Gay W. Virginia Teen Subjected to Harassment at 4-H Camp

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday July 21, 2009

A gay West Virginia teenager was subjected to a "brutal" verbal attack from several other teens while at a 4-H camp, according to the teen's mother.

A WSAZ News Channel 3 story posted on July 17 said that, according to mother Valera White, her teenaged son was so shocked and distressed by the taunts that other camp participants hurled at him that, "he could barely speak."

Indeed, the teen had to write out details of the incident in order to communicate what happened.

The article said that because West Virginia does not offer any anti-discrimination protections for GLBTs, the police could not pursue the matter.

White said that two camp counselors were on the scene during the verbal attack; a 4H camp spokesperson verified that counselors were there, but would not say whether they would face disciplinary action, the article reported.

The spokesperson added that 4H makes every effort to ensure that attendees at their camps will be safe.

But for the teen in question, the camp was not the only place he has suffered taunts; even shopping and going to movies is fraught with anti-gay harassment, the article said.

West Virginia law not only has no provisions specific to anti-gay bias crimes; one school district there recently voted to strip out language from a policy that would otherwise have extended protection to students from discrimination based on "sexual orientation," as wvgazette.com reported in a July 21 article.

The article said that the Kanawha Country school board unanimously voted to take out "sexual orientation" from the policy, explaining later that specific language addressing gay and lesbian students was not necessary in the policy because local law already provides for anti-discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the policy reflects a blanket adherence to laws established at the federal, state, or local level.

In a wider context, West Virginia is currently embroiled in a divisive debate about a proposed constitutional amendment that would place marriage equality out of reach for the state's gay and lesbian families.

A July 20 Associated Press article on the amendment reported that Jeremy Dys, the leader of an anti-gay organization, The Family Policy Council of West Virginia, claimed that recent gains and ongoing work to secure full legal parity for GLBTs and their families amounted to "a coordinated, nationwide effort to redefine marriage."

Dys cited recent marriage equality victories in several states, as well as a push to repeal the military's ban on openly gay troops and Congressional support for a federal law that would protect gays from hate crimes, the article said.

"Each is designed to make same-sex activity a conspicuous part of American society," the article quoted Dys as declaring.

"The hoped-for result is the public acceptance of same-sex marriage and the homosexual lifestyle," added Dys.

The article also quoted Fairness West Virginia's president, President Stephen Skinner, who questioned the motives behind such an amendment.

Asked Skinner, "Who does this really help?

"Will this help one [heterosexual] marriage in West Virginia?"

Added Skinner, "I think there's plenty of evidence to suggest that the promotion of a referendum is tied to partisan political purposes."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.