A traditional rivalry football game in suburban Cleveland last Friday turned ugly when teenage fans from both schools chanted homophobic slurs at one another before the kick off of their annual matchup. The chants, which come just weeks after an expose into how bullying of marginalized students in one Cleveland suburb led to four suicides in a single year, have led to internal investigations and pleas from the principal of one of the schools not to suspend students who may have been involved.
The chants began just before kickoff of Eastlake North (Ohio) High's annual face-off with Willoughby South (Ohio) High. Willoughby South students began chanting "Halloween [offensive slur]s" as the Eastlake North team ran on to the field, and the North student fans immediately responded with chants of "Powder blue [offensive slur]s". The Eastlake North chants were captured on film and uploaded to YouTube, where the chanting was viewed by school officials and a handful of media members.
On Monday, Eastlake North principal Jennifer Chauby met with a large group of the students involved and pleaded with other school district officials via the Cleveland Plain Dealer not to suspend a large chunk of the student body for, "a mistake."
"What the students learned is a life lesson," Chauby told the Plain Dealer. "This is an opportunity to learn from a mistake.
"One bad choice can damage your reputation. These are good students and they made a bad choice."
Despite Chauby's pleas, Willoughby-Eastlake schools superintendent Keith Miller reacted angrily to the slurs.
"It's not acceptable," Miller told the Plain Dealer. "It's disgusting. This is not the North High School we want to display to the public."
While few could advocate suspending up to 300 students, the number Chauby fears could be punished, the gay-lesbian community in Cleveland is calling for some reaction from the school district.
Given the content of comments from alleged students and alumni of the two different schools on the YouTube video, its becoming even easier for those critical of the school district to claim that the students aren't learning the lessons Chauby is advocating for them.
Here's what Jan Cline, the executive director of the LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland told the Plain Dealer about the homophobic chanting.
"It goes on all the time," he said. "As I teenager I heard it at school. The school has to be responsible for what happened on their grounds. I understand this has been part of a long tradition and that the kids don't even understand what they did wrong."
"It's bullying. That's why in the past few weeks young men have been killing themselves," Cline said. "The unintended impact of this is that it drives young men and women to kill themselves. It sets them apart. What happened at the game tells people that its OK to say anti-gay slurs because these people are not worth much."
"Its terrible," he added. "If you don't like lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, keep it to yourself."