How Chill?

After the Sturm und Drang of Middle School, Seth, a junior, and Owen, a freshman, both assure me that things are much, much better at the high school. People just let each other be, they tell me. “Mom,” says Seth definitively, “Things at the high school are chill.”

I’m sure the atmosphere has changed. Perhaps the two of them — straight as far as I know, white, middle class, loved, catered to and taken care of – have felt certain middle school-specific pressures lessen. Certainly, Seth no longer feels it necessary to purchase and wear clothing on which the names of the clothing companies are written so cunningly. Owen, well, Owen pretty much gets along wherever he lands, but there may be hidden Owen worries that have resolved themselves now that he’s a high schooler.

Once, at a high school soccer game, however, I overheard a bunch of female students talking about a truly terrifying incident that had happened to them the night before, where male students had followed them in a car and threatened them. Seth told me about being at a basketball game where his friends made homophobic remarks about one of the players. And yesterday I was told something in confidence about another student at the high school. Despite equal marriage, despite the groovy liberal vibe wafting over from the People’s Republic of Cambridge, despite our high school having one of the oldest GSAs in the state, this youth is in the closet, because “it’s just easier that way.”

Of course, I expect we can all imagine any number of situations where it’s easier to be in the closet, especially if coming out would put you in physical danger, and perhaps that’s the case with this student, although I don’t think so. I think more, it’s about not wanting to stick out, not wanting to be different, even in a “welcoming” community. Or perhaps especially in a “welcoming” community, where protests that “we understand” are so shrill. The kind of thing that makes the narrator in Openly Straight by Bill Koningsberg decide that he’s going back in the closet when he starts a new school. It’s just easier that way.

A colleague and I have been working together to widen areas of support for our local queer youth. Neither of us is paid for this, nor are we employees of any of the town organizations which should already be doing this work. Recently, we visited the high school GSA. We wanted to discuss with the members their thoughts and ideas about getting a queer youth center established here. Currently, as my colleague and I have been discovering, there is nothing other than the GSA at the high school, the GSA at the middle school, a homeschooler QSA and a monthly queer youth and allies social drop-in night at the library. And as pure information and not to brag, although I’m proud of this work, I had a large hand in instigating the last 3 items on that list. I also know that this list is much, much longer than the list of what’s available in so many other communities. But this is Massachusetts. Very close to Boston. Massachusetts has a Commission for LGBTQ Youth, we have a chapter of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educators Network, we have an amazing chapter of PFLAG, we have the Boston Alliance of Gay and Lesbian Youth, we have the Massachusetts Trans Political Coalition. Our town should be so much further along than we are.

I believe the liberal suburbs pose a particular challenge to queer organizing. So many people — straight, certainly, but even queer — think that everything is fine.  Until their kid comes out or gets depressed or gets bullied or they’re the victim of a hate crime, as lesbian neighbors of mine recently were in the form of a nasty little note, slipped under the windshield wiper of their car as they were shopping at our neighborhood grocery store. Everything is fine only if you look at things in a very, very superficial and hopeful manner, and systemic oppression doesn’t go away just because your neighbors are polite to you.

Later today, I’m attending a meeting of a coalition made up of representatives of town organizations from the police to the schools to the local counseling center. The coalition is grant-funded, and was formed to pay attention to local youth health and safety issues, including things like suicide prevention, substance abuse education and dating safety. Until I started attending, as far as I can see, no one had anything at all to say about queer youth and their specific needs, about how to support this vulnerable population. I’ve been trying to get their attention, and below is the statement from the high school GSA that I’m going to read at the meeting today.

How chill is it, really, at the high school? I guess it depends on who you ask.

 

As the town’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance, we would be in support of the creation of an LGBTQ youth center here, for our town and the surroundinåçg communities. We feel that this would fulfill a very present and as of yet unrecognized need in the town, for a place where the LGBTQ youth of this area could meet each other and form a community. It would also be an incredibly fun experience for all youth involved, and would provide a social platform currently unavailable to these youth. In addition, school GSAs are unable to meet these needs, as their membership and participation is limited to members of the school and therefore cannot operate on a wider field. Finally, as of now, there is no easy-to-access facility for health information for LGBTQ youth in these areas, so this youth center would fulfill an important need. Overall, an alliance of LGBTQ youth for the surrounding towns would be incredibly beneficial for everyone involved.

 

–Members of the GSA, March 2014

 

Published in: on March 12, 2014 at 12:12 PM  Comments (5)  
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