—By Madhavi Challa & Bushra Hasan—
January 4, 2013. A married couple from West-Windsor submits a letter to the editor of the West Windsor and Plainsboro News attacking South’s Gay-Straight Alliance. On that day, the cosseted lifestyle of the student body—both North’s and South’s—was shattered when we realized that there were people in our community capable of real vitriol.
Many members of WW-P’s community took it upon themselves to express their outrage that somebody could attack South’s GSA. This public support, however, did not change the fact that pro-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) sentiment typically lies dormant, allowing everyday backlash against the LGBT community to occur through abusive slurs and general apathy. The community-wide support of South’s GSA doesn’t make up for the fact that the environments at both high schools are still largely unsafe places for LGBT youth to come out of the closet, or at least to feel comfortable about themselves.
WW-P is not the diverse and tolerant place we believe it to be. The student body is largely apathetic toward LGBT issues and talks about them only when headlines slap them in the face. Students support gay marriage as an abstract concept, but when faced with the tangible, visible aspect of gay rights—like seeing two boys hold hands—their tolerance dissipates.
It is this unchecked apathy toward LGBT issues that leads to the overtly anti-LGBT sentiment that plagues the hallways at North, through the use of words like “faggot” or “homo.” This mentality stems from the belief that without a pressing controversy, there is no need to support the LGBT community.
Two years ago, Ally Week, annually hosted to celebrate supporters of the LGBT community and to bring real-world issues into context, was rudely disrupted by a group of students who mocked homosexuals. They charged into the classroom where North’s GSA was holding a meeting, grabbed all of the baked goods brought for students who genuinely wanted to attend the meeting, and invented fake stories about their relatives who were supposedly homosexual, all the while snickering among themselves about their forged anecdotes. This bigotry would not have made it to the front door of an Ally Week presentation if there were a vibrant discourse about LGBT rights and a regular recognition of just what that bigotry entailed. Silent support is not support—it’s a tacit affirmation that it’s OK to be hateful and that minority rights are essentially unimportant.
Take South junior Angela You, for example. You formerly identified as cis-gendered (meaning You’s gender identity accorded with You’s assigned sex at birth). You came out to a digital audience on October 22 by taking the name Jamie (a gender-neutral name) and identifying as gender non-binary, meaning internally, You does not conform to the definition of a male or female body. “I also really don’t understand the concept of gender itself,” You wrote in a Facebook post. “So why should I call myself exclusively ‘she’ when I don’t even understand, let alone identify with, with the ramifications of those words?”
According to an online interview, You was “quite anxious before coming out,” but the response to the Facebook status was “overwhelmingly positive—I was quite surprised.” Why did You feel surprised at the outcome? Because You wasn’t expecting students to care. Because You wasn’t expecting students to react positively. You came out to achieve peace of mind despite a fear that the community would not accept this identity.
The campaign for LGBT rights is an everyday battle, and students can’t decide to support it only when it’s convenient or in-style, like when pretty much everyone changed profile pictures to an equal sign during the DOMA and Proposition 8 Supreme Court hearings in June 2013. We should strive for an environment where no individual doubts the community’s support.
LGBT support can’t simply occur when the issue becomes personal—when a student comes out to a friend, or when a classmate questions his or her sexuality. WW-P has already come so far in that we do indeed foster some sort of support system, but that support needs to be present from the start, not after an LGBT teen sticks his or her neck out in an act of courage.