Reflections from a Visit to South Eugene, Oregon GSA Meeting
March 23, 2011
The following post comes from Shaley Howard, Membership and Community Events Co-Chair for HRC’s Portland, Oregon Steering Committee. Shaley recently spoke with her niece Alice’s GSA at South Eugene High School and we are happy to share her blog about this experience with you. Thank you to Shaley for the work she does on behalf of HRC and the LGBT community!
My niece Alice was visiting me in Portland, Oregon about a month ago and we started talking about HRC. She’s a student at South Eugene High School and had started a Gay Straight Alliance a few years back that seemed to be growing. It became clear through our conversation that a lot of her friends that attended the GSA weekly meetings most likely had no idea what HRC was at all. So she asked if I would be willing to come down for one of their meetings and talk about HRC. I was thrilled and incredibly excited to go even after she informed me that there are over 35 students that regularly attend this weekly meeting! I sort of have a slight fear of speaking in front of more than 8-10 people. But it’s worth the experiencing the small fear of speaking I thought if just one kid heard something about HRC and it helped them through a possible difficult time or situation. So I ordered a bunch of HRC t-shirts to bring to the students, along with the HRC flag and of course lots of stickers.
I must say it was a strange feeling entering a high school after so many years. I was ushered into the main office by my niece and told to put on the visitor pass. Then went to the room where they meet every Thursday. Although part of me was nervous I couldn’t help but be filled with amazement and joy watching the kids come into the classroom seemingly so confident with who they were! Growing up in the late 1980’s we didn’t have any sort of gay straight alliance in our school and had a skeleton one in College so to watch these wonderful kids walk so proudly and happily into their meeting was a moving experience.
I started by telling everyone that I had brought them HRC t-shirts and to please go find one they liked. Chairs were immediately emptied of course. Then they all finally sat back down and I started by introducing myself and my affiliation with Alice. I spoke briefly about my family, growing up in the late 80’s as a closeted butch lesbian, my coming out story and then segued into what HRC is, how it operates and how each city has a group of volunteers that make up steering committees. Then I touched briefly on describing the subcommittees of the sc and our roles.
What I found amazing about this group of kids is how focused they all were on what I was telling them. Not only when I spoke about HRC, what we do, how we raise awareness and membership….but about my experience as a lesbian. They asked some great questions about school bullying but also wanted to share their experience. One girl asked my opinion about how to talk with people who are homophobic. My answer was to try and find the human connection. I explained that my experience in life has been that we are all taught a bunch of lies, whether it concerns sexism, homophobia or racism. By connecting with someone as just another human being, it’s hard for most people to continue to just see you as a lesbian, fag, dyke, queer or anything that requires a label. By recognizing and acknowledging the things we have in common, the more all of the labels and walls begin to fade. Then you can talk about your experience and they can talk about theirs. It’s always seemed to work for me vs throwing statistics and strategy at them.
There were more questions about my coming out experience, which I honestly had to think hard about as it’s been over 20 years! But to them, at their age my guess is that it’s monumental in their lives right now. So I explained again my coming out process, how lonely and isolated I had felt in many ways. I was terrified when telling my family and friends. Looking back, I had the courage to do so because I had finally met my first partner and other queers who were like me. I was raised in a very open minded and tolerant family and can’t imagine coming from a family that was non-accepting how much more painful it would have been. At this point I once again directed them to the HRC Website and the youth/campus support. I ended with an explanation of how we refer to them as “Generation Equality” as they are seen as a very tolerant and accepting generation. I also asked the classroom how many there would consider themselves “straight allies”? About 20 raised their hands. I applauded the fact they were there and supporting their LGBT friends as they too may receive harassment for being supportive of the LGBT community.
The bell rang and everyone got up to go to class. I thanked them all and received a huge round of applause and thank you for coming to talk with them. We all posed for a group photo and I handed them more stickers telling them to go change the world, go to the HRC website if they need help or want more information…or call me. I have to admit it was an incredible experience and I’m so grateful that I had such a great opportunity to share whatever I could if it helped even just a little.
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