This past weekend, GLSEN hosted a conference for LGBTQ youth. They received nice coverage from the City Paper The intriguing part of the article is the resiliancy and determination of the children to improve the quality of life for their fellow LGBTQ classmates.
Chess, a Hickory High School senior from Mercer County's Hermitage School District, says he has a gay relative who didn't come out until his late 20s.
“I came out when I was 16,” Chess reports. “It's getting easier because it's out there now” — a landscape in which states are approving gay marriage, the president has said he favors ending several discriminatory rules, and top honors can go to a straight film actor portraying San Francisco's first gay elected official.
“The whole country at large has really come out of the closet and has made their presence known,” says Chess. “Right now, if my phone were to ring, you'd hear the monumental words of Harvey Milk, urging people to come out.”
And yet as each advance brings a new opportunity, it seems to present a new obstacle as well. As a high school junior this past year, Chess says he failed to win approval from either the school board or administration to start a Gay-Straight Alliance club, although there are more than 3,600 of them across the nation, in all 50 states.
It was officially submitted to the board as the Hickory High Delta Group – a more generic name, like a “Tolerance Club” or “Diversity Club,” that sometimes has a better chance of succeeding, Chess realizes.
Hermitage Superintendent Karen Ionta says the problem with this and another unrelated but similarly rejected club was that the board simply didn't have enough information about it — neither constitution nor officers, for one. “I don't like people to think we're not accepting,” Ionta says.
The students have a different interpretation of events.
“What they're hoping is we'll graduate without getting it passed and there will be nobody to follow up on our actions,” says Kristen Sokac, 17, a straight Hickory student also trying to start the club. (Hermitage's superintendent did not return a call for comment by press time.)
Chess and several dozen other gay kids and their parents, as well as straight allies like Sokac, gathered July 17-19 Downtown for the first statewide gay youth conference held by the Pittsburgh chapter of GLSEN — the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. The group aims to make schools friendlier and safer for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students.
I've been told that my hometown of West Mifflin is resisting permitting a GSA. I went to school in the mid-80s with a friend who was openly gay and witnessed firsthand the incredible abuse heaped upon him by the educators and administrators. Survival was his model of operation and he escaped with his sense of self pretty intact in spite of their best efforts. I have other friends who live their and continue to remain closeted for persona/family reasons as well as a lack of general community support. Sad.
The Post-Gazette did a nice piece on the documentary which opened during the conference. Called “Out in the Silence” it is the real life story about an Oil City young man. Check out the article for a compelling story.