photo from Ed Darrell
Last year I graduated from a rural charter school in Hawaii. Population 300, K-12. The year before that, some very brave students and our English teacher started a GSA (gay straight alliance) group. Having this group on campus and getting the chance to be a part of it was a wonderful thing for those who was beginning to discover themselves or who thought they were alone. GSA club was great at first, but non-supportive behavior can appear in even the most unexpected places.
Everyone was back to school and GSA was starting up again for it's second year. We spent our first few meetings making colorful, inspiring posters to hang up around campus. When we had finally finished and hung our prideful posters up, we felt as if we were making a change in the world in our own small way, together as a closely knit group. For some of us, the feeling of safety that this brought was exactly what we needed. Which is why it was so devastating to us when we got to school the next day, and saw all of our posters gone, or shoved into trash cans.
Everyone was hurt and confused. We expected that this disrespectful deed was done by some ignorant student, but we were soon to find out that it was our own principal who did it! He had not contacted anyone in the group before he took our posters down and threw them away. Neither the group leader, nor the teacher in charge knew why. So after discussing it with the group, I took a notebook and pen, and the remaining posters that we managed to recover from the rubbish bins, to the principles office. I politely asked why our posters were taken down, and he said it was because they were offensive. So I handed him the posters and asked him to point out to me exactly what was inappropriate about each one, and I wrote down every word he said and had him sign my notes afterward. This is what he said:
- The phrase "Make a Change" is offensive because "change" is a negative word that implies that a change is needed.
- The phrase "Come to GSA" is offensive because it implies that coming to the meetings is mandatory.
- Lastly, the words "Make a difference" is offensive because it implies that attending our meetings will turn straight people gay.
If I could do anything differently, I would have taken the matter to an adult outside of the school immediately, but I did not know who to go to. Instead, I asked him for a detailed rubric of things we can and can not write, so that we could make new posters that wouldn't be taken down. Now the school has a poster policy guideline, and students can make new posters that are guaranteed to not be taken away without notification. Which is great, but the damage had already been done.
We never made another poster. We had put so much of ourselves and our time into our art, and most of it was never found. Everyone was discouraged, and worse. Ever since that incident, the GSA meetings changed. Our members felt worthless, and their actions had begun to reflect that. Harassment was occurring inside our group. What was once a close relationship between a few people who wanted to make a difference, had become a hateful place. They began to play videos that said cruel, inappropriate things about other groups of people, for example certain religious groups. One of these videos made my closest friend, who used to be a supporter, leave the club and now she'll never attend another GSA meeting again. Not even now that we're in college. Eventually I had to leave GSA as well because of the harassment. From our own members, I was told things like "Lesbians have it better than gay men and therefore shouldn't gain the same rights." Or "Gay women are stupid and mean because they're never satisfied with their partners."
Our GSA members who used to strive for positive change, had lost sight of what we originally came together for, a gay, straight alliance. Those of us who pulled through realized that it gets better after high school! We remember how it used to be, and still continue to strive for that elsewhere. Now I realize that there are many different GSA groups around, and you can choose which ones to be a part of. Over the past year I reached out to other sources besides the high school's corrupted GSA group. By doing so, I've met many wonderful LGBTQ people right in the community, the university, and online. Even if you find yourself an outcast among outcasts, know that there are others like you. Friends can be found in unexpected places.
If you'd like to start a Gay-Straight Alliance club in your school, please check out the GSAnetwork's article, 10 Steps for Starting a GSA or GLSEN's (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) articles, How to Start a GLSEN Chapter or The GLSEN Jump-Start Guide for Gay-Straight Alliances.
If you're dealing with hostility or opposition of any kind, this article has great advice on what to do: Dealing with Hostility & Opposition.