by Johnathan Harrison
"A perception exists that life is getting better for lgbt young people because of the increased visibility of lgbt youth nationwide. However, an increase in visibility does not translate into basic freedom from discrimination or a safer environment for lgbt individuals in NC. The realities surrounding Matthew Shepard's death speak louder than words, especially in a state where our schools are only allowed to teach that homosexuality is felony under the Abstinence Until Marriage Law," states Hez Norton, founder and Executive Director.
Several members of NCLYN have recently partnered with Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educators Network (GLSEN) and other community organizations to take this message to NC schools and churches. After numerous youth were harassed, beaten and threatened, members of the group formed the Rainbow Youth Coalition. By NC schools and churches. After numerous youth were harassed, beaten and threatened, members of the group formed the Rainbow Youth Coalition. By providing panel discussions and trainings, the Rainbow Youth Coalition operates on the belief that verbal and physical harassment of any student based on race, gender, class, sexual orientation, or any perceived "difference" impedes upon the ability to learn and to receive a proper education.
"By opening a forum for discussion and self-reflection, the RYC creates a safe space for youth and adults to explore the realities and challenges of living in a multicultural society and to ask themselves
'Is it acceptable to verbally harass or physically abuse someone because I am uncomfortable with them?'," says Chris Thornton, a junior at Southern High School. Chris joined the board of NCLYN shortly after receiving a death threat at her school from another student.
Chris says, "Receiving a death threat was one of those things I never really expected to happen to me. I was just secure in my mindset that 'nobody will mess with me.' In April 1998, I was shaken from that idea. Before that I had been called 'butch, he/she, it' and 'dyke'. One day I was even pushed off steps by a group of guys. But, on this day I had gone into the bathroom and a girl about my age handed me a letter from someone else. The letter said, "Fagg, I'm gonna kill you, fagg. Don't walk alone. We know where your classes are..." I took it to a counselor and called Hez Norton and John Harrison at NCLYN.
"Usually when somebody gets a death threat, there are two different reactions. Either they get really angry or scared. I didn't get scared, so what's left? In the aftermath, many things have come out of that death threat.
"I have spoken at several meetings and in front of Durham City Council. I have also founded the second Gay-Straight Alliance in North Carolina. Our first meeting was today, October 27, 1998. It will, hopefully, be the first of many," said Chris.
"Chris is one of many young people in NC schools who have been harrassed due to their sexual orientation,or their perceived sexual orientation. I have met young people across the state who have been assaulted verbally and physicallythese youth do not often report the harrassment because the consequences for reporting it are too high. The climate for lgbt youth in NC is hostile. In a state that has a sodomy law, a state that continues to elect blatantly homophobic legislators, a state that has a Defense of Marriage Act that 'protects the rights of heterosexuals to marry' by making it illegal for same sex people to marry, a state that has a law which requires all public schools to teach abstinence until marriage and only mentions homosexuality as a felony and against the Crimes Against Nature Lew (a law that dates back to Henry VIII)...the list goes on and on. This climate of hate is overwhelming for a young person. LGBT youth in this state are in danger, no doubt about it."
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