Through the month of October, the nation honors the decades-long fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights.
October is a busy month, full of excitement about fall, anxiety about college applications and festive spirit for Halloween. However, high school students often overlook an important event during October: LBGTQ History Month.
Through the month of October, the nation honors the decades-long fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights. Rodney Wilson, the first openly gay history teacher in Missouri, created LGBTQ History Month in the 1990s, choosing the month of October because it already contained National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11. The month also includes Solidarity Week, which encourages students to ally with LGBTQ individuals to stand up against bullying.
Principal Jennifer Fong is new to Burlingame, but she is already impressed by the level of warmth and inclusion from students and staff, especially during October’s LGBTQ celebrations.
“I think it’s great that [LGBTQ+ History Month] is early. So this is the second full month of the year, and it’s a great tone setting,” Fong said.
Fong and her administration are working tirelessly to encourage students to stand up against discrimination and be an ally for any LGBTQ peers.
“The idea that we’re trying to come out against discrimination in any form…I felt like a lot of students really rallied behind that,” Fong said. “For a variety of communities, I thought that was a really great way of having people feel included.”
While Fong did not do much individually to commemorate this month, she understands and stresses the importance of it for both students and the broader community. Leadership class, as well as the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) club, helped promote and celebrate LGBTQ+ History month and National Coming Out Day across campus. Fong was honored to see students so involved with the anti-bullying statements.
“So I think if students maybe felt like they didn’t fit in, I would hope that at least on [National Coming Out Day], they felt like they could identify people who were willing to wear an ally sticker,” Fong said.
While some students may have offered their support as allies, Fong does admit that she sees and hears anti-LGBTQ sentiment on a regular basis across campus..
“I do hear students casually throwing out the word gay slur,” Fong said. “And when I hear it, and I know there’s many staff when they hear it, we immediately go up to students and correct behavior on that. But it’s frequent enough that it’s a little painful. I would hope that people would stop using that.”
Given the significant amount of October activities, Fong hopes that students will internalize the value of this month.
“There’s so much here to give students an opportunity to get to know people outside of the classroom, and to value them for their uniqueness,” Fong said.
Senior Ayden West is an active member of Burlingame’s GSA club and because she identifies with the LGBTQ community, she feels strongly about the history of this month.
Raised in a more conservative area, West struggled to feel comfortable with her identity and sexuality around loved ones. Throughout her childhood, being queer was portrayed negatively.
“You get the message that it’s not a good thing, not something to be proud of,” West said.
But since moving to California, West has grown comfortable with herself and welcomed by those around her. Now, West aspires to learn more about LGBTQ history and the activists that came before her.
“When BTV gives a shout out to a historical figure, I will follow those up and do more reading into that and just kind of educate myself on historical figures,” West said.
West knows what it is like to feel unseen and unheard; as a result, it’s important to her that powerful LGBTQ role models are recognized and celebrated throughout the month.
“It sends the message to kids, especially those who aren’t very comfortable with their identity or don’t feel safe, that there are people like them that exist,” West said. “And I think it’s so important for queer youth to have examples of queer adults,”
As this month begins to wrap up, it is still important to keep the rights that queer individuals had to fight for fresh on minds.
“And I hope that over the years, things just get better and better for kids like me here,” West said.
Biology teacher Kelsey Fjell-Walton doesn’t just spend her days teaching her students; she also works to ensure that they feel included and safe while navigating high school.
Having grown up in Wyoming, Fjell was never truly introduced to the idea of being queer and struggled to come out to her family. In her classroom, Fjell aims to create a much more positive and welcoming environment.
“Regardless of where you come from, what your background is, what you do, who you love — no one judges you for that, “ Fjell said.
Fjell hopes that her confidence in who she is will help her students have someone to look up to and be more comfortable with themselves.
“I feel like I actually have a responsibility to you know, not hide that part of myself with my students because it’s not anything to be ashamed of,” Fjell said. “And I want my students to see themselves in me and know that it’s okay to fully accept who you are.”
Fjell saw an opportunity to share the history of this month through National Coming Out day. She also shared her coming out story with her students as she knew it could help them feel more comfortable with themselves and their stories.
“I felt comfortable with my classes. I knew that I would be received just fine,” Fjell said. “And I spotlighted Ruth Gates who was a out lesbian at the top of her field.”
Fjell underscored that by sharing her story with her students, she is working to create the next generation of allies.
“Young people have the power of keeping marriage equality around and just providing more safe spaces, more opportunities, more queer spaces for people,” Fjell said.
Senior Sawyer Fair is president of the GSA Club, and she feels both a strong personal connection with the month and an obligation to share the powerful history with students.
Fair and the GSA club ran a few events to commemorate this month. Fair included as many students as possible while spreading the history of the fight for LGBTQ rights.
“People at school might not even know about it. So it’s definitely not enough of a mainstream thing,” Fair said. “We’re going to try and make more of an effort to have just more events so that the GSA stays in the front of people’s minds.”
Fair hopes to build on her club’s success over the past month.
“I think we got the ball rolling with just student support for the LGBTQ community at our school, and I really just want to continue the awareness and excitement,” Fair said.
While Fair did not face any backlash from loved ones when figuring out who she was, she is still able to empathize with those who are not as fortunate as she was. Which is the reason why she puts so much work into ensuring that other students are able to experience what she was able to.
“[Burlingame] has a long way to go in terms of cultivating an actual supportive community,” Fair said.
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