, , ,

This is an article I wrote for a different website a few years ago. It provides a little more detail on my high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. It’s also kinda cute because I was like sixteen when I wrote it. I thought I was straight back then! ^.^

“Everybody’s journey is individual,” says author James Baldwin.“If you fall in love with a boy, you fall in love with a boy. The fact that many Americans consider it a disease says more about them than it does about homosexuality.” His perception is exactly right: homophobia only exists due to a lack of understanding of how homosexuals think and live. The only way to right this wrong and allow gays and lesbians to live freely in our society is to educate people on what being gay really means, instead of letting the stereotypes persist. Gay-Straight Alliances like ours—local pro-gay rights organizations centered around youth—have volunteered for the tough task of educating students on what being gay really means. Also known as GSAs, their goal is to make the school community safe and welcoming for every student, regardless of their gender identity or their sexual preferences. To many teenagers, who get bullied or harassed for their sexual orientation or are misunderstood because of it, the mission of the GSA is vital.

Now I am an active member of my school’s GSA, but my first experience of it came when I was a lot less mature than I am now. The elementary- and middle-school String Orchestras play their concerts at our high school, which is the only building with a stage large enough to hold all of us squirming little twerps and our cellos. In the music room that we used as a coat-room, my friends and I spotted a poster advertising the Gay-Straight Alliance for any student interested. We pointed and giggled and stared, wondering what such a club could possibly do during its meetings. Gay orgies seemed the most likely possibility, but we also discussed anarchist plots to make Elton John president and parties in which they painted the surface of their bodies rainbow and then streaked around the school. That was a temporary amusement, however, and with the exception of a gym teacher we dubbed a “lesbo,” the issue was mostly forgotten by the time we entered high-school.

By the tenth grade, I had realized there was nothing really wrong with homosexuality, but I mostly ignored the issue completely. I had a few gay friends by then, encouraged to come out at a young age by the liberal and receptive atmosphere of the area in which we live, but it didn’t change my perception of them or of homosexuality itself. It was an interesting possibility, but I never viewed it as anything that touched my life at all. I joined other clubs, like Author’s Club and the Science Bowl team. The former led to my first real discovery of what the GSA was about.

I had decided to write a Great American Novel set in the fifties, which included a gay character who encountered discrimination, but I was stuck. The school librarian, who supervised us, suggested I walk upstairs and pay a visit to the Gay-Straight Alliance. I grabbed my manuscript of about four pages and headed out. I soon arrived at the other end of the school, in an unassuming classroom in the science wing. After hesitantly knocking on the door, I was suddenly bombarded with cries of my name. I looked around the room and saw, to my surprise, a lot of my close friends buried in the circle of desks that spanned the room. I said hello, asked my questions, and left with a movie recommendation and a couple of cookies, but no real interest in coming back.

That November, my best friend came out to me. It didn’t surprise anyone except me, because even though he was a fan of Legally Blonde at age ten and had the telltale lisp, when he told me he wasn’t gay a couple years earlier, I chose to believe him. We talked about it until we were both comfortable with its discussion, but since he wasn’t yet ready to tell his family, he suggested we join the GSA as a first step. I agreed, out of both a desire to support my friend and out of a growing interest in the subject itself. We attended its first meeting of 2008, and discovered we fit right in.

Actually, it’s tough not to fit into the GSA. It’s a group that could encompass every single student in the school, if they had the desire to join. Our group has about three confirmed gays, a smattering of bisexuals, and lots of straight supporters like myself, but one great thing about the GSA is that no one cares which group you belong to. Most of us were friends with each other prior to joining, but new faces are never assumed to be gay. In fact, a newbie’s sexual orientation isn’t even considered. Usually it comes up in the course of discussion, but no matter what you choose to reveal or not to reveal, no one pushes you for information. If any member tried to wheedle that out of someone, the rest of the group would be horrified. What you don’t choose to share is your business alone, and that is certainly respected within the group. Straight members are valued just as much as the homosexuals. Prospective members, allay your fears!

Every Wednesday we converge in a chemistry classroom and pull the desks into a circle in the area that isn’t taken up by lab equipment. We all sit facing each other, with our two teacher-advisors mixed in. One is the school social worker and the other is an infamous chemistry teacher, who inhabits the classroom, and who is gay himself. We pass around a package of cookies, our traditional snack, until we’ve had our fill. Then we do our ritual known as “Highs and Lows.” I am not entirely certain whether this is standard for GSA groups or unique to us, but the meeting has not officially begun until we’ve done this. Going around the circle, each person shares their high point and the low point of the time since the last meeting. It doesn’t have to be something GLBT-related: most of the highs center around our social lives, other school clubs, and achievements, and the lows are generally centered around schoolwork or occasionally an account of homophobia or a debacle with a parent. This segues into some sort of activity that is actually relevant to GLBT issues. They are often planned by our co-presidents, who come up with some very interesting ideas. We have written down anonymous questions to discuss with the group, and on a separate occasion we read out loud definitions of transgender-related words and then shared our opinions. If they are out of ideas, we could watch a documentary or talk about current events, including articles from The Lampion. We have also gone on an unofficial field trip to see the movie Milk, and watched a video I created advertising the Day of Silence (an occasion to be addressed below). All conversations are extremely open-minded, intelligent, and fair, with lots of perspectives being represented because of the diversity of our members. The discussion continues for about an hour, until we are so stuffed with cookies we can barely walk, and then we all ride the bus home.

Outside of meetings, our major activity is the national Day of Silence every April. The name speaks for itself. For one school day (from about seven in the morning to three in the afternoon), those participating don’t talk at all, to represent the silence that those who don’t feel safe enough to come out must endure. It’s a fun challenge, and afterwards we meet in the chemistry room and have a party (a very loud party, since we haven’t talked all day) and eat even more cookies. Those who aren’t in the GSA are also invited to join us in our protest, as long as they take it just as seriously and don’t abuse it to get out of oral presentations. I have personally encountered adults in the building who see it as a silly bid for attention, but it hasn’t affected our spirit at all. It’s definitely the big happening of the GSA year. Our other activity is the Ice Cream Social, to which parents are invited. Its purpose is to orient family members to what it means for their son or daughter to be gay (or not), by speaking to other parents and a bona-fide gay adult. It’s really a brilliant idea, since the presence of ice cream will lighten any situation.

Because of the influence of the people I have met through this club, I no longer give a second thought to anyone’s sexual orientation. When friends come out to me it’s a little anticlimactic, because that fact is no more important to our friendship than what they had for dinner the night before (unless they’re cannibals, of course). No one in the group is embarrassed, no one is shy, and I think that is important for everyone, since sex is only recently being recognized as nothing to be afraid of. I was never a homophobe, but now I feel that I can be an active force for good and equality for everyone, gay or black or female or whatever. The existence of a powerful force for tolerance like the Gay-Straight Alliance shows the world that the progress of equality is inevitable. Teenagers like us are just helping it along.