Motorists pass billboards every day hawking everything from french fries to pickup trucks. Now they'll pass some intended to fight hate.
The following excerpt is from an article published in the Modesto Bee.
By Marijke Rowland, Bee Staff Writer
Motorists pass billboards every day hawking everything from french fries to pickup trucks.
Now they'll pass some intended to fight hate.
Two Modesto gay and lesbian advocacy and support groups are joining forces to put up massive reminders of the pain that intolerance can breed in schools.
"This is about real people," said Marian Martino of the Stanislaus Chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG. "We want to put a face on the tragic things going on in our schools. It affects every child on school campuses -- gay, lesbian or straight."
The Safe Schools Billboard Campaign unveiled four signs around Modesto on Tuesday. Their message is that schools should be safe for all students, teachers and staff, regardless of their sexual orientation.
The signs read "Safe Schools" and "Hate Hurts," and give a hot-line number to contact PFLAG and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN.
The campaign, which has the support of the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department and the Modesto Police Department, will keep the billboards up until early December.
"As sheriff, it is my responsibility to protect all of God's children," Sheriff Les Weidman said. "Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect."
At the kickoff event, law enforcement officers, city officials and school administrators talked about the project. Several speakers also discussed the effect that hate has had on their lives.
"Teens can be very mean and unaccepting," said Violetta Papadakis, a Manteca High School junior. "I constantly have people ridiculing me for being gay. They ask me if I'm a guy or a girl."
Papadakis said that since the first grade, she has been a tomboy, playing football and basketball instead of wearing makeup and curlers. She has lost friends who could not accept her sexuality. She has other friends who have been beaten for being gay.
Numerous studies conducted in the 1990s show that students face an onslaught of anti-gay harassment every day. Some 97 percent of students in public schools report regularly hearing homophobic remarks from peers. A typical high school student hears gay slurs 25.5 times a day.
"Young people have the right to go through school all day long without the thought of prejudice and hatred," said Vangie Eidsvik-Garza, who spoke about the harassment that her gay son has faced. "Sometimes when he comes home from school, I can just tell something is wrong. He's had to sit there all day and hear hate language."
Organizers do not know how large an impact the billboards will have.
But, they said, even the smallest recognition would be victory. The signs also might reach teens who are looking for help.
People drive past these things all the time," said Shirley Woodward, former PFLAG president. "But you never know, there might be a teen in distress who doesn't know what to do who looks at the sign."
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November 15, 2000
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