I live in Buffalo, but grew up in Rochester and attended Rochester City Schools from 3rd until 12th grades.
I graduated from Wilson Magnet High School in 1997. Eight years ago, there was no mention of gay people in my high school whatsoever. It was assumed we were not there. I was very much closeted in high school, but when I got to college I became less so. When I found the same situation at Canisius, I started a gay-straight alliance there.
I have been in correspondence with a woman who works inside a city high school and has been experiencing harassment because of the GSA club she started there two years ago. I am sorry to hear that things have not improved (and may have even gotten worse) in the eight years since I’ve been a student in the RCSD.
Please, please please take a few moments to read her story, and to write letters to the D&C/City/Empty Closet regarding this issue… Thanks.
She does not anyone to reveal her name at this time, but these are her comments:
“I work for the Rochester City School District. I am the Advisor of the GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance Club) at [a Rochester City] High School. If you don't know about GSA clubs go to www.glsen.org. You can learn all about them. Basically the clubs function as a support network and as an educational/activist forum. The goal is to create safe schools for everyone by teaching tolerance. IT IS NOT ABOUT DEALING WITH SEX AT SCHOOL WHICH SEEMS TO BE A COMMON MISPERCEPTION. For now...if people would keep my name out of any letters/etc. I would appreciate it as I fear that it might put my position in jeopardy and if I leave I guarantee that the GSA club disappears and that any future efforts are squished. I would appreciate it if you left names out of it and wrote letters that say that you are aware of the problems for LGBT kids and staff in the city schools, cite examples if you want but w/o names. If you are a city school district resident note that you pay taxes for these schools. If you have stories of your own as a LGBT person or as a straight ally maybe include that by way of explaining why GSAs are important and why homophobia and discrimination is wrong. Suggest solutions like sensitivity training for staff and administrators, more support for GSA development in schools.
What would be best is not to name names at this point (like mine) but to name schools/district and simply say that you have friends who relay the problem to you (give examples…
3 years ago I had students come to me and ask me to do a national coming out day event with them. I helped make t-shirts, did a pa announcement and made an informational poster that I added to the display outside my office door. I got yelled at, my stuff was torn down, I was drug into the principal’s office, etc. Good news is I hadn't broken any rules...so all they could do is say stupid stuff to me like...’Mrs. XXX...don't you think you should teach these students to be quiet about this?’ I suggested that I wasn't Mrs. anybody and that I would be glad to bring in research that shows that silence about such issues kills through hate crimes and higher suicide rates.
Since then we fought hard and managed to start a GSA club. In the meantime they tried to transfer me out of the building (I threatened the human rights commission then and a grievance and got back PART of my hours). They won't give me an office. I have to do counseling groups in the record/conference room w/people walking in and out. They pull me in to ‘talk’ to me about every piddley stupid thing they can think of. I have never had any disciplinary action as I have NEVER done anything wrong. I have never had a bad evaluation. I do my job. They insist on 2 and 3 levels of supervisory signatures before I can put out a simple memo about anything (for instance...we started a ‘safe schools award to discourage homophobic language and encourage staff and students to speak out against it and I got in trouble for putting out a memo to staff telling them about it AFTER the award was approved). I have to get every tiny piece of paper used in any event for the GSA club approved by my direct supervisor and the principal.
I checked. No other club advisor has to do this. I am not allowed to post anything on the walls outside my office or in any hallway. Other people do.
I write memo's pointing this out. I get NO response. There are tons of examples of inequitable enforcement of policy. My favorite yet happened yesterday. XXX, my supervisor, walked into my GSA meeting (I run these after school on my own time w/no compensation and I buy the supplies/snacks out of my pocket). She did not say hello to my kids, or say anything...like excuse me for interrupting. She walked in and sat down. I asked if I could help her and she stated ‘I just heard about your little group and I wanted to check it out’...funny....I have been in her office about my ‘little group’ time and time again for years...just heard about it????? I told her that we had some rules about confidentiality and asked to speak with her in the hall. She refused and told me she was just observing. My kids were freaked out. I had kids in there that NEVER shut up and sit still who barely moved. Good news is...they buttoned it right up behavior wise...it was kind of cute in a way...they knew something was up and were ridiculously good. Also yesterday...they had 5 administrators and a bible thumping support center person interrogate one of my kids who is MR (mentally retarded) and VERY out as gay. They apparently told him not to listen to the GSA club...that he shouldn't tell anyone he is gay. (The bible thumper has a history of telling my kids...just pray on it and you will turn out normal’ and ‘the GSA is just exploiting you’. She runs the debutant ball and the ‘little sisters’ program...both with a mission of teaching girls ‘how to be proper young ladies and take their proper place in society’.) They also send kids home when they are ‘being disruptive by acting/dressing too gay’. I am told it is for their own protection because other kids threaten them. When I write memos suggesting that perhaps we should be sending the kids home who are threatening or enacting violence
I get no response. Once when I asked face to face the principal told me
‘XXX, you know that's never going to happen’.
So that is the short version. Any ideas. Letters to editors??? Anyone know anyone that would run a series of articles...so a school climate survey...picket lines...I really don't know what would have an effect.
My tactic thus far has been to try and use moments when things go wrong as teaching moments...to be patient, to provide information. That doesn't seem to be working. All I get back is head games and bull shit.
All I can think is...this stresses me out this much and I don't have near the stress these kids face.
Part of what has been so hard about this is going it more or less alone. If any of you out there are willing to try to work on the situation I...and a lot of great kids...and the GLBT rights movement in general...will be ever so grateful.
Please feel free to pass this on to anyone you think might be willing and able to help.”
Please write letters to the D&C, The Empty Closet, City Newspaper, etc. Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more information.
The email to send letters to the democrat and chronicle is dceditpage@DemocratandChronicle.com. The email to send letters to city newspaper is email@example.com. Please consider writing to both even if you are not from Rochester. It is important that people start to see this as a more global response to a wide spread issue.
D&C’s letter policy:
We welcome your comments. All submissions must include your name, address and daytime telephone number. Limit letters to 175 words. Letters to the editor, opinion and editorial columns, and articles submitted to the Democrat and Chronicle may be distributed in print, electronic and other forms.
Address: Letters to the Editor, Democrat and Chronicle, 55 Exchange Blvd., Rochester, NY 14614.
Letters: For questions about letters, call letters editor Richard Orioli, (585) 258-2641
Speaking Out: To submit a longer essay, call Speaking Out editor M. Kathleen Wagner, (585) 258-2414
Articles that have appeared in The Empty Closet regarding RCSD issues: