Guest editorial: If you’re an LGBTQ student and haven’t been told lately: You matter
I graduated from Park City High School in 2014 and have since then come out of the closet and found my people. When I was president of the Gay-Straight Alliance (and for the record very much in the closet at that time) this was a future I never could’ve imagined.
When we won the GSA of the year award at Park City High, all any adult at that time wanted to do was tell me how proud they were of us. Many of these adults didn’t want to talk about the “no homo promo” law in place at the time which meant my peers and I sat in health class where a powerpoint read “The state of Utah does not affirm the homosexual lifestyle as a social norm” amid other things stating our otherness. These adults didn’t want to talk much when a policy (though brief in nature) was instituted requiring parent/guardian signatures to be a part of after-school clubs and many students in the GSA felt like a lifeline was gone. Some of these adults looked the other way even as I heard slurs in the halls, and in classrooms, that inspired many a bathroom panic attack (shoutout to the high school bathroom by the art room).
Don’t get me wrong though: Many adults at the time were firm in their support of our organization and had the backs of LGBTQ students. These people were often teachers. I remember Mr. Nordfelt taking an armband from me promoting the Day of Silence in support of LGBTQ+ students and wearing it outside his classroom. I remember Mr. Hase refusing to allow conversation happen in his classroom that questioned the right of LGBTQ+ people to exist, instead turning it into a learning moment I have always remembered. And, I remember principal O’Connor wearing a rainbow armband around school, even on a day the governor came to visit. I can think of many other examples of educators who were willing to tell me they stood for my community and were going to protect me (the most impactful being Mary Purzycki, the GSA advisor so much love!) even though at the time they might not have know there was an LGBTQ+ student in their classroom. These actions saved my life. Hearing those affirming messages at school saved my life. Going through the Park City schools didn’t indoctrinate me into a lifestyle any more than growing up with loving heterosexual parents in the home could’ve. It left me feeling ready to fight for the idea that tomorrow can be better. And it has been. The kids are alright and are still doing the important work.
Since I graduated, the membership in the GSA has erupted, gender-inclusive restrooms are accessible at the high school and the “no homo promo” law has been overturned. Among other things. But, these moments are not without challenge, as I have seen from afar regarding the Welcoming Schools curriculum. I want to say something directly to anyone who is reading this, any student who feels like they may be different and are afraid to tell anyone: I am so sorry this conversation about respecting you is happening in such a public way. One day you will find your people, family and chosen family, and we will accept you unconditionally. No questions asked. Their calls for civility never ever will trump your right to exist. If you’ve not been told this recently, let me tell you now: You matter to this world. Maybe, one day, we won’t have to write letters asking for the people in the world to, at minimum, respect us. Until that day comes, know that myself and so many other people have your back. Thus, I find myself continually asking, are we really still doing this?
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