem? It's not like she was doing anything dangerous. She wasn't taking drugs or having sex beneath the bleachers. She was holding hands. And that was all this administrator had to say.

Do you think school staff should be able to "out" kids, or should this sort of thing remain private until a kid feels like coming clean to their parents?


Image via katerha/Flickr

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