HHS Gay/Straight Alliance is about respect and tolerance
Among the new things at Hudson High School this fall is the Gay/Straight Alliance, a student club that as its name implies is open to everyone regardless of their sexual orientation.
One of the club's first orders of business this fall was to come up with a mission statement. About 40 students, both gay and straight, collaborated on the effort and came up with this:
"The purpose of the Gay/Straight Alliance is to provide a safe, judgment-free environment where people can come together to promote respect and tolerance of sexual diversity."
"It is not about recruiting kids to be gay or anything like that," said Josh Aubin, a junior who with sophomore Ivy Meier spearheaded the effort to establish the club on campus. "It is about providing a place where both gay or straight kids can be supported for who they are."
The club meets every two weeks after school, and attendance averages around 20 students a meeting. Both gay and straight students attend the meetings, according to Aubin and Meier, along with several students who oppose the club. "There are usually three or four kids who disagree with what we're doing at every meeting. Sometimes we end up debating back and forth, but that's OK. They are respectful of the other people there and it's OK to disagree," said Aubin.
Aubin has gone to school in Hudson since kindergarten. Meier transferred from River Falls High School last year, where she was a member of a similar club. They believed HHS should have an alliance, as well, and after consulting with then guidance counselor Cindy Mitchell and HHS Principal Ed Lucas, they began collecting the necessary signatures on a petition to start the club as dictated by school policy.
More than 200 students and some 30 staff members signed the petition. Social studies teacher Jody Gabriel agreed to be the club's faculty adviser, and the club had its first meeting in September. The club will not qualify for any student funds until after it has been in existence for a few years. Soda and food at the meetings are provided by those attending. To promote the first meeting, Aubin, Meier and others made more than 30 posters and hung them throughout the school. "We came early to school that morning and put them up," said Meier. "By second hour they had all been ripped down, but we kind of expected that."
The group then made some 200 posters and posted them side by side all along the east hallway near the door. "This time it took until fourth hour to get them all down because we taped them on all sides," said Meier.
That was three months ago. Some posters still get torn down or defaced, but not all. Some are simply covered up with posters from other groups. "That's kind of dumb since it's pretty easy to figure who they are when they do that," said Meier.
Aubin admits he was angry when the posters were ripped down. "We don't go around ripping down other groups' stuff. But it's getting better and it is just part of it, I guess. I confront people if I see them doing it or if I hear them saying stuff. They are defensive but some of them back down when you call them on it."
Despite their posters being ripped down, the classroom was overflowing at the first meeting in mid-September. Some of the students there were clearly opposed to the club, others were just curious. The meetings are open to any student provided they are respectful of the other people at the meeting.
Subsequent meetings of the GSA, as it is known on campus, have resembled those of other school clubs. Members elected officers and planned activities. They collaborated with the Diversity Days Committee for Mix-It-Up, a day when high school students across the country make an effort to talk with students they don't know. The GSA also participated in a fund-raiser for the Pierce St. Croix Humane Society along with the HHS Student Council and has participated in the HHS leadership conferences organized by Principal Lucas.
The meetings, which Aubin and Meier say are pretty evenly split between gay and straight students, also include time for an exchange of ideas and discussion of issues facing students at HHS. "It is a supportive atmosphere. We want people to feel like they can talk about whatever they see or feel without being judged or made fun of," said Meier.
An issue students face
Principal Ed Lucas said he agrees with GSA's mission of providing a safe environment for students where they can discuss the difficult issues that affect them directly. He is pleased that the school is able to bring together diverse groups of students together to discuss sensitive issues that he says students face every day.
He was initially concerned that there would be negative, maybe even physical opposition to the club, but beyond the tearing down of the posters, that hasn't materialized. "There certainly is some opposition to it, but for the most part, students have demonstrated an ability to resolve their differences about it in a peaceful and respectful way."
Lucas believes his students are generally empathetic and accepting of one another. "I look at it as a feather in our hat. It tells us and others that we have quality students."
Lucas said he has heard from only two parents concerned about GSA. "This club is not about recruiting students to be gay or lesbian. It really has nothing to do with gay behavior or straight behavior. It is about providing a safe environment for students to talk about issues they face here and will continue to face when they leave Hudson. This is a reality in their lives, and the more we listen and discuss it with each other, the more understanding it promotes."
Aubin and Meier say there is no way of knowing how many gay and lesbian students attend Hudson High School. They are only aware of one openly gay couple at the school, but they say statistics point to one in every 10 teens as gay.
Aubin said the atmosphere at Hudson High School, while not always overtly prejudiced, is still pretty hostile to gay students. "It's mostly verbal harassment, but I've seen some shoving and pushing. A lot of it is just name-calling or bad jokes. They do it without ever thinking of who might be sitting next to them or who might have a sister or brother who is gay. That's what the GSA is about too - raising awareness."
Both Aubin and Meier believe the group is beginning to have an effect on the consciousness of students at HHS. Aubin said he doesn't hear the word gay used in a derogatory manner around him as often as he used to, and whenever he does hear it, he takes the opportunity to express his views. "People don't seem as hostile as they used to be. Friends have stopped mocking gays in front of me. You got to figure that's a good sign."
But there is a ways to go. Meier recently entered a classroom and found a statement on the chalkboard saying "so and so is gay." She erased it immediately. "That kind of thing really makes me mad. It's not right. Classrooms are supposed to be safe, supportive and respectful spaces for students. That kind of stuff is just wrong."
Aubin said he hopes the GSA becomes a permanent student club at Hudson. "I will be a senior next year and what I'd really like is for the GSA to stay around here long after I'm gone."
Meier said the group is committed to staying visible at the school. "We have to keep going, keep showing up at things, keep making people understand that everybody deserves to be at this school. You don't have to believe the same way as we do. We don't expect anyone to change their mind about how they feel about homosexuality. But it would be nice if they could just agree to be more open about it and not judge how other people live their lives."
"It wouldn't matter if there are only three kids in the GSA. If they need support, the club should be here," said Aubin. "It can be a pretty scary thing to be gay or lesbian, and sometimes you don't get much support from home. It can seem like you're pretty alone, and everybody knows the scariest thing in the world is to feel alone."
Meg Heaton can be reached at email@example.com