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Know Your Rights
Source: NY1
Subject: Education Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Brooklyn School Takes Zero-Tolerance Approach To Anti-Gay Slur

Even though it is prohibited, an anti-gay slur is heard all too often inside city schools. But one Brooklyn high school is having success with a zero-tolerance approach. NY1 Education reporter Michael Meenan explained why in the following report.

Street slang often slips through school doors and gets inside classrooms. Slang that enters schools includes a homophobic slur heard a lot on the streets, the so-called F- word.

"Some people use it in a joking around manner,” explained student Stephanie Viruet. “They’ll say it like ‘oh, he’s such a faggot’-sorry."

"It’s used,” added Walter Colon, another student. “Everywhere you go you hear it."

But the word is not heard at Bushwick Community High School, an alternative school where the Department of Education’s prohibition is strictly enforced.

That does not mean the word does not get out, but teachers step in immediately and stop their classes.

"I have stopped before, and most people correct themselves pretty quickly,” said Elizabeth Agate, a teacher at Bushwick Community High School. “They do realize it’s an inappropriate word to use in this building."

Teachers are clear it is not acceptable.

"They don’t, you know, take you by the corner and grab you and throw you and say don’t use that,” added Colon. “They let you know you can have your opinion, but when you’re here, show respect."

When Agate began teaching English at the school a year ago, she was doubtful the usage of the word could be stopped.

"Then when I accepted a position here and began working here, I realized what a special place this is,” said Agate. “It’s true."

For gay students the word is despicable.

"A word is a word, but that word comes from a lot of history of violence," said Bushwick student Daniel Nieves.

"We want to teach them the history of words, and that words have power,” added Andrew Parker, also a teacher at Bushwick. “And we want to teach them to use their words in a powerful way."

Public school students can face punishment for "using slurs based upon sexual orientation," including suspension. Still, that punishment is rare and is a worst case scenario.

"Suspension is not the key,” said another Bushwick student, Samantha Suggs. “Lesson plans, teaching, more like why we would want to use that word in the first place."

Students at Bushwick say stopping homophobia is part of a larger struggle.

"I’m Latino, so regardless, I’m going to be hated for the color of my skin, anyway,” explained Nieves. “So that’s just another thing added to the list to be hated for."

"It’s discrimination,” added student Michael Green. “People discriminate against homosexuals, like they discriminate against African Americans."

"I have a few gay friends and a gay cousin, so I take it personal, on behalf of my friends and my cousin," said another student, Aaron Archer.

So when it comes to teaching kids why not to use an anti-gay word, the teachers at Bushwick Community think they have a pretty good lesson plan that other schools might want to borrow from.