By Erick Godinez, Kaitlyn Kelley and Joshua Rivera
At Summit Tahoma, the Human Sexuality Expeditions course put up posters around the campus saying, “Be Yourself Out Loud And Proud,” “The Heart Wants What It Wants” and more encouraging words.
Rebecca Breuer, the Human Sexuality teacher, talked about the inspiration behind these posters. She explained that the project was based around an interview. The students had to talk to three students, one of which had to identify as LGBTQ. “I wanted to make sure it didn’t just stop in the classroom, that the whole Tahoma community could see the support that we had, so we tacked on just making a poster just to have that extra visual representation of making it very clear that this has to be a safe space for absolutely everyone,” Ms. Breuer explained.
Here are some examples of posters made by the Human Sexuality Expeditions class PHOTO CREDIT: Kaitlyn Kelley
She later added, “The people in the class, a lot of them loved it – especially the ones that are in the community; you could see the visible change in them and how happy they were and also the allies, the supporters in the class, were really loving it, and I even noticed the students that were a little more closed-minded were opening up a bit.”
Ms. Breuer added, “We did have some vandalism where people made inappropriate drawings on their drawings, which was upsetting to see, so I made sure that every Expeditions teacher talked to their classes about that and how that’s not OK and other people, I did notice, liked it, and other people were making jokes about it – so it’s a big mix here.”
The Bay Area is ranked as one of the highest LGBTQ populations, according to a 2015 Gallup Poll. However, San Jose, more specifically, has one of the lowest populations, alongside Houston, Cincinnati, Raleigh and Birmingham.
It is no secret that LGBTQ students are subjected to more bullying and harassment; in fact, a 2015 report by GLSEN found that 85 percent of LGBTQ students have faced verbal harassment, 58 percent of LGBTQ youth felt unsafe because of their sexuality and 43 percent felt unsafe because of their gender identity.
We conducted a survey of our own to find how supportive the Summit faculty and Summit students are regarding the LGBTQ community. The results showed that the faculty was rated as being more supportive than the students.
Sydney Martinez is a senior at Tahoma who identifies as a non-binary LGBTQ youth. When asked about the results of our survey, they said, “The fact that it is significantly lower than the faculty does make a lot of sense because the faculty make efforts to respect students and to make sure everyone is comfortable and safe. Students don’t necessarily need to. It’s OK, people can be who they are, voice their opinions. But there are people that really need to be, I don’t want to say protected or sheltered or anything, but there are some things you can’t say.”
When asked if the results were surprising, they said, “I expected it; it doesn’t seem very shocking to me. While I don’t see much bullying or people being rude to each other, it does happen. I may not be in the middle of it, but it does happen. So I’m not very surprised it was lower.”
Earlier in the interview, Martinez said, “I think a lot of teachers are really into making sure we all feel safe and that we’re all comfortable around other students and other teachers. Most of the students are really cool here.”
Tahoma sophomore Lilith Flowers identifies as a homoromantic asexual youth. When asked her opinion on equality at school, she said, “I would say no one’s really treated equally. Everyone has their own sense of humor that sort of uses other people as the punchline. So I think the main problem here in this school is that people not knowing that their jokes and their actions can be seen as offensive towards the LGBTQ community. I think that’s the main problem. We are treated equally, but there’s still areas where people don’t understand this isn’t OK to make a joke about.”
She later said, “I think a lot of the students here are pretty OK with it. It’s 2018; everyone’s pretty OK with it. There is, as always, people who, as I’ve been saying, who just don’t know what they’re doing isn’t OK, and when they are confronted with this they respond with ‘what do you mean, it’s a joke.’ They’re teenagers, they’re trying to do funny stuff, and what they don’t realize is while to some people it may be fun, to the vast majority of people, it’s not really funny, and not OK. It’s OK in a way; they’re teenagers, they’re making mistakes. They’re gonna grow up and realize what they did was a teenager thing.”
Tahoma sophomore Lela Caliz, when asked about her feelings toward the LGBTQ community, said, “I was always supportive of it because growing up I was around gay people like my mom was around it all the time, and she would bring me around these people, and I would experience their life with them, and I would see who they are as a person, and that’s really cool, and since then I’ve always accepted people for who they are.”
She further added, “You are who you are, and no one can ever change that.”
Jonathan Stewart, the executive director at Summit Tahoma, was asked what he feels about different gender identities and sexualities. “I will say, personally, I find it interesting how our society’s understanding of it is evolving and it is at the center of the struggle for equity and equality. I’m always curious to hear different people’s perspective and experiences.”
Mr. Stewart talked about his experiences in high school at Edison High School in Fresno, CA. “I can recall the experience of two high school friends of mine who were both gay and because homosexuality and queerness weren’t as accepted back then and where I was. People basically had to make a decision, ‘I’m either gonna be really thick-skinned and tough about this or I’m gonna stay in the closet.’ ”
He went on, “My two friends each made a different decision along those lines. One of them waited until college to come out, and the other one was bold about it. People would call him gay and he would just say, ‘Yeah I’m gay. So what?’ But he had to be thick-skinned and bold about it. He drew a lot of attention for it, but he also relished the attention. It worked OK for him from what I can see. That’s definitely not how everyone’s personality is, and people shouldn’t have to be forced to deal with it in a way like that.”
Mr. Stewart talked about what faculty and administrators do to ensure the safety and equal treatment of LGBTQ students at Tahoma: “We have not done a lot of work specifically for that sub-group of students. We do a lot of work around respecting and compassion in the community, which extends to everyone. We have not taken those specific steps for that group of students, specifically.”
He added, “A few things that we can all recognize is the club on campus. From time to time, there’s a student campaign around the use of language and that is something that we address this fall to the faculty. And, of course, we have the visual symbol, the picnic table right outside the office project, which I supported and provided some guidance on.”
When asked about the results of our survey, Mr. Stewart said, “It concerns me and it doesn’t surprise me. Like I said earlier, I think that the staff who works here are all big-hearted and pretty well-educated on these issues, but I would expect that there would be some divergent opinions among our students.”
He ended the interview with, “The last question asked certainly sets up the question my mind of ‘What more can be done?’ There could be more done around education. Some of that can come from this school, but some of it can also come from student efforts, and I think even reporting on it like this is a really strong example of a student effort that can make a little bit of a difference. It is a long road by the time you’re in high school, some of your opinions are deeply held and informed by how you brought up in your family, but it is a challenge with pursuing.”