Tolerance, Acceptance and UNITY

I took the first steps this week to create an on-campus club similar to the nationally recognized “Gay-Straight Alliance”!

I started by emailing my school Principal, with the basic idea. He responded back to set up a meeting for the following afternoon. To the meeting, I brought a few of the ideas that I had for a mission statement and how to advertise the new club to the students.

My biggest fear with the creation of a club like this is that it will turn into a source of embarrassment. I would never want the members of the club to feel like they had to defend their involvement against harassment at school. I would never want the club’s purpose to become counter-productive. My principal had the same concerns. We had a very productive “brain-storming” session about how to best move forward with the idea and came up with something that I am so proud of!

We decided that it would not be best to create an official “Gay-Straight Alliance” at the Middle School level. We realized that it would be difficult to create the safe environment that we are hoping for, without a prior track-record of trustworthy members and/or advisors. We chose instead to move forward with a “social club”, promoting it as an environment encouraging acceptance and tolerance. I named the club “Unity Link” and drafted a Mission Statement to present to our Guidance Counselors and to our Board of Education.

Mission: Unity Link is an extra-curricular club and social organization that connects students to each other and to the New Jersey Middle School Faculty through peer support, leadership development and discussion. The purpose of Unity Link is to provide a safe environment for students to form alliances and inter-personal relationships that can help strengthen individual confidence. Unity Link will also create a platform to combat teasing, discrimination, harassment, and bullying school-wide. A secondary benefit of the organization is to provide a direct “link” from this alliance to the NJMS Faculty Advisor(s) of the club.

 Why Unity Link is needed: A 2013 survey of Bullying in the United States indicated that one in four kids are bullied on a regular basis. The same survey showed that about 77% of all students reported some kind of verbal bullying. Out of that 77%, 14% have a severe reaction to the abuse, leading to poor self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide.* Student polls have indicated that when an organization like Unity Link is present on campus, students feel safer and more supported. **

The response to the Mission Statement was incredible. The Guidance Counselors on-campus seem very excited about this and so am I. We are still awaiting Board approval, but I am very happy that this first step went so smoothly. Hopefully, in just a few weeks, I will be having my first meeting!

*BullyingStatistics.org, **GSANetwork.org

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13 Reasons Why Not Fitting in as a Kid Makes You an Awesome Adult

I came across a BuzzFeed article by the same title a few days ago. I was pretty intrigued and quite curious as to what the BuzzFeed cohorts dug up to share with the world. The content of the article, however, was…underwhelming, to say the least. I decided to thieve the title and rewrite the content, attempting to live up to the potential to which it lended itself. I was, after all, one of those misfit kids. Sometimes realizing it all meant something, can really mean something.

1. You learn independence. Being a bit odd often meant hanging out by myself. Sure, I found my niche eventually, but many of my early memories involve eating lunch alone and playing with a jumprope at recess. I learned to rely only on me. And I realize now that a little independence was the healthiest lesson of my childhood.

2. You learn humility. Maybe knowing I wasn’t perfect wasn’t the worst thing in the world. Perhaps a little dose of humble pie is best at a young age, when you still have time to learn and grow.

3. You toughen up. I have plenty of coworkers and acquaintances now as an adult that were clearly the “popular type” and I am constantly witnessing their inability to cope with certain adversity. I am not saying that all Homecoming-Queen-Teens make Cry-Me-A-River-Adults, but it certainly seems to be a “popular” side-effect.

4. You get a sense of humor. It’s not true for everyone, but for many of us misfits, our childhood woes have given us a platform for an actual personality.

5. You get inspired. So many popular artists today tell their stories about being an outcast. Lady Gaga, Demi Lovato, Howard Stern, Michael Phelps, and Eva Mendez have all shared stories about overcoming bullying and teasing as kids. Each of them got inspired in their own ways to grow into what the world sees today.

6. You can look back and not feel like such a perfect little douche. I am now pretty proud of my oddities as a kid. Perfect-kid-type-stories stick out like a sore thumb in the adult world. No one wants to hear about a Princess and a Pea. Sorry ’bout it.

7. You learn to observe. Like I said, I spent a lot of time alone. I got to take in the world around me and learn from what I saw.

8. You find an inner voice. Self-reflection is, unfortunately, a practice that is not as common as it should be. Something about being an outcast gave me a dialogue about myself, a way to cope with what was happening around me. That inner voice has followed me throughout my entire life, molding the adult I grew into and allowing me to adapt and grow over time.

9. You learn kindness. Every bullied kid remembers the times that kindness, no matter how infrequently or how minor, was shown to them. Sometimes that shining light is enough to outshine the darkest situations. You learn to appreciate what the smallest acts of kindness can do, and pass it on as you grow older.

10. You realize that the world isn’t always a nice place. As sad as it is, this was another important lesson I learned as a kid. Sometimes the “Movie Theatre Reality” or the “Sitcom Point-of-View” is thrust upon us so blindly as kids that we think it’s all true. My time crying behind the soccer net on the playground as I endured the cruel words from classmates brought me face-to-face with the real world and its ugly side. Upsetting, perhaps – but I’m sure glad I learned that early on. The strength I took away from it got me through the rest of my youth.

11. You write. Or create. Or explore. You do what you need to do to survive. I was a writer. I have kept a journal since I was in 5th Grade. My younger sister (or my Mom, rather) gave me a little lock-and-key diary for my birthday and I went to town on that thing. When that one ran out, I got a new one. And a new one. Now, at 30 years old, I have between 10 and 15 notebooks in a box in one of my closets. Every once in a while I pull one out and read a bit, just to get a sense of my childhood mind, and that inner dialogue with which I had gotten so in touch. I am determined to keep that connection to the kid version of me so that I never forget the toughest times.

12. You gain confidence. It may seem a little oxymoronic, but confidence really is one of the greatest treasures of my childhood. By being left out, picked last, laughed at, ignored and teased I was stripped down to my bare bones. I was forced to steel myself and be confident with what I had – or fail.

That was it.

Let it break me.

Or let is make me.

And so I chose.

 

And finally….

13. You could grow up to become Jinkx Monsoon. Super-Star Comedienne, Confident Beauty, Wise Soul and Winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 5. She is everything an awkward kid (boy or girl) could hope to become and she has given us such an amazing mantra: Water off a duck’s back. Because no matter what comes at us, we just need to let it fall off of us like “Water off a duck’s back.”

Jerick Hoffer in Spring Awakening at the Balagan Theatre in Seattle. Jinkx Monsoon serving Marilyn realness.

Jerick Hoffer in Spring Awakening at the Balagan Theatre in Seattle. Jinkx Monsoon serving Marilyn realness.