Book Review: ‘Don’t Be So Gay’ by Donn Short

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You really didn’t want to talk about it.

Sometimes, you thought it might even be just a rite of passage: everybody endures name-calling at one time or another, right? Everybody’s bullied at some time.

You didn’t want to talk about it, but you always wondered if you should’ve. When faced with bullies, is keeping quiet better — or, as you’ll see in “’Don’t Be So Gay!’” by Donn Short, are there better ways for gay teens to stop bullying?

For about the last 35 years, schools and institutions have been concerned with bullying; more recently, the issue of sexuality has come into the conversation. Of all the anti-bullying programs he’s seen — the ones that help ensure the safety of gay teens — Donn Short says that Toronto has one of the best.

But how good is the Safe Schools Act? Over the course of three months, he interviewed gay students and advocates, and teens who “did not identify as queer but who were, nonetheless, subject to homophobic harassment by their peers” to find out. Interviewees came from several different schools in the Toronto area; some were teachers.

Many of those teachers didn’t think the policies were working. Students, Short notes, still used negative epithets, and at least one teacher spent considerable time scolding those students who did. He was also told that teachers were often “surrounded by homophobic colleagues.”

Interestingly enough, though the policies instituted in the Safe Schools Act were meant to ensure safety of LGBTQ students, the students didn’t seem impressed. They were often “more familiar with safe-school and equity policies than most other students” and knew when something wasn’t working. Many had experienced homophobia from teachers. One young man — who wasn’t gay but was bullied as if he was — sued.

Overall, LGBTQ students strongly suggested that anti-bullying policies would work better if administrators asked the students they’re trying to protect where flaws are in the system of protection. Students also believed that bullying would stop if the “entire” culture were changed, along with attitudes of homosexuality and the ubiquitousness of heternormativity.

“It’s too late for my generation,” says one teen. “We need to be working on the kids in kindergarten.”

There’s a lot of good in “’Don’t Be So Gay!’” — and a lot otherwise.

First, the otherwise: though author Donn Short mentions anti-bullying policies in other countries, his admitted focus is on a few schools in Toronto which, though the range of interviewees is wide, narrowed the information here; it didn’t help that he wanders off-topic quite often, and into racial issues rather than the subject at hand. Furthermore, casual readers may find the info more academic than not.

To the good, Short spent considerable time with the teens he interviewed, which allowed him to get unabashed answers to his questions. That kind of honesty – and the well-considered thoughts from LGBTQ teens – is what makes this book so good.

This is by no means a front-of-the-fireplace book. It’s going to take some digging to get the nuggets of info you’ll need from it. But if you’re concerned about what’s going on with your child and in your school, “’Don’t Be So Gay!’” might spark some talking.

“’Don’t Be So Gay!’” by Donn Short
c.2013, University of British Columbia Press
$32.95 / higher in the U.S.       289 pages


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