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Making It Better

Justin Anderson, Safe Schools Intern | October 6, 2011

I can't recall a single day in high school that I didn't hear someone say "that's so gay." In the school district I graduated from, Anoka-Hennepin, there is a policy that censors discussion of LGBTQ people and confuses staff, making them hesitant to respond to anti-gay slurs. As a result, few staff members stand up for students like me who are bullied or harassed because of our perceived sexual orientation.

Something is wrong in our schools when students can say things like "gay people should go kill themselves so that we don't have to deal with them" in front of teachers without being challenged. The actions of other kids at my school eventually got bad enough that I found myself wondering whether or not the world would truly be better off without me in it.

There was a choice to make: giving in to it all or taking a stand against it. I chose to stand up and speak out. I chose to make it better.

I started to speak out for myself and others. When I heard harassment of any kind, I would call it out for what it was. I got involved with my school's Gay-Straight Alliance and helped organize events protesting the bullying and harassment of GLBTQ students, such as the Day of Silence. I joined the Anoka-Hennepin Gay Equity Team, a group of students, parents and teachers (not affiliated with the district) working to improve the climate in the district.

Many people ask me why I do this work. The answer is that knowing how bad the environment is, and knowing how utterly terrible it can make one feel, that I can't just walk away from it and say "I've graduated, it's not my problem anymore."

Now I'm an intern at OutFront Minnesota because I know that Anoka-Hennepin can't be the only school district with a climate like this. This isn't the only school district where students are being made to feel like this.

There needs to be a change. That's why I do this work.

If I could send a message to all the youth in the state, it would be: people are making things better. We are making things better. You have the power to make it better, too. It starts by making a choice.

P.S. Next Tuesday is National Coming Out Day when students across the state will take part in Stand UP, Speak OUT!. It's a great way to get involved.


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