Photo by Wunmi Onibudo
The moment I was outed as queer in middle school, my walls came crashing down. A secret I held so close to me was exposed. I was exposed. Tears cascaded down my cheeks that night, and I questioned my very worth. Who am I? What have I done so wrong?
It felt as though dark clouds were hovering above me, as depressive thoughts kept visiting me. People who I thought were my friends began to leave, and phone calls came rushing in from parents telling me I’m an “abomination.” Teachers ignored all the bullying. I remember a teacher saying, “Maybe you should stop being so open.” How could I go back into a closet that had its hinges ripped off?
I decided to funnel my energy into making a supportive school club for LGBTQ students. Soon, I sat in front of my principal proposing a GSA. According to GLSEN research, LGBTQ students in schools with GSAs or similar student clubs feel safer and more connected to their school community.
My principal responded, “Um, I’m not sure. It’s not appropriate at the middle-school level.” (All public high schools that allow non-curricular clubs must allow GSAs, under federal law.) After some convincing, the principal called me into her office and said I could form the club, but I’d have to change the name. That was one of the first LGBTQ support groups for middle schools across Delaware, and now my state has over 40 GSAs and counting.
But my queerness is not the only part of my identity. Being a queer Black student was and still is challenging. In society’s eye, people of color, especially Black people, are inferior to or “less than” white people. I would constantly hear the phrase, “You act white” – a comment based on harmful stereotypes about Black people. I also had to deal with being the “token Black friend” to the white gay students in school. And when I first meet teachers, they’re surprised, as if they expect me to act a certain way based on what they see about Black youth in the media.
This Black History Month, as much as any other time of the year, educators should redouble their efforts to ensure that LGBTQ students of color feel supported in the classroom. GLSEN’s educator guide on supporting LGBTQ students of color is a great place to start.
From the words of the incredible queer Black poet, Audre Lorde: “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” I’m confident that if students and educators followed these words, schools would be safer and more inclusive for all.
Queen Cornish is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.