I never came across my school as being homophobic. I never heard anyone utter the word "fag" at anyone, or harass anyone because of their sexuality. Of course, it wasn't until I realized I was gay, around June of 1997, that I noticed nobody else in my school was out. Not one person. There were a few who I could think of that set off my gaydar, but I never had an evidence to support this. There weren't any openly gay teachers, staff members, or administrative workers. I was all alone. Then, I came across some information about gay-straight alliances on the Internet. (Keep in mind, my entire homosexual lifestyle was solely on the Internet. I had nobody to turn to in real life.) Could I start a gay-straight alliance at my school? Was it even remotely possible? I certainly didn't think so, after reading the mounds and mounds of news stories on how much controversy these groups caused. So, over the summer, I just sat at my computer, day and night, trying to come up with some way of making one. I didn't get very far. Heck, I didn't get far at all. I came back to school with a new attitude, though. That summer had confirmed my sexuality, and I thought I was ready to come out.
I THOUGHT I was ready to come out. I wasn't. I did come out to quite a few people, but I picked and chose very carefully. I thought about a person's religion, political views, and open-mindedness before I even pondered coming out to them. Of course, my school, just like any high school, has a rumor mill. Coming out always runs the risk of telling someone, who tells someone else, who tells someone else. This was exactly what I ran into. Two days into the school year, people were constantly coming up to me and saying, "I heard a rumor about you... is it true?" There were some times when I just flat out denied it. Most of those times, I felt guilty about lying, and then I started to take a new direction... answering truthfully and immediately taking the offensive. "No!" soon became, "YES! And if you have a problem with it, bug off." Most people were surprised with how quickly I jumped on the issue, and so they backed off or said, "I don't have a problem with it at all. I was just wondering." I breathed a sigh of relief. But, I was still only coming out to the open-minded, intelligent kids at my school. I had a misconception of the situation at my school. I automatically assumed that everyone in my school was OK with this, so I just let the rumor mill flow, hoping it wouldn't get to some homophobic maniac who would come to kill me.
One weekend in October, I went on a writing spree. I couldn't handle living this lifestyle alone at school, so I had to start this gay-straight alliance. Something had to be done about this, so I wrote a letter to the principal. I had never written anything so quickly in my life, but then again, I had never vented so much about the topic of sexuality. After I wrote my letter, I looked at it on paper and just glared at it:
This high school currently has a major problem that is plaguing the student body. To many people, they feel as though it should be ignored. In some cases, it offends many people. In other cases, it shows courage on the part of the students w share this problem that they face in their life. This "problem" is not a problem at all, but rather something that an average of one in every ten teens faces: homosexuality. Recently, I shared a similar experience with my friends and family. During the past summer, I accepted that I was gay. To some people, this came as a complete shock. To others, they accepted it with open arms, and supported me in my time of need.
However, I feel that there are some people in this school who feel that they have to keep this a "secret" from everyone, since it is not universally accepted. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens need a place they can turn to for support, especially during their high school years, where some students have accepted that they are gay, while some still have severe homophobia, and feel as though they will never accept homosexuality as a normal lifestyle. This can make for a harsh environment for any student who is "out" in high school. In fact, a gay teenager is three times more likely to commit suicide than a straight teenager, simply because he or she may feel depressed and isolated by their sexuality.
In order to support students like myself who face this problem every day, I feel it is necessary to create an organization that can cater to this group, and allow straight students to interact without feeling as though they have been labeled as part of the gay community. Therefore, to follow in many high schools' suits, this school should have a Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Straight Alliance. I would be willing to take responsibility for putting together this organization, but it is necessary to get the permission of the administration, as well as the support of the faculty and staff, in order to make this group successful. I have put together a mission statement that explains the purpose of this organization:
- To provide a safe environment for gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth.
- To form a bond between the gay and straight communities, and to allow heterosexuals to show their support for the gay community without negative pressures from the outside.
- To take action on problems plaguing the gay, lesbian, and bisexual community at this school, as well as share problems that have been faced by these people
- To help teens troubled by their sexuality and those who may have problems with the way they feel.
- To support teens who may be questioning their own sexuality, as some do during adolescence.
Please consider this request. I did not have any organization like this to turn to when I was first questioning my sexuality. I was depressed throughout my freshman and sophomore year, because I did not have anyone to turn to while I was facing this dilemma in my life. This is a very important part of everyone's life. Sexuality is something that all teenagers deal with at one level or another. Some, however, have problems dealing with it, particularly their own sexuality. Creating the Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Straight Alliance, this may alleviate some of the problems that teens face every day in the brutal, homophobic environment that some students here have created.
The letter was a piece of work. I handed it to the principal the following day, hoping for a reply. He was expecting me to follow up, and at the same time, I was expecting him to follow up. When he didn't, I automatically assumed that he didn't want one at this school, so I kept avoiding him. I had surgery during November, so I missed more than a month of school. When I came back, he stopped me one day on my way to class and said, "you know, you wrote a letter to me, and you never followed up on it. I would like to talk about this some day, just make an appointment." I was quite angry with myself for putting things off, but I decided to let it slide, and hope to pick things up again after Christmas break, when all of my make-up work from my absence was completed.
During those four months, nothing progressed in the rumor mill. Some people just shrugged it off and didn't care much about it. Others congratulated me on being brave enough to come out. During those four months, I didn't hear the word "fag" or "queer" directed at me. (Well, maybe I did... but not for purposes related to my sexuality.) One weekend in January, I went to the Glad Day gift shop in Boston and picked up some pride rings, which I wore to school the next day without incident. I didn't realize, however, that most people have no clue what they mean. But I was still concerned about someone giving them a strange look, so I constantly hid them. (which completely defeats the whole purpose of PRIDE rings.) Everyone who saw them said that they looked nifty, but some people went further and asked me what they meant, to which I replied, "nothing... nothing at all. They're just rings."
Nothing progressed in the Gay-Straight Alliance department. I kept putting things off, still hiding from the principal every time I passed him. Then, one day, I overheard something about one of the seniors, Sarah, and how she was going to start a Gay-Straight Alliance at our school. I had heard that she was bi, but this had never really been confirmed in my mind, because I had never seen the torment she was really going through by the people in her class. I was excited. Something was actually going to get done. Several teachers had actually applied to advise the alliance. We were going to have a Gay-Straight Alliance! Even the principal had given his support to this organization.
About two hours after this information had been passed along to me, I was at my locker when someone handed me a sheet of paper with a few names on it. Across the top, it read: "A Patition to Stop The Gay-Lesbain Allance." I looked up at the idiot who had handed it to me. He certainly wasn't the brightest of kids, and you could tell simply by his spelling, not to mention that he called this a Gay-LESBIAN alliance, rather than a Gay-Straight Alliance. I tossed it back at him, infuriated that ten people had already signed his petition. When I stepped outside to proceed to my next class, and another kid was handing this petition out. Of course, he was giving another clouded, one-sided view of the alliance. "Yeah, they wanna start a gay club here."
I was so disgusted that I wanted to jump on the kid and scream at him, but he was almost a foot taller than me, and looked like he had the group on his side, so I kept my anger to myself. The next class, Spanish, was torture for me. Nobody talked about it, and I was sure everyone in that class would support it, but I was still horrified by what just went on outside. For most of class, I sat with my head on my desk, until I realized that something HAD to be done about this. I ripped a sheet of paper out of my Spanish notebook and wrote a letter to the people who were running around with this petition. I addressed it to "the homophobes." I explained to them that it was a gay- STRAIGHT alliance, and what the goal of this organization is. I used mild expletives, but never went as far as to make a threat, because that only would've made things worse. I took the piece of paper, folded it up, and tossed it on the table of the group with the petition at lunch.
My knees were weak. I just spoke my mind to idiots. Is this really a smart thing to do? They can't see my side of the argument, because they're so closed-minded. But, I did it, and proceeded to the table where I sat with my friends. A couple of minutes later, one of the guys came over with the petition and the letter. He shoved the letter in my face and asked me, "did you write this?" I thought about it quickly in my head... should I tell the truth? Then I realized that these are really dense people that I'm dealing with here. Dense people are easy to manipulate. "No, I didn't write it. Somebody gave it to me and told me to give it to you." He, of course, questioned me. "Who was it?" I didn't want to incriminate anyone else for my actions so I said, "I don't know... some kid. He just handed it to me and told me to give it to you. I'd never seen him before in my life." I breathed a huge sigh of relief when he folded the note back and said, "oh... okay. Because I'm going to break the legs of whoever wrote this." Then he asked my friends to sign the petition. He explained what he called "the gay club." None of my friends signed it, with the exception of one. (He signed it under a false name, just to get rid of the kid.) All of my friends said, "why do THEY care if they make a club like that at our school? They're not going to be in it." I was so delighted... straight MALES were approving of the Gay-Straight Alliance.
Now, if only we could get the homophobes to comply. We did have the constitutional right to start this, and all three administration members; the principal and both assistant principals all talked with the people starting this petition, and tried to explain this to them. It was quite difficult to explain this to them, so the principal called for an open forum to discuss this. I paced around outside the classroom where it was going to be held, fearing that I would be faced with the worst homophobia I had ever experienced in my life. I suppose I was right. There was one kid who asked the principal over and over again, "how are we going to protect the students who don't want to be exposed to this?" Every time that was asked, the principal was puzzled. "EXPOSED to this? High school is supposed to prepare teenagers for real-life situations. They are going to be 'exposed' to this in any situation further down the road, so I don't see why this shouldn't be presented now."
Every student in that room DID have one thing in common; they feared violent repercussions from starting this alliance. The principal, once again, defended the student body. "I don't think our students are THAT closed minded, and those that are need to be taken care of. Let someone call my bluff on this... if ANYONE threatens or harasses anyone who is in this organization, there will be a quick and severe punishment for that student." I couldn't believe what I was hearing. When I hadn't heard back from him about my proposal for a Gay-Straight Alliance, I assumed he was a homophobe. Boy, was I wrong. He actually cared for the gay population at the school, enough to propose a "zero-tolerance" policy on people that have, well, "zero-tolerance." Any harassment, any hate crime, any threat, would be taken seriously, and the punishment would be swift.
I walked out of school that day with a new look at life. There WERE people who would defend people like me. There WERE people who would show complete ignorance towards me. There WERE other gay people at my school. Three conflicting statements. A gay-straight alliance has been formed at my school now, and I have a place to turn to when I need some help. I have people in my school I can relate to. My proposal did get something accomplished, apparently... it showed that more than just one student was interested in starting this organization. People do care. If you think that everyone in your school is a homophobe, look carefully. There are little subtleties that may make you think otherwise.
And, if your school doesn't have a GSA, try to find some support for one. (of course, that doesn't mean go and try to start one at a Catholic school that has an anti-gay agenda, because face it, it's not going to happen.) Don't just assume that because people are straight, they won't accept you, and if they're homophobic, don't let that stand in your way. If you feel that you can't be comfortable in school because you are so deeply closeted, talk to somebody about it. You have the right to an education in a safe school.
I found my niche at a school with a diverse group of kids coming from both sides of the fence... the religious right-wing, and the liberal gay-rights promoters. I, apparently, fall in the latter group, and as much as I thought my school was closed-minded, I found that the majority of high school students do turn out to be quite liberal. They just have to mature a little, and grow to respect other people. Without this organization, I'd be living a lie for my last year and a half of high school. People would be picking on me for not having a date to the prom, or homecoming, or not having a girlfriend. Now, I can be myself at school, because I have people defending me. Hopefully, there are people in every high school that feel something has to be done about this.
-- Chris O'Leary