<21: lgbt youth voice – Acceptance Comes From Unlikely Places

Certain ideas and opinions are formed when you tell others that you attended an inner-city public school. Ideas like lazy, unintelligent, violent and, in the minds of the LGBT community, unaccepting. The surprising thing is that although some of those ideas are true, the last one is not quite so.

Let me start off by telling you about myself. My name is Ben K. I graduated in 2010 from Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kan. During my three-year tenure there (I spent one year at Sumner Academy, also in Kansas City, Kan.), I attempted to start a Gay-Straight Alliance. Thanks to an open-minded administration, the idea was given the green light. However, it was difficult for a new student to get others behind the idea when he did not know anyone. A teacher who believed in the idea, though, not only helped get the GSA started but widened the purview to be an “Acceptance for All” group.

When we created the group, we knew that this might not go over well with the student population. Nevertheless, we went forward. Harmon High School in Kansas City, Kan., had a well-established GSA, and Sumner Academy’s group was a couple of years old. These two schools provided invaluable insight in forming and strengthening our group. We also got help from University of Kansas students on activities we could do to learn about each other and discuss our struggles with identity and social perception of our identity. (Identity was not limited to orientation, but also included race and economic status.)

As we all know, the Day of Silence is an annual event where participants stay silent in protest of people who stay silent during anti-LGBT bullying. We had overwhelming support from the students and excitement that we were actually doing this.

Then came the opposition.

The teacher in charge started receiving calls from community members voicing their disapproval of our group and what we were doing. We lost count of how many times we were told we were going to hell, not that it really mattered. This did not dissuade us. As the idea goes, it just made us stronger.

We placed posters around the school for the event. What happened the next day was surprising.

They were removed.

At first, it wasn’t that surprising. Someone who disagrees (first reaction: a student) took down the posters. Only later did we learn that it was in fact the janitorial staff who removed them. We were astounded that they would do something like that. Sure, you can disagree, but to actually take the time to remove every poster? Isn’t that something that children would do?

The interesting thing is that students came up and asked what happened to the posters we had placed. We told them the truth: Someone who disagreed with what we were doing had removed the posters. The kids were understandably upset and curious who would do that.

When we discussed the event in our classrooms, the thing that surprised me was that no student ever came to us and told us that we were going to hell or anything to that effect. Interestingly, the most that was said was, “We don’t believe what you do.” The only active disagreement we had was with staff, which surprised me completely. I figured it would be the teachers who would have to calm down a class of offended/angry students.

We had more incidents, arguments, and phone calls from adults. I don’t feel that I can stress this enough.

Some of the opposition we faced was dealt with by the principal, Mary Stewart. Without her, we would have had a much harder time doing what we did.

In the end, Day of Silence was a major hit with the student body, with about 200 students participating. We also made our group very public and gave it the student support that we were hoping for.

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