I have a good friend who likes me to update her on what the middle schoolers are wearing -mostly so she can update her closet with the latest choice items from Forever 21. But I do feel a certain general responsibility to update all of you who live in 24-7 adult world on the latest happenings in teen and pre-teen nation. Otherwise most of my friends get their ideas about young people from Mean Girls or Scared Straight.
Speaking of straight I was recently told by a student that our middle school was a pretty homophobic place. What I was most surprised by was my own reaction. Aren’t they all? Was what I thought to myself. After a certain amount of reflection I realized how sad it was that I would accept this as the status quo. Me. Liberal banner waver, daughter of guitar playing kumbaya singing parents, former Oberlin women’s rugby playing drag ball attendee. If I accept homophobia where I work than everyone will. I realized it’s not enough to be the teacher who barks at the kids when they say something is “so gay!” I need to do something pro-active so that all my students have a safe, comfortable place to go to school.
Alas, I don’t think I can wave my rainbow wand and make my school the beacon of tolerance I would like it to be, but there are things I can do if I care to. And I do care to. Generally speaking middle schools are more conservative places than high schools. I long for the day when talking openly about sexuality will be as accepted as discussing different religions. Until then I proceed cautiously. When I mentioned my frustrations to another good friend she gave me the idea of putting a little sign up; a rainbow or pink triangle as a kind of a friendly flag to students. She said that, though she would not have been comfortable approaching a teacher to talk at that age, it would have been reassuring to know there was an ally nearby.
So my first step has been to place a few small signs around the room. I downloaded these safe space stickers here. And I’m working with our school guidance counselor to create a Tolerance Team, kind of a middle school version of a GSA. We’ll see how that goes.
In the midst of all this I found myself up at our high school for an assembly. I ran into a former student who gave her girlfriend a big ole smooch right there in the halls as I stood by talking to another teacher. I’ve never been more pleased to see someone break the high school rules on PDA. I was happy that she felt so happy to be openly and proudly herself. So happy that I ran out and took a picture of myself with the nearest poncho-wearing lesbian I could find. Not really -this is from Portland Pride a few years ago but I’ve always wanted an excuse to use it in a blog post. Dream realized.