By Natasha Needham, Talon staff reporter
High school is intimidating on its own. Feeling different from your classmates can make it even worse. Questioning your gender and/or sexuality or suddenly discovering that who you are as a person is different than everyone else around you is a jarring and even terrifying experience. Luckily there are ways to cope. People in our school and community and around the world are ready to help you. Here’s some advice to staying safe and sane if you’re LGBT or questioning in high school.
First, educate yourself. Google can be your number one tool; through the power of the internet you can find all sorts of answers. There are advice blogs, health websites, and people who have been through your situation and know just what to say. There’s a lot to learn and sort through. Terminology (such as “transgender”), politics (laws in support or against LGBT people), safety (such as some of these laws), and different movements for gender and sexuality exist all over. If you don’t know for sure that you’re LGBT, please understand that it is normal and okay for you to be feeling angry, scared, or confused. You may be letting go of some homophobia or transphobia you once held on to. It’s all okay. Talking to someone or figuring things out for yourself will help. The library of knowledge online and in person can be overwhelming, but educating yourself about who you are is a beautiful thing. This first step is continual and slightly intimidating for everybody. But don’t worry! People in our community and even as close as our school are willing and able to help.
When you discover or start thinking about your gender and sexuality, you may still be holding on to some misconceptions. A big one in our society is “coming out,” or telling everyone you are LGBT. You do not have to come out. It can be dangerous. There are people who will want to hurt you for who you are, and they may be close to you. They might even be your friends or parents. Caution is necessary. You may also want to think more about yourself and figure everything out first. It might be confusing for some people when you come out as gay, then come out later as bisexual. It’s much easier to do it once. When or if you come out, you may face harassment. It’s of the utmost importance that you report this to a teacher so they can help. Nobody deserves to be bullied for who they are.
You also don’t have to come out to everyone at once, or you could only come out to your friends and keep it from your parents. There are certainly benefits to coming out, as openly bisexual senior Sienna Reynolds will tell you.
“Obviously coming out to your parents is a whole different story, but we have a really supportive high school filled with supportive people,” Reynolds said. “Especially in the theatre department.” Reynolds first came out to her friends and was met with complete support. Later, Reynolds came out to her parents. You can come out over time or all at once.
If you’re thinking about coming out to your parents or friends, try and discreetly find out if it’s safe first. If your parents won’t support you, there is little you can do. Safety should be your continual priority. However, if your friends won’t support you, you should find better ones. Letting go of your friends might be hard, but being around people who make you feel bad for who you are would be even worse. Respecting yourself is one of the most important things you can do. Know your self worth and understand that you deserve support from everyone.
“I would urge everyone to recognize there’s a difference between hatred and ignorance. Most of the ‘that’s so gay’ crowd use the phrase out of habit, not out of hatred,” says English teacher and GSA co-adviser Chauna Ramsey. “Having said that, sadly, there are some people who are full of hate. If these people lash out, don’t be afraid to get help. Let’s start calling this type of behavior what it is–harassment–and let’s respond to it swiftly and firmly.”
Our school is full of teachers and administrators who are very supportive of LGBT people. Often, you may see stickers on the doors of classrooms proclaiming that the classroom is a safe space for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender students. HRV has a gender-neutral bathroom for students who don’t want to use the male or female restrooms because they’re transgender or just uncomfortable.
We also have a Gay-Straight Alliance, which is an LGBT-centric club. “For years HRVHS was the only high school in the gorge with a GSA. Reliable studies have indicated the mere existence of a GSA is a significant, positive factor in preventing LGBT youth depression, isolation, and suicide. Mr. Case and I tell anyone who will listen that our most vulnerable students are not in the GSA, but we hope they feel more supported by knowing that there’s a group of people at HRV who don’t hate them because they’re LGBT,” Ramsey says.
In the GSA you will find a safe space, allies, and other LGBT students. They will offer support and answers to any of your questions. You can also ask Mr. Case and Ms. Ramsey, co-advisors to the GSA. The GSA meets at lunch on Thursdays in Mr. Case’s room, C10.
Being LGBT can be scary at first. Educating yourself, respecting yourself, and finding support will help you feel safe, happy, and sane. Isn’t that the bottom line in high school?