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Gay And Invisible In Rural America: Reflections On This Year’s Day Of Silence

Founded in 1996 by a group of students working on a class project focused on non-violent protests, a Day of Silence is now a national event where students raise awareness for the silencing and erasure of LGBTQ people at school. 

By The TFA Editorial Team

April 26, 2018

Adam Mogilevsky

Some students wear ribbons to raise awareness while others might write letters of support for those who struggle with their sexuality. As one of the Presidents of my Gay Straight Alliance in high school, I recall participating in the event yearly. Here, in North Carolina, activities that recognize the existence and struggles of LGBTQ youth while pushing for greater support and acceptance have not been as widespread.

 

Today is another day of student-led action to raise awareness for the bullied and harassed, for the too often ignored and consistently misunderstood, and yes, for the alarmingly high number of LGBTQ young people left to battle depression, self-mutilation, and suicidal thoughts each day. It’s another year of LGBTQ students feeling invisible in our schools and classrooms. We must do better.

 

In a rural community it can be difficult for my LGBTQ students. Whether it be religion, or policy, or daily norms, the current climate within our schools and across the broader system do not protect and empower LGBTQ individuals like they should. My students know this reality and still they take small actionable steps to show their support and inspire others most days--not just during a Day of Silence in April.

 

Over the last two years students here have tried to create their own Gay Straight Alliance. They have collectively worked together to gather signatures for such a club, yet it’s been struck down each time. The rejection serves as another reminder of how far we have to go here and how often we ask LGBTQ students to live their own life in strictly heteronormative ways.  

 

For openly gay students and LGBTQ students forming their identities at a critical stage of adolescence, this rejection and lingering issues like it are accompanied by messages and actions that suggest or outright proclaim LGBTQ individuals not welcomed, their safety not prioritized, and their identity not recognized here.

 

Teachers and school leaders have a role to play in creating the open and safe spaces we need for all students in schools. We must help all students develop their own leadership skills to advocate for change both within and outside our classrooms. I for one, made it my mission this year to add more novels into my curriculum that better reflect all of my student's identifies and needs. This made a tremendous impact with my students and even empowered them to discuss issues and needs they felt go unnoticed.  The discussion needs to continue and as educators we need to create more spaces for all our students to discuss the issues they face.

 

As educators we can all become more versed in the appropriate ways to support and discuss issues that impact students, particularly those so consistently marginalized like LGBTQ students. We need to be aware that many individuals who identify as transgender deal with higher rates of suicide, unfair stigmas and high-levels of harassment.  We need to remember as a whole, that there are severe detrimental effects when we ignore the population of students who are not out in school. Collectively we need stronger professional development, support systems in place within schools and a diverse coalition of teachers willing to commit themselves to creating welcoming environments for all students each and every day. Living into this commitment is the work of school districts, community organizations, and school partners in the movement for educational equity, including Teach For America. We can all do better.

 

My students, like all students, want to feel connected and part of a community that loves them. No young person should have to live in fear or attend school in fear. They deserve to be supported, outspoken, and proud of who they are. This is what any parent would want for their own child, what schools and teachers work to instill in our next generation of leaders, and its foundational to an equitable, just society.

 

I often tell my students, “speak the truth even if your voice shakes.” As a rural resident and an LGBTQ individual, I feel it’s my responsibility to speak truth to these realities. According to recent data, 81% of North Carolina residents think that LGBTQ people experience discrimination in our state. We need to be honest about our current system and commit ourselves to better help our youngest citizens be change makers for equity. As an educator I know I’m an advocate. I also know it will be the leadership of brave students--of those most closely impacted by today’s oppression--who will change the current mindsets and traditional norms.

 

I became a teacher because a zip code should not determine one’s educational opportunities. Nor should it threaten their safety or suffocate their individual freedoms to express their identity. Safe and welcoming classrooms and schools are inarguably essential to student success. They are essential to create conditions for a new generation of leadership as diverse as our country. And building a school system that welcomes and supports all students.

 

Adam Mogilevsky is a high school social studies teacher in Warren County, North Carolina. He is a first generation American and graduate of Loyola University in Chicago. He joined Teach For America in 2015.