The Advocate has a brief story up on a Colorado high school football coach who made two players hold hands and run together as punishment during a recent practice:
Officials from the Aurora Public Schools say they are investigating the claims that Coach Grant Pippert told freshmen Rafael Merced and another student to hold hands and run together after a brief altercation. The two were taunted by their teammates, who called them derogatory names. Merced told KMGH-TV News that he felt the experience was humiliating.
The other students jeered and called them gay, and the teasing continued throughout the week. The school system is investigating.
This act is bad enough- using the perceived "eww-factor" of same-sex affection and solidifying anti-gay attitudes in kids.
What caught me more off guard, however, were some of the comments from Advocate readers...
Here's a sample of a few of the responses:
I personally don't see anything wrong with the idea. i do agree with the coach in that this a form of discipline: "no guy would want to hold hands with another guy at any time for no reason" and they are not GAY. so doing this is one way to look at the coach keeping the team in unity. team players, on the other hand, may not like the idea so they will do what is right so the coach wont have to use this measure.
Don't see anything wrong here except for the Coach not reprimanding the students who were taunting the two holding hands. Where's the punishment for that?
In a weird way, I like this. I doubt the coach had anything other than using homophobia to humiliate two of his players, and that's nothing new. I'm guessing, though, that those players got a good taste of how even the simplest expression of affection between two men can bring derision and shame to them. It's a great, great lesson for them on how hard it is to be out.
I'm really hoping that the vast majority of readers see the problem of using homophobia as a lesson in "team building."
To give passes to educators reinforcing hyper-macho, anti-gay attitudes because "no guy want to hold hands with another guy" is incredible disturbing.
I'm guessing that the players involved and those watching the two guys holding hands as punishment weren't thinking "gosh, this must be what gays go through." Instead, they were seeing "gay=gross" and something worthy of ridicule and shame- all with their coach's stamp of approval.
I also don't understand the idea that the actual punishment of "yucky gay hand holding" isn't bad, just the coach not stopping the other players from teasing them. The whole idea behind the punishment was to embarrass and humiliate the two boys because of underlying homophobia. You can't create the anti-gay situation and then be surprised when others follow your lead and act out.
So what makes some in the community shrug their shoulders at actions like this? Internalized homophobia? Self loathing? Not thinking before commenting?
Perhaps a little bit of everything.
Acts like what this coach did are extremely damaging. I'm sure it was the talk of the school- the two big football players holding hands like fags. I can only imagine the effect this had on LGBT students at the school. Take the ridicule the two players felt and quadruple it to an actual LGBT kid. The other players saw the "punishment" as a homophobic joke and still reacted with bullying and jeers under the watchful eye of their coach. What would their reaction be if it was a real gay student holding hands with another boy- would the bullying stop at jeers or escalate to something more violent?
These are lessons in hate and intolerance we should be fighting against, not excusing and glazing over. The acts of intolerance themselves are dangerous moments that teach anti-LGBT animus. How we react (or condone) as a community is a lesson to young people as well, perhaps a stronger lesson than the homophobic act itself.
Internalized homophobia is a powerful thing. What many in the community have had to live with and hear in their lives have left their scars. But we can't allow the next generation of of LGBT youth to carry those same burdens by cultivating self-loathing and excusing hate.
There is no excuse for homophobia.