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Making School Safe for LGBT Teens MAG
I have worked to make schools safe for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) youth for the past three years. Initially, my own coming out experience as a lesbian teen motivated me to make schools more welcoming for gay teens. I still have the journal entry I wrote the day I knew I was a lesbian. I was 12.
I thought about it all day and realized the truth. I'm gay. Now, the question is, how do I go about telling people? I want it to be public, even though I'm going to be mercilessly tortured by people at school.
Sadly, I hear many gay teens express similar thoughts: I'm gay and I don't want to hide it, but everyone's going to tease me at school.
A year later, during an online chat with other kids in the eighth grade at my middle school, one boy posted that gay kissing on TV is “weird.” My comment prompted a flood of replies from others in my grade. Students wrote long entries either defending equal rights for LGBT people or explaining why granting equal rights would harm society. Finally, I stopped arguing for “gay rights” and began arguing for “my rights.” That shift made clear that this was my issue; it had personal meaning and importance to me.
After that debate, I realized that in order to help people understand what it means to be LGBT, I would need to be open about my sexual orientation. That September, there were multiple publicized suicides of young teens who were bullied for being LGBT. This inspired me to found my middle school's Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). We organized assemblies, training sessions, and projects to make our school safer for all students. We met with some parental resistance, but it was all worth it when a seventh-grade girl told me that she had not heard anyone say “that's so gay” since the GSA had become a fixture on campus.
In the following months, two eighth-grade boys came out, one later admitting to me that he was afraid to do this before the GSA was created. By the end of the year our organization had 30 members and was the most active student organization on campus.
As middle school graduation approached, I knew that I wanted to do more to improve the lives of LGBT teens at school. I applied to be a student ambassador for the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which is the national organization that introduces Gay-Straight Alliances in schools. I was selected as one of 18 ambassadors nationwide.
Shortly after high school began that September, 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer took his life because he was bullied for being gay. In response, I created the Make It Safe Project (www.makeitsafeproject.org), an organization that donates books about sexuality and gender expression to schools and youth homeless shelters nationwide. Using donations received through my website, I have sent dozens of boxes to 18 states and Mauritius (an island nation off the coast of Africa), giving more than 50,000 teens access to these resources.
After reading over 30 bestselling books for LGBT teens I selected 10 for the book packages that go to schools. These include books on coming out, dating, and preventing suicide. I hope to reach schools and shelters in every state by the end of 2014. I am also in the process of turning The Make It Safe Project into a registered nonprofit corporation.
Through my efforts to show teens that they should be proud of who they are, I have learned to be proud of myself. I am a fortunate LGBT teen in that I have attended supportive, safe schools, but most LGBT teens are not as lucky. That is why I am continuing my efforts to promote equality and safe schools in the hope that one day every LGBT teen will be as proud of who they are as I am.