Q is for Questioning

-In the leather-bound diary of a thirteen-year old girl-

Thursday April 3, 2014

5:12  PM

Dear Diary,

Omigod. Omigod. Omigod. I couldn’t even WAIT to get home to write about what just happened! Today after school there was this meeting for this new club at school, Unity Link. They posted all week that the meeting was to discuss LGBT and that is sooooo what I need right now. But I was, like, super nervous to just show up and spill my beanz. I mean, I tell YOU everything, Diary, but I can’t just talk about that kind of stuff out loud, ya know?

Anyway, I went and there were, like, 20 other people there and everything seemed cool. I was thinking, how are we going to talk with these teachers here? But then this other girl named Jahira was telling about how she likes this girl but her parents say it’s a phase and I was thinking, this sounds like me. But then the CRAZIEST thing happened.

One of the teachers started talking about how it’s sometimes hard to be open about yourself when so many people around you don’t get it. And I was starting to think, how would she know. But then she totally said she was gay! She was just like, I want to tell you guys that I don’t want to hide who I am and stuff, but, like, it’s hard at school and stuff. And then she was like, I’m married to a girl. OMG. I was going crazy.

So many people were telling their stories and this one boy Ray was even saying how his sister is gay – that would be cool because then you’d always have someone to talk to about it. And this girl Ash that I have in my science class was talking about transgender and I learned what “cis” means.

OMG it was the coolest meeting ever. We all said how we want to do it again so the teachers said they’d hold another meeting on MONDAY! Finally something that makes Mondays good! I can’t wait!

Mom is calling me to dinner –  taco night! PEACE.

Leap of Faith

Wow, it has been one crazy whirlwind these last few months! I took the task of Unity Link head on and I have been dedicating every extra minute at work to the cause. I am very pleased with how everything is coming together, but it is definitely exhausting!

Since the club (and concept in our school) is brand new, I wanted to build interest fast. What better way than with food? For the first meeting, I asked the teachers that volunteered as Advisors to donate snacks like chips, cookies, pretzels, water and soda. I worked with some of my Honors students to create colorful posters to hang around the school during the month of February. I also put a flyer in the mailbox of all of our Homeroom Teachers explaining the new club and asking them to read it aloud to their 1st Period Class. Finally, an announcement went into the daily announcements around the middle of February stating that the first Unity Link meeting would be March 4th (with a little play on words to “March forth in Unity”) after school in the Cafeteria – and that refreshments would be served.

Snack donations poured into my classroom from teachers for the next few weeks and finally March 4th rolled around. We were pretty much flying blind the day of the meeting, unsure of how many kids would show up. A few of us gathered in the Cafeteria and pulled down a few tables – enough for about 30. Since we announced that the meeting wouldn’t begin until 3:30 (30 minutes after school ended) we sat and waited for a bit. Through the cafeteria door windows we saw students starting to gather….and gather….and gather. By the time 3:30 rolled around, we actually had to Black-Friday-Style manage the doors, to be sure no one ended up trampled!

One-hundred-and-twenty-two.

That’s right – 122 students! I could not believe it. Sure, many of these kids were just there because they heard the word “food”, but it was a genuine testament to the fact that these kids need something like this. After letting them socialize for a bit, while enjoying free snacks, I took the mic and explained what the club was about. I answered a few questions and ended by asking anyone that was interested in attended future meetings to sign up by grade. Out of the 122 there, 106 signed up. It was incredible.

Since then, we’ve had a handful of meetings and have even started planning a video project, using Hunter Hayes’ “Invisible” as our inspiration. We’ve been keeping the meetings separated by grade since 100 students in one meeting would be too counter-productive. We have a “Topic Box” where students can anonymously suggest future discussion topics and each week, we’ve picked a new topic. It’s been a slow start, but successful nonetheless!

This week we’re trying something new. Instead of having the meetings divided by grade, all with the same topic, we decided to conduct 3 meetings after school in different rooms with different Advisors and 3 different topics. That way, the kids get to choose which is most relevant to their lives.

So here is where my Leap of Faith comes in because the topics for this week are:

1. Trust

2. High School and the Future

3. LGBT – Oh here it goes.

I am both incredibly excited and slightly scared to lead this LBGT discussion on Thursday. But, this could be the beginning of something amazing at my school and I am so happy to be a part of it. If this discussion helps a few of these kids, who’ve already expressed their insecurities with being gay, realize that they aren’t alone, then that is all I have been hoping for!

Wish me luck. 🙂

From greatleadersserve.org

From greatleadersserve.org

Cat’s Outta the Bag

So it happened. Without even thinking about it…it happened.

I have several students (the “Groupie” kind of kids that a teacher tends to collect year to year that hang around after school and come visit more often than necessary) that have become quite persistent in uncovering my personal relationship. They have become fixated on my “significant other”, clearly set on my admission of being a Lesbian. They have asked, “So what is your spouse like?” or “Can you tell us about who you married?” I am no fool – I knew where they were going with their questions. But the truth is, my life is still mine to protect. Never to hide. Just to protect. I have always said that if a student ever came straight out and asked me if I had a Wife, I’d never lie. But of course, these students haven’t been that bold.

Today after school and after tutoring, the same Groupies showed up to chat as I packed up my things. On the wall next to my desk, I have a picture of me at my wedding with all of the teachers from school that came that night. It’s an impressive picture, with close to 30 coworkers! The girls were pointing and giggling at the sight of their teachers dressed so royally, and one asked, “So where’s your husband in this picture?” Without skipping a beat, my reply was, “I don’t have a husband.” How funny it was that it didn’t even phase me. How interesting it was that I felt no hot nervousness on my face. I did not hold my breath. I didn’t regret it. In a way, I felt relief. Relief that the first droplet of water has now been released, and perhaps what can now follow is the rest of the river.

It took a moment for the girls to register what I said. Then, one by one, they turned to me, shocked looks on their faces, displaying their realization. Perhaps they never thought I’d be so nonchalant with my “big reveal”. Perhaps they expected this secret that they think I’ve guarded to be harder to liberate. But to me it never was a secret – just a piece of my life I kept protected.

Of course what followed were dozens of questions about my Wife, my life and my past. I told them that, as I’ve explained to them before, I’d rather not discuss my personal relationship in such detail. However, I promised that at some point, I’d answer their questions.

Maybe in the near future, one of the discussion points of our developing club “Unity Link” can focus on LGBTQ issues and I can open up about my experiences. I don’t know yet. But I am very proud of this first drop.

Now brace yourself for the river.

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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