Gays, lesbians and bisexuals struggle for normalcy at Blair
Where only first names appear, names have been changed to protect the identities of the sources.
Margaret, a senior, flinches when she hears the word bisexual. She hates it. She feels that it makes other people think that you're in love with multiple people at the same time, but that is not the way she sees it. To her, being bisexual just means that she doesn't consciously exclude one sex when beginning a relationship. Her love is gender-blind.
Margaret recently "came out" to her friends at Blair. She is one of many high school students across the country questioning their sexual orientation.
According to a 2004 nationwide survey conducted by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), one in 20 American high school students identifies him or herself as gay or lesbian. For Blair students, identifying one's own sexuality is no simple task. Coupled with the fear of a hostile environment and typical teenage insecurity, making controversial announcements about sexual orientation can be a challenge.
The quest for identity
Craig admits that he isn't sure of his sexual orientation. "There are times that I feel that I'm bi; there are times that I feel that I'm gay; and there are times when I feel that I am straight," he says.
Mary Thornton, who sponsors Blair's Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), is familiar with the insecurities that high school students have with their sexualities. She says that in her many years of involvement with GSA members, she has never met a student who is sure that he or she is either gay or lesbian.
Though 2003 alumnus Morgan Pitts felt confident about his homosexuality, he says that for many high school students, coming to terms with their sexual orientation can be a challenge. "High school is when a gay or lesbian person is figuring themselves out," he says.
This confusion makes it harder for students to express their insecurities to others. "If I can't really understand it, how can I expect anyone else to?" Margaret asks.
Aside from their struggles understanding their sexuality, these students also struggle figuring out how to tell other people about their non-conventional sexual feelings and "come out."
Margaret remembers telling her friend about her sexuality while driving in the car. She says her friend didn't really have any strong reactions"just said, "Oh, ok." After that conversation, Margaret never mentioned her sexuality to her friend again. "It's not something you can take back if you don't like their reaction," she says.
For Craig, "coming out" has become significantly easier after he first told a group of very accepting friends about his sexuality last year. He has subsequently come out to more people, including his mother, and has been encouraged by the support he has been receiving.
Craig says that the simple act of "coming out" has been therapeutic for him. Just telling his friends and family has made him more confident in himself and his sexuality.
But Margaret expresses her fears about "coming out," explaining that the minute people find out that someone is gay, lesbian or bisexual, things change. "People will think something different about you, even if they don't want to," she says.
"That's so gay"
Junior Jocelyn Dowling, the GSA President, says Blair is for the most part a very accepting community for gays, lesbians and bisexuals. However, Dowling still sees instances of homophobic behavior, which most often manifests in the derogatory terms of modern slang. Many frustrated GSA members say that they frequently hear phrases like, "That's so gay," and "You're such a fag."
According to a 2003 GLSEN school climate survey, 81 percent of high school students report hearing homophobic language frequently or often in their schools.
One GSA member remembers a boy in her class who knew homophobic language upset her, but still used it around her. Despite efforts by her teacher to stop the boy, the boy continues to taunt her. Now, instead of saying, "That's so gay," he says, "That's so homosexual," when he knows the teacher can't hear. She knows that if she tells her teacher again, the boy can just deny it.
Even when homophobic language is not used to be intentionally hurtful, it is damaging. Margaret remembers walking down the hall recently and hearing two guys talking about football. They were making fun of the players, calling them gay and making graphic and highly offensive comments about their sexuality.
Margaret shakes her head in disgust. "You just don't know what [language like] that could mean to someone," she says.
Craig attributes this language to ignorance. In fact, 23 percent of high school students do not think that using "gay" as an insult is offensive, according to the same GLSEN survey. "I think people don't realize that they are saying that gay and stupid mean the same thing," Craig says.
Regardless of that, Craig is offended when he hears such comments. "If I wanted to say that something was stupid you wouldn't hear me saying, 'That's so black,' or, 'That's so Jewish,'" he says.
Comfort on Blair Blvd
Despite this"Pitts, Margaret and Craig have never experienced flat-out discrimination because of their sexual orientations in school. They and the members of the GSA agree that at Blair they don't feel violently threatened. However, they do find it hard to make a general statement about the atmosphere of acceptance for gays and lesbians at Blair as a whole.
Margaret says that even though people may be accepting, she still doesn't feel at ease discussing her sexuality. "I don't even feel comfortable talking to my friends about it," she says.
According to Craig, even the least homophobic people are uncomfortable talking about his sexuality and usually just ignore it. Even though he gets support from his friends, he believes they are too uptight about the situation. "I think people need to face the issue with a little more humor," he says. "Just because you're gay doesn't mean you're suffering."
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