Coming Out & Making Safe Spaces at School
Originally Published: October 11, 2011
Revised: September 5, 2013
Nothing is as stressful as the thought of walking into school and saying to everyone “I’m gay” or “I’m transgender.”
Being a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) teen can be confusing and stressful. Are you ready to be “out” at school? Do you have family and friends that support you? Is your school supportive of you? Whether you were bullied throughout middle school or you had the best childhood ever, figuring out how to be yourself and fit in at high school can be tough. So where do you go from here?
If you Google “coming out experiences,” you’re bombarded with teens and adults recounting their tales of coming out. You might have heard some version of many of these stories, but every coming out experience is personal. Before you can come out to anybody else, you first have to come out to yourself. So that raises a question: If you are comfortable and have accepted yourself for who you are, do you really need to pressure yourself with coming out?
The pressures of high school are many—peer pressure, pressure to perform well in school, pressure to be involved in extracurricular activities, pressure to get into the college of your dreams. On top of all that pressure, you may decide you don’t want the added pressure of coming out at school. And that’s fine. But what if you do want to be out at school? How do you do that? By taking it one step at a time.
You may be, or have grown to be, comfortable with yourself, but this doesn’t mean that those around you will necessarily feel the same way. If the homophobia or transphobia in your school is hanging over you like a black cloud, you’re left to wonder just how hard the rain will fall when you walk in there. There are bound to be bullies, regardless of the school or the environment in the school, but will there be an adult or a friend who’s willing to stand up for you? What can be done when you’re being shoved into lockers, when you’re lying in bed tormented over the names you’ve been called, when you’re thinking of chucking your phone out the window because of the wave of texts that have filled your inbox with hate mail, or when you just want to punch your computer screen hoping that the hit would hurt the person on the other side of the “you’re a fag” chat? Well, for one, you should always report harassment to adults—your parents or guardians, school administrators and teachers.
No one expects you to be a martyr for LGBT equality at your school, but in order to create change, people have to be willing to speak up and take action.
But what if you want to change your school, so you and any other student like you or with LGBT parents, can feel safe? To make your school a safe space, take a stand. If your school has a gay-straight alliance (GSA) or anything similar, join it! If the school doesn’t have a GSA, talk with your administration and teachers about starting one. To do this, look for online resources such as the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN’s) website, which offers information on how to approach teachers and administrators and make them part of your cause.
GLSEN also offers a Safe Space Kit, which includes information for LGBT students and allies to work with teachers and administrators to create safe spaces for students, their families and school staff. The kit comes with safe space stickers and posters, which teachers can hang up in their rooms to establish that in this area there is zero tolerance for bullying and harassment.
If you have a GSA and safe spaces for LGBT students and allies, you can then raise awareness and begin to build up the LGBT and ally communities in your school by holding or attending a gay prom, having a guest come in at assemblies and talk about being transgender, and creating a safe school environment as well as offering peer-to-peer training on these topics.
Of course no one expects you to be a martyr for LGBT equality at your school, but in order to create change, people have to be willing to speak up and take action. At the same time, you may feel as if the pressure of creating a safe space and leading the charge for social reform at your school may be too much. Maybe you just want to feel comfortable in your own school, and that’s OK too. You may just need to find people who can support you.
Having at least one trusted adult is always a good idea. Even if you don’t yet have the courage or the ability to start or join a GSA in your school, at least you would have one person that you can confide in. Having a strong group of accepting friends will help you feel comfortable and supported at school as well. Falling into place at school can be difficult enough without the added pressure of dealing with a hostile, homophobic environment at school. Build strong bonds with people you trust; they’ll help you find your place at school and support you through any challenges you face.
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