We're here. We're queer...We're just getting driver's licenses
Since this is my first column, I suppose I should have an introduction. My name is Kristen, and Im a 16 year old lesbian. Im a junior in high school, and Im the president and founder of my schools Gay Straight Alliance. I also am the manager for a queer teen e-mail list that is run by a nonprofit organization, Youth Guardian Services.
Today someone had the audacity to call me a "faggot".
This is actually about the third time this school year that someone has flung that insult my way. Given the fact that Im very much a girl, I think this is reflective of the relative intelligence of homophobes at my high school.
One day a few months ago, after hearing the statistic that an average high school teenager hears anti-gay comments upwards of a hundred times a day, I decided to count. Since the classes Im in are quite small, I asked a few of my cohorts from the GSA to count with me. My personal tally from 7:50 to 3:00 was roughly 110, 90 of which I overheard in the half hour that it took me to stand in the lunch line and then eat. It probably didnt help my counting that I was sitting next to a table of boys who have known allegiance to the KKK. Ah, the joys of high school.
A closet gay male reported that he had counted perhaps 170. Another member, an open bisexual, stated that she heard roughly 150 anti-gay commentsquite a few directed towards her. In analysis of our little counting spree, we decided that because I am openly gay but have an "I could care less" attitudeas well as small classesI would hear the least amount of slurs. My gay male friendin larger classes and closetedwould hear more.
Because I tend to beat points to death, I asked a few of my gay friends from other schools to do my little experiment as well. The record was a friend in Kentucky who counted roughly 250 slurs. Not one of the twelve persons I asked counted less than 40.
The basic conclusion that can be drawn is that high school is a nightmare of verbal abuse for gay teenagers. And for the most part, teachers ignore anti-gay slursor say them in the classroom.
Oh, it gets worse. Studies have shown that the earlier someone comes out, the more likely they are to abuse drugs or alcohol, attempt suicide, be promiscuous with the opposite sexthe list goes on.
Gay rights is one of the hot button issues of this era. Why is it, then, that gay youth are receiving more and more flak simply for being themselves? Gay teenagers are barely considered to exist. One Louisiana school official stated that he, "was sure that there were no gay teens in his school district." He soon received letters from several.
When I began to come out at 14, the most common reaction I got was, "Youre too young."
When someone is mature enough to deal with sexual feelings and accept them, there is no such thing as too young.
As I stated before, I am the president of my schools GSA. Were fairly small9 membersand we only started a few months ago. To announce the forming of our little group, we wrote an article for the school paper. The very day of the publication of the issue, the district office began receiving a flood of phone calls from area churches and parents. The reactions ranged from accusations of "promoting a deviant lifestyle" to congratulations. The most humorous aspect of this reaction was that the principal of my school had forgotten that there was to be a "discussion group about sexual issues" formed, and was completely caught off guard.
The newspaper article was very non-specific about the groupit did not have a writer or tell when and where the group met. Nevertheless, speculation began to run wild about anyone possibly related to the group. I had some students attempt to force me to tell them the names of members. The joke for a week was, "Hey, you must be in the gay club!"
Following our little bombshell, the group has maintained a low profile for a bit. This will change in roughly two weeks when we will begin a "safe school campaign." We will ask teachers to display a small rainbow sticker in their window along with the phrase "safe space" under it to denote that no anti-gay language will be allowed in the room, and it will be a place where rational discussions on gay issues can take place.
In addition to this, we are going to start a poster campaign around the school. We intend to make fifty or so posters, laminate them all, and put three up at a time. (Were anticipating that theyre going to be torn down again and again.) Of course, the entire campaign might not happen, because all posters have to be approved by the administration.
Although the GSA at my school is extremely small, we are slowly getting larger. Across the country, GSAs are cropping up in the unlikeliest of places. For instance, in Salt Lake City, Utah, there was a nationally publicized battle over one high schools fight to have a GSA. Kellie Peterson, one of the girls who founded the club, has since become one of the few gay teenage role models. Although the governor of Utah ended up banning all after school clubs, the members got around it by paying a rental fee for the classroom. The alliance has flourished, while other extracurricular clubs have been disbanded or crippled. The ban has ended up hurting almost every group except the GSA, which the law was intended to eliminate. I appreciate this irony greatly.
There are several problems facing GSAs. First and foremost is the charge that any group that discusses homosexuality must of course be "recruiting". Since I dont even own a toaster oven, I find this charge ludicrous. My schools GSA has two straight members, and the faculty sponsors are both straight. Were hardly the worlds largest propaganda machine. Most of our meetings consist of ranting about homework and parents. A recruitment drive would be nice, but
The second problem facing GSAs is administrative disapproval. Across the country, gay legal organizations have had to sue for the rights of students to have GSAs. This has proved problematic because many gay students are closeted to their parents, and suing involves having your entire community suddenly be aware of your sexual orientation. I can sympathize with thismost of the GSA at my school is not out to their parents, and Im not using my full name in this column because Im afraid of backlash.
Despite this opposition, GSAs exist and are thriving. Support your local GSA!
Maybe there is hope after all.
Kristen, a high school junior and President of her schools Gay Straight Alliance, is a regular contributor to LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 9, No. 2, March 12, 1999