[oasis] [columns]

Andrew Downing

January 1997

Happy New Year!

Well, it's hard to believe, isn't it? Oasis is entering its second year of publication. I've only been with Oasis for about a third of that - this will be my fifth month - so it still amazes me just how much and how widespread the response to Oasis is.

Oasis has received the Freedom Award, a Top5% of all websites award, and, most recently, the Rainbow Award.

To me, it's a little overwhelming to be a part of something so big. Heck, I've gotten mail about my column from Slovenia! That, more than anything else, served to drive home to me just how far-reaching Oasis really is.

It's an incredible feeling to think that you may have made a difference, even a tiny one, in someone's life through your column.

And, though I acknowledge that I probably should have done this last month, I'd like to take just a moment to officially welcome our new editor, web design guru, and fearless leader, Michael Ditto. He'll make an excellent editor - he's already started to stroke my inflated writer's ego. I just hope he'll be able to put up with my customary grumbling about the editorial Gestapo. Mike - good luck!

I suppose I've wasted enough time and bandwidth - perhaps I should put some actual substance into this column.

I'd like to congratulate - and show my respect for - my fellow Oasis columnist Robert Hines, and all others, who, like him, have made the decision to come out at school (especially if that school happens to be a high school.)

It's much easier, I find, to come out when you go to a University - many Universities have support systems in place for their gay and lesbian students, whether it may be a clause in the University's constitution outlawing discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation, or whether they sanction a gay and lesbian student group on campus... but most high schools have nothing of the kind.

That means that openly gay high school students have nothing except themselves and their own personal emotional support structures, assuming that those structures survived the coming-out process, to help them deal with the almost inevitable bashing that will occur at the hands of their peers (and sometimes even at the hands of their teachers!)

This being the case, the question arises - why on Earth would anyone want to come out at school?

Good Question.

They do it because they've had enough of lying to everyone in their lives. They do it because they want to institute a change for the better in their school. They do it because they didn't have a choice - they were inadvertently outed.

To me, it is an incredible act of valor on their parts - and the way they handle it can set an example for other gay students at their school who may be thinking of coming out themselves.

But more than showing other gay students that being gay is something that can be handled, it sends another message.

"You Are Not Alone."

To a young closeted lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered student, that simple message could very well mean the difference between life and death. Literally.

Not surprisingly, the pressure felt by these openly gay students is enormous. While closeted students know that they are not alone, thanks to the one hero in their school, the openly gay students have no such reassurance, and because they have come out, they are doubly alone. Though they know, statistically, that there are other gay students at their school, they don't see them, and they feel like they are handling all of this tremendous pressure alone.

But going back to the closet life would be showing their closeted brothers and sisters that it's too much to handle, and would deprive them of what would likely be their only gay role model.

Of course, remembering their closet life, most of these openly gay students wouldn't go back; sacrificing themselves, as it were, to ease the way for those who are to come after them.

Unfortunately, these 'martyrs' very rarely, if ever, get the recognition they so very richly deserve.

So, I dedicate this, my first column of 1997, to these people, these heroes, as they look forward, toward a time when there will be no need for certain students to have to sacrifice themselves to the cause.

Until then, I'll tie a rainbow ribbon 'round the old oak tree.


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