One young man's experience at my school really stood out. He was taller than everyone else and he had grown out his hair. One day it would be a lovely afro and the next day it would be flat ironed. He also painted his nails occasionally and a lot of negative comments were made towards him, which affected him, brought him down. You hate to see a student go through something negative. It's absolutely heartbreaking when you see a young child come up to you and they're being bullied. I remember my own teenager years, and I remember the turmoil that I had growing up in a small town in Mississippi. Not being able to recognize my own sexuality - knowing this is who I was but having to ignore it. And even going into college with that fear, that intimidation. I had a very strong personality as a student but I just never discussed it out of fear of what might happen, and feeling that I wouldn't be supported, that I wouldn't be loved.
I'm a librarian at a local high school as well as the Gay Straight Alliance sponsor. The school social worker and I created a space here at the high school for kids that identify as a part of the LGBTQ community, or as an ally. When we thought about creating a GSA our main goal was to create a safe space for our students because we noticed that they were being bullied within the classroom, New Orleans, everywhere. We meet after school once a month and also have designated places that the kids can come to anytime, both outside of the social worker's office and the library. During the meetings we strive to celebrate them as well as have a discussion, whether about a transgender issue, or something happening in our own community. We'd also take them to local events like the AIDS Walk every October. Since teen suicide and depression is so high within the LGBT community, we really wanted to strive for a school where they would be able to focus on their academics, who they are as a kid, and experience the joys of being a teenager.
Once we started the group the student I mentioned earlier started coming to meetings and really shined. He always took notes of what was going on. He was always the first to have an idea. Any time there was an event, he wanted to go to it. Another teacher created a fashion club and he really shined there, as well. It was amazing. Being a teenager isn't always joyful, but if you as a teacher can bring some small amount of joy or support to kids, if you can be that person that they can rely on, that can make such a valuable, lifelong impact. It to me is one of the greatest joys of working within a school system. You understand the impact that you can have on a kid's life for the positive, and that's what you want!
Years later, whenever I see kids that used to be in the GSA, now they are so loving. You don't shake hands, you give hugs. That's the relationship myself and our social worker were able to build with them. You want them to do well, and you generally just love them. You get to know a wonderful aspect of them that they might not be able to show the rest of the world, and that can really make a difference. So when they go out into the world outside of high school, they can say I love this. I love being who I am. I love the spirit that this person next to me carries.