In Our Words: Back To School

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September 25, 2013

LGBTQ students, those perceived to be LGBTQ and the friends of LGBTQ students have a right to feel safe and respected at school. This year, we asked some of our current and former clients to share their ideas about what LGBTQ students can do to help make their school experiences safer and more inclusive. Here’s what they said.

Click here for a full list of resources for LGBTQ teens and young adults.
Click here for a list of steps you can take if you're LGBTQ and bullied.

Lambda Legal Client Maverick Couch

Lambda Legal: What would you say to returning students about ways they can help make their school more LGBTQ friendly?

Maverick Couch: I think that actions speak louder than words. In my opinion, you don't want to be the person in the cafeteria shouting at people, telling them how wrong they are (even though they are). Be a respectful person, and others will follow. As long as you feel safe enough - show  your pride, hold hands in the hallway, wear pro-LGBTQA shirts, start school clubs, hang club posters in the hallways. Every little thing you do counts! Just being out and proud breaks down barriers. When you walk into school proud, happy, and out you are making a difference. Don't let people walk on you. Talk to teachers, principals, and administrators at your school. If that doesn't work, and trust me I know sometimes it doesn't, reach out. Find help! Call Lambda Legal, and most importantly be proud of you.

Last yearLambda Legal filed a lawsuit on behalf of Maverick Couch, an openly gay junior in Ohio who was threatened with suspension  for wearing a T-shirt bearing the message "Jesus Is Not a Homophobe," on GLSEN’s Day of Silence. Maverick won the right to wear his T-shirt to school any day he chooses.

Lambda Legal Client Jamie Nabozny

Lambda Legal: What would you say to a student who's returning to school after being bullied last year?

Jamie Nabozny: Find an adult in your school you trust. Tell them everything that happened last year and tell them that you want it to stop.  If things don't change, tell someone else and keep going higher up in the administration until someone puts an end to it.  Don't stop until you can go to school every day and feel safe and supported! It's your right and the school’s responsibility to provide a safe and supportive place for you to learn.

In 1995Lambda Legal went to court on behalf of Jamie Nabozny, who was the target of unrelenting and vicious abuse at school starting at age 13. The harassment went on for years while Jamie’s pleas for protection went unheeded. His despair led to two suicide attempts, the first of which was in seventh grade, and he eventually withdrew from school in the eleventh grade. In a historic victory, a federal appeals court spelled out the constitutional obligation of public schools everywhere to protect LGBTQ students from abuse. The case resulted in a million-dollar settlement for Jamie and electrified the education community. Learn more about Jamie.

Lambda Legal Client Amber HatcherLambda Legal: What would you say to returning students about ways they can help make their school more LGBTQ friendly?

Amber Hatcher: Honestly, you'll find that a lot of merit can be put in the little things. Making an impact doesn't have to be something grand. But, for those of us who want something big, something good and recognizable, be confident. Believe in what you're doing, and be ready to face opposition with your head held high. It's not like you have to make a big show to make a difference. Spreading tolerance is surprisingly effortless when it's ingrained into you. No, it's never easy; you'll face your own fear, anxiety, and even reluctance. But, if you constantly stand up for what you believe in, you'll find that sometimes people mimic you. A kind word here, a correction there- it all goes a long way.

On February 26 of this yearLambda Legal filed suit on behalf of Amber Hatcher, an openly lesbian 16-year-old who was punished for participating in GLSEN’s Day of Silence last year. As a result of the lawsuit, Amber and other students were not only able to participate in Day of Silence in 2013 but also to start a GSA – actions that had been shut down in past years.  While the lawsuit is proceeding, the school district has vowed to obey the laws protecting students’ free expression, Day of Silence and other student protests.