Most students wouldn't consider themselves hatemongers. After all, between studying for the next English test or practicing for the band concert, dances, dates and work, there isn't much time to be actively "against " anything, except maybe more homework.
But some students at the Billings, Mont., Senior High School were challenged recently to wonder if they were doing enough to keep their school a safe place for everyone, even those whom they don't fully understand.
During a "Lunch and Learn " session in the school's library,about 80 students used their lunch periods to listen to a UCC pastor talk about homophobia, how it affects them and what they can do about it.
"One person can't change intolerance by themselves. You'll get hurt," said the Rev. Daryl Kistler, pastor of United Christian UCC in Miles City. "But as a group,if you tell others that you will not allow that kind of language, it will make a difference."
Kistler, 28, sporting an earring in each ear, modern haircut and an "Elvis" belt buckle, didn't look the part of clergy. But he did remind the students that it is possible to celebrate diversity through a religious framework.
Living in what he called a "post-Columbine era," where those who act differently or speak out against norms run the risk of being seriously hurt or killed, Kistler reminded students about the fear that gay and lesbian students live in every day.
"Being gay in high school breeds silence," Kistler said. But the homophobia comes out loud and clear,he reminded the students, especially when comments such as "that's so gay!" or "faggot" are allowed to circulate in classrooms unchallenged.
The national Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network says a survey of high school students done last year shows that more than 90 percent reported hearing homophobic remarks and more than 82 percent reported that teachers heard the remarks but did not respond in any way.
"How close are we at Senior High to celebrating diversity?" he asked. "Not very," came a sheepish reply from one corner.
"Coming Out Young and Faithful," published by United Church Press, is available at unitedchurchpress.com. Click on "Youth."
Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, glsen.org.