In My Own Words: Josh Garza

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April 3, 2015
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High school is stressful for most students, but for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students, it can actually be quite hostile. At my high school, McAllen Memorial High School, especially, LGBT students have always been singled out and bullied for being different. The bullying was so bad that many students walked the hallways in fear of being harassed or attacked.

I finally decided that enough was enough last school year, my junior year. Our school had to have a safe place for LGBT students to be able to share their experiences. My friend Roberto and I decided to start a gay-straight alliance (GSA) to support LGBT students. But in the region that we are from, the idea of having a GSA at school is met with a lot of anger and backlash. In fact, when another high school in our district tried to start a GSA, they were forced to have security outside the door at their meetings!

Because of this, it was hard to get support for our idea. In spring of 2014, we went to the administration to try to get the GSA recognized and were shut down. The administration did not want the GSA to be an official club, which meant we couldn’t put flyers up, or use the PA system to make announcements about meetings and events.

After weeks of getting the run-around from the administration, we found out that the district was concerned that some parents would be upset with the school for “endorsing” a club for LGBT students. To me, this was basically telling LGBT students that they were not a welcome part of the student body, and it hurt.

Although the school’s response was a major disappointment, I was determined to get our club recognized. After researching my options, I contacted Lambda Legal in September 2014 to see if they could help. Shortly after, I spoke with Christopher Clark, a lawyer at Lambda Legal, who sent a letter on our behalf to the district superintendent and principal, explaining our right to have a GSA and some of the legal consequences of not allowing us to have the club.

Within a week after receiving the letter, the district officially approved the club.

Finally having a GSA at school has definitely had a positive impact on the attitude of the student body. LGBT students now have a safe place to meet, and other students have become more aware of LGBT issues. In addition to our meetings we are now focused on participating in the GLSEN Day of Silence in April, and we expect to have a lot of support.

The past year has been very challenging, but so worth it. Looking back I am happy I did not give up on my goal, and I encourage students having similar problems not to give up on fighting for a safe space. The help from Lambda Legal was just the boost we needed to get this over the finish line.