It Is Time to End the Silence


I have spent at least the last year in a constant state of failure. I have failed to tell my family what I have for so long needed them to hear. I have failed to tell my classmates what I wish I was brave enough to share. I have kept the fact that I’m gay hidden from those around me, and in doing so I’ve failed myself, and I’ve failed my LGBT peers.

But I have failed because I have been failed, just as every other LGBT student at this school has been failed. And that is why I am writing this article. In this article I have written two letters: one to the administrators of this school and another to my fellow LGBT students. I’ve written the first because I need the leaders of this school to understand how they have failed us, and I need them to change. I’ve written the second because I do not expect them to change, and I want my fellow LGBT students to know what I think we can do to make up for it.

This article is unlike any that I have ever written. It is intensely personal, and it focuses much more on my negative observations than my positive observations (and don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of positives, but they are not the subject of this article). As a result, you may at times believe that I am being melodramatic. But if you truly take the time to reflect on what I have said, if you truly make an effort to empathize, you will begin understand the gravity of what I have written.  

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To the administration,

In the five years that I have been a student at this school, you have recognized the existence of its LGBT community a grand total of one time: in the docket sent on May 14, which included an LGBT-themed poster advertising prom. That poster is, if my memory is correct, the only overt acknowledgement of Graded’s LGBT community that I have ever seen. And the only reason that poster exists is because I suggested that my friend create it. You have acknowledged our existence once, and you only did so because that acknowledgement required absolutely no thought or effort on your part.

That, to me, is ridiculous, not to mention harmful. It is ridiculous that in all these years, you, the leaders of our school, our role models, those entrusted with our protection, have never once taken the initiative to recognize our existence on your own. It never once occurred to you as something worth spending any time on. It was your students who took initiative.

While your failure to merely acknowledge our presence may seem insignificant to you, the message that it sends to us is likely much more potent than you are capable of imagining. It is a message that reinforces the notion that our existence is taboo, something never to be spoken of. It shows us that you would rather avoid mentioning us than spend the time addressing the unique barriers we face.

Don’t get me wrong, Graded has numerous LGBT teachers who are wonderful role models, and most of the students here are accepting. We are truly lucky to have been born into this society rather than one of the many others around the world that are far crueler. But the lack of acknowledgement is damaging. When I first began to come to terms with my own sexual orientation, I knew only one other gay student, and I had nowhere to go for support. I felt profoundly alone. To be acknowledged would have perforated that all-encompassing sense of isolation, showing me that the adults entrusted with my well-being were equipped to help.

Except you weren’t.

Our school has no social workers, which is absolutely preposterous for a school that claims to focus on wellness. It has no club for LGBT students. It has held at least four assemblies on how to meditate, but never one on the experiences of LGBT teenagers. And no attempt has ever been made to change that. You have clearly never even bothered to google “how schools can support LGBT students.” You may wonder why your apathy matters. You may wonder why you need to do anything more when we can speak for ourselves or talk to our LGBT teachers. Well, I’ll tell you why.

Your apathy sends many of us deep into the closet. By failing to normalize our existence and failing to recognize our isolation, you have made it more difficult for us to be open despite the openness of Graded’s students. You should be encouraging us to celebrate our diversity, but instead you are complacent in the notion that we should remain hidden.

That is why we need you. We are not in position to advocate for ourselves when we are afraid to be ourselves. We need you to advocate for us. We need you to embrace us rather than ignore us. We have long needed you. I needed you.

But you weren’t there.

That is why I am writing this op-ed. I cannot leave this school in this condition. I expect you to start making an effort. That effort should start with the active acknowledgment of our existence, and it should also involve the provision of real mental health services to all students, not just LGBT students. It should involve hiring social workers for the 2017-2018 school year. If you care about our wellness, you should be willing to swallow your pride and take this advice. You should be willing to invest in professionals whose job it is to look after it. Don’t wait for the consequences of your apathy to become lethal. Act now.

To my fellow LGBT students:

First, I would like to apologize. I am sorry that I was unwilling to take initiative earlier. I am sorry that I was not a better role model. As you probably all understand, however, standing up for ourselves easier said than done. But it is something that we must do. As long as the school fails to make any effort to provide the support structures that we need, we must provide them for ourselves.

It is time that we come together. As years go one, more and more students will enter our school, more and more students will realize that they, too, are part of our community, and more and more students will begin to come out—both to themselves and to their peers. We must ensure that it is less difficult for them than it was for us. We must ensure that Graded is a more welcoming place for them.

It is up to us to start a club for LGBT students, to advocate collectively on our behalf, to push the administration to recognize our existence, to arrange for speakers to come to Graded, and to provide channels for LGBT students to receive support.

Perhaps your experience has been different from mine. Perhaps you have felt supported. Perhaps you have not seen administrative apathy as such a significant problem in light of far greater problems. At first, I didn’t either. I knew that it would be difficult, and I accepted that as an unchangeable fact of life. But then I realized that it did not have to be as difficult as it was.

I am not arguing that administrative support could have made our lives easy. I am merely suggesting that it could have made them easier. So, if you are not convinced, let me ask you this. Could the school have done anything to make it easier for you? And did they?

I think I speak for all of us when I say that the answer to the first question is yes, and the answer to the second is a resounding no. That is an unacceptable reality, and I hope that what I have written can change it. I do not, however, expect any measurable effort on the part of the administration. I have learned throughout my years here that this school responds to constructive criticism by shutting it down rather than truly listening. As a result, it is time that we take matters into our own hands. It is time that we make an effort to make life easier for each other and for those who will come after us. It is time that we come together.

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I hope that these letters will act to spark discussions that I should have brought up months ago. I hope that what I have written here results in a change that makes life at least a little bit easier for current and future Graded students. Unfortunately, I have waited too long to truly effect change, and my ability to act on my words has nearly disappeared. But know that I will support, to the best of my ability, any attempts by students to create institutions and support structures for LGBT students.

As I said before, I apologize for failing for so long. But I can no longer stay silent in the face of such infuriating apathy. I hope that those of you reading this, too, will find yourselves unable to stay silent.