Everyone Deserves a Safe Place to Be Who They Are


Friday night lights, where friends and family come together to cheer on their school. They are decked in clothing that supports the theme of the night. Putting on your best dress and suit and tie for the annual school dances. Although the music might be clean, that doesn’t stop the swear words from belting out of students’ mouths. Making new friends each year and saying goodbye to the ones who you thought would be by your side forever. All huge aspects while living the high school experience, but the most important, the one that takes the biggest toll on your life, even after you’ve walked the stage in front of all your friends, family, and classmates, finding and accepting yourself. Learning who you truly are and loving every inch of yourself, sometimes isn’t the easiest thing to do, especially in high school when you’re a part of the LGBTQ+ community, but being in a good environment and having strong support groups is the first step.

High school can already be a struggle for kids who aren’t a part of the LGBTQ+ community. On top of schoolwork, 20%-30% of adolescents experience symptoms of depression. Transgender students are four times more likely to experience depression and LGBQ children are twice as likely to feel suicidal, and four times as likely to attempt suicide. Mental health issues can greatly affect childrens’ ability to perform well on schoolwork, or to do the schoolwork in general. Mental health issues can also negatively impact childrens’ social interaction skills. For LGBTQ+ students, having a safe place where they can feel comfortable makes a huge difference in their lives and with their coming out experiences. According to the Journal of Child and Psychiatric Nursing, Dr. Caitlin Ryan reported a study supporting the idea that young children, a part of LGBTQ+ community with accepting families, have high levels of self esteem and overall health. While on the other hand, children with non accepting families are three times as likely to commit suicide. It’s very apparent that people who are a part of this community feel a lot safer and confident within themselves when they are supported.

Majority of lesbians, bisexuals, and gay men were in their teenage years or younger when they thought they might not be straight. Seventeen is the average age most people knew for sure that they were a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Shaker senior, Reagan Thomasman, who identifies as a bisexual female, says she came out to her parents when she was in middle school on national coming out day. Reagan’s parents reacted in a way that she saw as lucky, 

“They just kind of said okay, and let me go with it.”

This reaction was very helpful to Reagan’s coming out experience, because she believes parents shouldn’t have a say in their children’s sexuality. The way her parents responded, made her feel accepted and free to live her life in the way that makes her feel the happiest. Coming out to her friends was easier, since she felt like it wasn’t really a surprise, and if any of them didn’t accept her she wouldn’t involve them in her life. 

“With your friends you can kind of pick and choose. Oh I don’t like how that person acts, so I’m not going to be friends with them.”

Another Shaker senior, Cameron Torrey, who identifies as a bisexual transgender male, first came out in sixth grade to his best friend as gay, seventh grade to his entire class, and ninth grade as transgender to his entire school, family, and friends. His friends, some being queer themselves, overall supported him, which is the reaction he expected. Some reactions were negative, but in the end Cameron says that that’s how he learned who his real friends were. Along with his family, who did need some time to wrap their heads around him being transgender, but in the end whole heartly accepted him.

“In the end they got there [his family], and I am so grateful that I am one of those individuals that was supported, rather than some individuals who don’t feel any sort of support.” 

Both students not only felt support from the majority of their friends and family, which greatly improved their coming out experiences. They also felt that overall Shaker High School has been pretty good in making them feel accepted, but there’s still been a few major hiccups, and the discrimination from strangers online has been much harder control.

According the the Gay, Lesbian Straight Education Network, 90% of LGBTQ+ students hear anti LGBTQ+ remarks while in school. In addition, on average, these students will hear about 26 slurs a day, of which ⅓ of them come from faculty and staff. Cameron says his teachers have always been supportive of him coming out as transgender, and have done a great job at using his correct pronouns of ‘he/him’ and his new name. For students, it took a couple weeks to a month to get used to his new pronouns, name, and identity, and soon after they began not to really care. Some other peers did give Cameron a hard time after coming out. Specifically males were calling him slurs and pushing him in the hallways. Cameron dealt with this by standing up for himself and verbally telling them that what they’re doing is wrong. He believes that the best way to cope when dealing with trans and homophobic bullies, is by verbally defending yourself and surrounding yourself with people who will do the same for you. If things continue to worsen, Cameron says that administration at Shaker High School is a great place to seek help.

“I received more positive feedback than I ever did negative. Negative feedback will dissipate in a couple of weeks, and I know it’s  hard during those weeks, but you just have to persevere and say this is my path of life. This is who I need to be and this is who I’ve decided to be… If I can say to myself in the mirror that I’m queer, what is stopping me from saying it to all these people. Sure they might have an issue, but in the end you stood strong and gave your identity to the world, and whatever other people have to think about that, doesn’t matter.”

Reagan and Cameron both share similar views on using the confidence and love you have for yourself to stand up against bullies. Reagan hasn’t experienced any discrimination by her peers here at Shaker High School, but unlike Cameron, she has been attacked by cyber bullies. Random strangers online have sent Reagan homophobic direct messages and comments. She’s coped with this by reminding herself that people are always going to judge you and have something to say about the way you live your life. All you can really do is stay confident within yourself and remember that this is who you are and no matter what anyone says or does, that will never change.

“You have to be stronger than the others, you can’t sink down to their level. You just have to be like, I’m going to continue to do what makes me happy and if you don’t like that, that’s fine… What does me liking a woman have to do with your life? As long as you’re not negatively affecting someone it doesn’t matter… Just be who you are.” 

Both students feel that overall Shaker HIgh School has been a safe place for students a part of the LGBTQ+ community, thanks to the majority of students, staff, clubs and organizations.


What Can You Do?

 There are clubs, organizations, and numbers that you can call if you are struggling with your gender identity or sexuality, or just need a safe place where you can feel comfortable and accepted. For example, Cameron Torrey is the president of the G.L.A.S.S. club (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Society) here at Shaker High School. He is also the co-president of a national gay, lesbian and straight education network called SHINE Upstate NY, which is for young adults and teens. Both organizations offer coming out and anti-bullying resources, and overall support to those who have and haven’t received any from friends and family. Over at the Shaker Middle School, there is also a gay straight alliance, which Cameron says helped him gain the strength to come out and learn that he wasn’t wrong or weird for feeling the way he felt about himself or others. Cameron is also the founder of the gay straight alliances at the elementary schools, Boght Hills, Blue Creek, Loudenville, Latham Ridge, and Southgate. The children usually draw on coloring sheets and have conversations about same sex parents and attractions towards the same sex, but overall the goal is to normalize these things and normalize being a part or knowing people a part of the LGBTQ+ community. The same way being straight and cis gendered is normalized. There are variety of hotlines you can call; Suicide Prevention Hotline: (800) 273-8255, The Trevor Project: (866) 488-7386, Trans Hotline: (877) 565-8860. 

In the end the best thing you could do is treat people with respect and kindness no matter what. You never know what hardships someone’s taking on, and everyone already knows high school is difficult enough without those hardships.  All everyone wants is to feel safe and happy, so be the person that helps support that, not take it away.