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Final Webpaper

Amophrast's picture

This is an extension of my third webpaper: /exchange/node/11451

I have changed the names of the interviewees to First letter of first name (or initials) [dot] Initial (or hypen) noting gender [dot] abbreviation of school. So if I converted Kaye's information into this format, it would be K.F.HC. Anne would be A.F.BMC.

I also acknowledge that this project will be a work in progress and is not anywhere near finished, seeing as it's just barely started.

At Anne's suggestion, to avoid assuming too much about the campus climate of Haverford High School (HHS), I interviewed three students there to see what they thought were current issues happening in the school. This way my project would end up being "more organic, rather than missionary." Though I plan to hopefully continue this project by polling and interviewing more high school students (especially of different years) and some high school teachers, I started out with three interviewees. I asked them about the general campus climate of HHS, what they viewed the role of a high school Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) to be, and if there were any specific issues they thought should be worked on. Hopefully with enough feedback, I can formulate a way for me to act as an individual or act with Rainbow Alliance in order to work towards responding to a need that already exists. This may result in a workshop, bringing a speaker to the school, or the kind of mentorship/relationship that I imagined with Rainbow Alliance.

It turns out I was completely off the mark with my primary assumptions, and with a few memories that stand out very strongly. Bullying did not seem to be as big of an issue as I thought it was (though I admit I probably should have defined bullying/harrassment before asking). CL.M.HHS even said "I don't think anyone has the audacity in this school to harass someone for being identified as queer."

Wow! I thought. That's thrilling! It brought to mind something one of my high school teachers had said to our class when I was a junior: if anyone dared call any of the kids at our high school who have physical or mental disabilities any slur or rude word, people would rush to defend the kid(s) as quickly as possible, as if they were picking on their own brother or sister. And while I recalled this happening at times when an object was referred to as "retarded," I don't recall it happening with other oppressive language such as fag, that's so gay, lame, crazy, mental.

Campus Climate key words and phrases:

  • safe
  • accepting
  • laidback
  • "I feel really comfortable"
  • peaceful
  • have heard..."gay" and "fag" countless times
    • haven't seen anyone outwardly offended
    • don't see it as the most threatening thing
  • open-minded
  • there definitely is some [bullying]
    • "but...never seen someone being hazed or targeted"

Role of the GSA:

  • safe spot
  • visibility
  • presence
  • education
  • news
  • support
  • get involved
  • discussions
  • awareness
  • unity
  • prevent hazing of students and staff
  • promote gay rights/equality

In general the students highlighted issues that could be dealt with; these ideas can be enacted at either the middle school, the high school, or both:

  • Gender and sexuality diversity education - C.F.HHS felt that a lot of people didn't realize that "...gender and orientation isn't as black-and-white as just male and female. I feel like not many people know of the gray shades." She felt best that this issue would be best addressed by an outside educator in a large after school meeting, in a personal setting. Topics like asexuality, trans*, gender fluidity, the difference between -romantic and -sexual (as identities), and more could be discussed.
  • Use of derogatory language (specifically in Haverford Middle School) - C.F.HHS noticed that the use of words like "fag" and "gay" has become so normalized in HMS that teachers don't bother to correct it, since it's not seen as a problem. "It's lost its meaning as 'a person who is not heterosexual' and transformed into just a normal insult, like 'lame.'" I reminded her that the word "lame" also has a history. She linked me to a Tumblr blog post with a list of non-oppressive insults: I suggested a campaign towards using non-oppressive insults--my favorite being "muttonhead"--before I realized I essentially suggested a pro-cursing, pro-bullying campaign that would work directly against events such as No Name-Calling Week.
  • Comprehensive, inclusive health and sex-education - CL.M.HHS thought this would work best for eighth graders and high schoolers. "Well, part of health class is sex ed, and if what's talked about in class relates to only straight people, where do gay or bi people get their sex education?" Topics like safety, resources, and sexual orientation could be discussed.
    • I would also like to add that if this project does go in the direction of restructuring sex-ed and health education in HHS, I would expect topics like consent to be covered as well, for students of all genders and orientations. This would also go well with "safety."
  • Tabling about mistreatment of individuals - M.T.HHS thought that tabling could be done once a month to show people the effects of bullying. Making these stories personal may stop bullying. These could include personal, local, and national stories.
  • Special on school's television program - "H-Vision is a student-made production about the activities that take place in school.  It replaces the daily announcements, normally held over the loud-speaker, on Wednesdays and Fridays." M.T.HHS thought it would be helpful for the GSA to create a program about the GSA, their goals, and "how to help stop bullying when you see it or how to support gays and lesbians everywhere through your own actions."

Two of the students seemed to use the internet rather than their GSA or school to learn about relevant LGBTQ issues, which didn't surprise me. If information isn't available in school, I think the internet serves as a good supplement. But in general, all of the students thought the GSA is important and useful to have.

Notable quotes:

"I don't see the point of giving more attention to awareness of diseases that rarely affect the high school population [breast cancer, AIDS, etc.] than to a topic that would affect about 10% of the high school population [queer population]. Just in general, things like statistics affect or view of the LGBT community, and anecdotes definitely draw our attention to real-life situations. And overall, encouraging people to be educated about the LGBT community gives people a voice who are gay, bi, transgender, etc."

" Also, there are probably people in school who are confused about their sexual orientation or aren't completely comfortable with it. Not discussing gay topics in health class (or any class for that matter) would only make them feel less comfortable with their identity."

"Anything people aren't used to encountering or uneducated about would be worth teaching, or just generally how not everyone is a 'he' or a 'she.'"

"I think this goal is partially achieved in the fact that they glean some supporters from the crowd, but there's still a lot of work to do in that area in a high school where kids use the word 'gay' as a negative subject. But that doesn't mean they aren't doing their job. Really, just the fact that they're there helps out the situation."

So what can I do, as a college student involved with a queer student union, to help queer and allied youth in HHS?

For the first need (diversity education), I could personally make suggestions to students or to the GSA about people they can contact, online resources, books, etc. Rainbow Alliance could also design a workshop that would be structured similarly to Q-forum that is held at Bryn Mawr every year.

In the interest of saving space, I will present my ideas for a gender and sexuality spectrum workshop as a prezi:


We could also make a push (perhaps with a petition) for more comprehensive sex-ed and health courses, though this might be a project to make over a longer period of time, and something to appeal to the state for.

You can read the full text of the interviews here:





Amophrast's picture

Workshop done 5/16

I was able to do the workshop on Wednesday, 5/16. With my new thoughts about Q-Forum, I tried to combine them to produce an outline for the workshop. All of my notes that I used to write this post were written down the evening after the workshop.

I started the workshop with writing some categories up on the word: insults, indentity labels, pronouns, sexual orientations, genders. We were sitting with the chairs in a circle, but they were not directly next to the whiteboard--it wasn't ideal. The circle could interact with each other, but not while I was standing by the board. The circle could not interact with the board.

Then we went around and did introductions: name, pronouns, class year. I was surprised to find that a lot of people said that they accepted gender neutral pronouns, or whatever pronouns. I couldn't tell if they were saying this because they actually meant it, or because they wanted to seem more "open" and accepting.  After introductions, I asked people to fill in the categories on the board. I think people had issues telling my categories apart...I didn't really explain them but rather told them to go for it. I think I should have explained the categories, or left them off altogether. (I also verbally made a disclaimer that I didn't like categories and diagrams/models but they can be helpful for making sense of things.)

- it wasn't linear and it wasn't structured
it wasn't working out well
lack of eye contact, engagement

The most useful part of the workshop was the discussion. When it seemed that nothing was really engaging them (there were side conversations going on--now I know what it's like to teach a class), I kind of derailed/aborted plan and moved onto the discussion section in a bumpy transition.

But people did start talking. We talked about what the high school was like, about Day of Silence, about what the most effective way to reach out to students is. I was surprised by the number of people who seemed to agree that education (about gen/sex issues) needed to start earlier, and that this would help fix many of the current issues. While I agree to some extent, I did emphasize that it wasn't like hope is lost. To me, to some extent, they were the younger age.

We talked about school assemblies--how they really seemed to be projecting a message to the parents and greater communities. how they don't really seem effective in getting to the students.

none of the bullying lectures or assemblies
talk about being bullied because you are

we talked about the effectiveness of a high
school gsa, president talked about some of
their goals and their missions.

One of the things that came up on that note was that people didn't seem to realize that you don't have to be queer to be involved in the GSA, especially since it's called the gay straight alliance. but this also
seems to come up because someone said their
friend said they didn't want to be "the
only straight person there" and didn't seem
to realize that they probably WOULDN'T be
the only straight person there.

The one opinionated person said that people
just didn't care because these issues
didn't affect them personally, and that it
would take a tragedy for people to bond
over. I pointed out that the visibility of
queer people is relevant, especially for
youth because these ARE people they're
interacting with every day. In this way,
being out or just open is seen and is

we talked about use of words--the terms
have "evolved" past insults, just a word
that people use, more of a swear word than
a slur. This was a convenient way for me to
bring up reclaiming words, the fact that
some people use words for themselves (but
wouldn't necessarily want others using
those words for them)

lasted about an hour
but in the end president said that this was
the most they talked all year, which one of the other students confirmed.

hard to balance voices, but almost everyone
ended up talking. There was one (very
opinionated) person who seemed rather
pessimistic who dominated conversation
because they talked with length, and kind
of trailed off topic at times.

In general, I found that the words section was indeed a little lofty and it was hard to see if any of them were even paying attention. It worked to talk about their experiences and for the most part people seemed pretty open to each other's opinions. I always like when a discussion can flow without a facilitator, and there were a few moments like that, which was good.

People seemed to be very reluctant to ask questions, or maybe they didn't know what questions to ask.

All in all, it could have gone much better, but it seemed like a start.