Stepping Up and Making Changes
Conifer's peer counselors begin the Gay Straight Alliance in order to provide support for students
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As the bell signals the mid-morning passing period, the sophomore steps out of his classroom and joins the mass of students filling the halls. With a large smile, he begins talking about what had happened throughout his day with a friend. Suddenly the smile fades as someone loudly yells something demeaning at him. He walks away.
When he goes home, he pulls out his phone, snaps a quick picture of himself, and uploads it to Instagram. When he receives a comment, he anticipates an encouraging statement or a compliment; instead, he reads insults and threats. He turns off his phone.
“Most of the bullying happened over social media, but it was still from people at school and it shook me for a while,” he said. “I believe that I took a more feminine-looking picture of myself and posted it online. A few people started posting comments like ‘You’re a faggot,’ and ‘Go to hell,’ and pretty soon things like that spread to every other post. Eventually, I stopped using social media all together. I didn’t tell [my friends] because I thought they’d worry. This definitely hurt my grades because I was so stressed that I stopped doing my work.”
According to GLSEN’s 2011 National School Climate Survey, 8:10 of the LGBTQ community hear homophobic remarks on a daily basis, 5:10 hear negative remarks about trans people, and 7:10 receive verbal harassment because of who they are.
Last school year, seven Conifer students were trained to take on the roles of Conifer’s peer counselors, a student-based community created to support students. The peer counselors were created for students to come and express themselves and their worries without feeling judged.
“Not all students are open with coming to adults, and sometimes it’s easier to talk about relationships with a student rather than an adult,” Cami Doty, peer counselor, said. “Just listening is a support system.”
This is the first school year that the counselors are opening up and spreading out to the students. They are available in the counselor’s office during every period of the day.
“The peer counselors seem very open minded and level headed at CHS,” Grant Stevens, sophomore, said. “I’ve become friends with a few of them, and they’ve helped me come out of my shell quite a bit.”
“Schools are pretty much a place where bullying goes on, even though we do have things in place to deal with it,” choir teacher Bill Loper said. “Bullying is just a part of whenever you have people together; there are people who are more aggressive and have inappropriate behavior. I think that if we can make our school an environment of acceptance for all people, then it’s not going to be as easy for bullying to happen in the world. I think that the good thing now is that more kids are coming out and being open and honest about who they are. It’s really important that we create an environment of kindness and respect for all people.”
In order to take a stand against bullying, Loper and counselor Kim Spease collaborated with Conifer’s peer counselors to create the Gay-Straight Alliance, or the GSA. The GSA provides a safe place for all students to come, confide, and find comfort among their fellow students.
“The Gay Straight Alliance was at Conifer a few years back, and as soon as the student who founded it graduated, no one else took his place,” Doty said. “As for myself, I found that it was something that we needed. It’s not something that’s optional. We are in a small school and there are a lot of people who are still not open about who they are because of the fear of non-acceptance. I think that’s horrible and we need to have support for everyone at our school. I felt like it was something we needed to do, so I jumped on it and I started it. There wasn’t a wait. It had to happen.”
“I think the Alliance is a great thing,” peer counselor Timber Gleeson said. “It’s good for the community, good for the people, and good for the school. We felt that we wanted somewhere that everyone could be accepted and everyone could feel comfortable with who they are.”
The first GSA meeting was September 16, 2016. The turnout of the meeting reached over 40 students, as well as several teachers.
“I didn’t expect how many people came, and when I walked in I saw them and I thought, ‘Are they here for Carlton or are they here for the meeting that we’re putting on?’” Doty said. “When I heard they were here for the meeting, I got emotional. That just shows that there are so many people here who need this or want to help. It’s amazing. Just because I’m straight doesn’t mean I don’t care.”
Also see: Here Comes the Future