A Look Back at High School
I grew up in a very white, mostly conservative town in South-Eastern Massachusetts. Despite this, the high school I attended was a Massachusetts public school, which was generally welcoming to students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds and offered a place for students to learn from each other.
My high school had few problems in terms of LGBTQ recognition. The faculty, for the most part, seemed sensitive to the different needs of students, and the Gay-Straight Alliance had a strong presence. The GSA had a large part in making the school a safe and inclusive place. It was responsible for a lot of the education and awareness that was spread to the student body. I remember talks and assemblies given stressing the importance of acceptance. We learned about Matthew Shepard and held a Day of Silence every year for the victims of sexuality-based bullying. In general, the school made an effort to accommodate and educate students.
Although formally there were few problems, there was still a culture of homophobia and transphobia among some students. Especially in gym class and team sport settings, the use of slurs was not uncommon. This usually happened behind closed doors, but if a coach or a teacher heard derogatory language usually little would be done about it. There were stories of certain teachers who were not supportive of the LGBTQ “lifestyle”, and would force students participating in the Day of Silence to speak during class. The kind of language and conduct that perpetuates homophobia persisted despite the administration’s effort to create a welcoming environment. This learned behavior often starts long before high school, but with tolerant student groups and committed administration, young adults can be educated on the affect their actions have on others.
My high school experience was generally a positive one, but I also recognize that this may not be true for all students across the country. The school was taking the steps to be inclusive, but despite its efforts there were still issues within the student body. If anything, this shows the importance of students knowing their rights within their schools. The more students know, the more they can protect themselves and others against prejudice from teachers and other students.
With the school year getting ready to kick into full gear again, right now is the time to learn more about the laws that ensure LGBTQ students at your school are not only treated with dignity and respect, but are celebrated for who they are!
To learn more about the rights of LGBTQ students in schools, visit www.glad.org/youth.
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