Handsy Miniature: The Legacy of Little Rock and Homophobia in Pennsylvania

By Doctor Comrade

On Monday, students at Pennsylvania's McGuffey High School organized an Anti-Gay Day and harassed LGBT students in response to the school's Gay-Straight Alliance observing the National Day of Silence the previous week. Many parallels have been drawn between the struggle for gay rights and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s (including by me), so this seems like an opportune moment to pause and reflect on the historical ramifications of bigotry lived out in public schools.

This article from Slate may put it in a new perspective for you. It's an excerpt from David Margolick's book Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock, which traces the struggles of two young women, one white and one black, during and after desegregation. The white girl, Hazel Bryan Massery,  in one of the most infamous photographs of the era, snarls at Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine. In the years that followed, she regretted her actions and attempted to apologize, even going so far as to defend African Americans against racism in her family, befriending Elizabeth, and engaging in volunteer activities in the black community. Though her story has since become much more complicated, I think it adequately demonstrates the feelings of regret that eventually accompanied her feelings of hatred.

I think in 20 or 50 years, these homophobic kids will be haunted by their actions and the terrible things they did to classmates, and their photographs will live on in the internet archive for the rest of their lives. They will be ashamed, they will resent their parents and the terrible society that raised them to be so hateful. They will feel victimized by their own intolerance and bigotry. Most importantly, they'll feel guilty and aggrieved, and maybe some of them will even change their minds and become activists or raise their children differently. Nothing is inevitable except the march of time, and time is certainly ticking away on homophobia.