Collective Power in High School

​When I was in high school (a number of years ago) my friends and I wanted to start a Gay Straight Alliance student club. It wasa magnet school for visual and performing arts. Like all artists, we were queerer than less creative people. Our first string on the football team came from thee strings section of our orchestra: we just weren’t that macho. 

Student support for the club was generally high. Our first teacher sponsor backed out, after his hinted participation inspired rumors he was gay (the horror). I don’t know what it was like for a male teacher to be called gay in the late 90s, but I do know what it’s like to be a gay teen and feel rejected and abandoned by your supposed ally. Then the school administration decided they didn’t want a “sex club” on campus. 

So we 14-17 year olds organized a visible protest. We wore rainbow flags, on our clothes and our backpacks. One girl, who’d successfully campaigned to get a vegetarian lunch option in the cafeteria, bought spools of rainbow stripped ribbons and cut them into strips for us to tie on wherever we could. We passed them out to any student who would wear one, and stressed the “S for Straight” part of the group name. 

It worked. My straight woman science teacher, who was heroic to me in many ways, volunteered to be our teacher sponsor and fought the administration on our behalf. Our activism inspired hers. She used her married straight teacher relative social privilege to speak directly to the principal, when we’d been repeatedly denied an opportunity. 

We got our club. It’s funny but I somehow remember those meetings much less clearly than what it took to hold them. The student body behaved as if we had the greater power of protest fee paying college students, and somehow it worked.  That experience gave me my first taste of the power of the people. We were children with no legal rights to vote or live independently, compelled by law to attend public school. Yet collectively we had power. I think this will be important to remember for whatever lies ahead. 

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