The students and staff at Avalon School in St. Paul have been deeply disturbed by the recent rash of student suicides in neighboring districts and around the country. The Star Tribune's recent article, "Schools struggle with gay policies" (Oct. 2), brought to light how local schools are dealing with this crisis.
Anoka-Hennepin school board Chairman Tom Heidemann's view that "these are issues that can be dealt with outside the classroom" misses the point that queer youth need a supportive school environment if they cannot find it at home or at neighborhood institutions. When none of these environments serve as spaces of refuge and affirmation, the result can be suffocating and sometimes deadly.
The Anoka-Hennepin School District's "neutrality" policy fails to serve its students and staff. Though it has been stated that the policy does not extend to hate speech or bullying of any kind, it evidently has acted as a gag when bolder action on the part of teachers was needed. In addition, conversations with a supportive and sympathetic staff at school can literally be a saving grace for some students who are in the midst of understanding their identities. When teachers are forbidden from voicing messages of love and acceptance, what message is sent?
One reason these recent suicides have been so disturbing to the Avalon community is because of the support we feel during our middle- and high-school years. At Avalon, being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is embraced as part of the tapestry of human experience. There are few instances of bullying or harassment, for any reason, and certainly none that would lead students to suicide. We have the privilege to be who we are, with no exceptions.
This should be a right. It is in this spirit that we extend a personal invitation to attend Avalon School to any middle- or high-school student in the metro area who feels unsafe, unloved or simply unwelcome in their learning community. We at Avalon strive to create a safe space where all people can be their genuine selves in order to grow and aim for their full academic and human potential. We do not profess to be perfect, but we do make a conscious effort to build a strong community.
For those who do not have the option to attend Avalon or a similarly affirming school, know that there are organizations and spaces around the metro area that offer opportunities to get support and feel part of a larger community. These include: District 202 (www.dist202.org), the Canvas Youth Center (www.myspace.com/thecanvas651), Out For Equity (www.outforequity.spps.org) and Out 4 Good (sss.mpls.k12.mn.us/Out4Good.html). The Internet abounds in sites like TrevorSpace (www.trevorspace.org) and the Gay Youth Corner (www.thegyc.com) that offer ways to connect to the larger GLBT youth community. Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" project on YouTube provides a different way of approaching the adolescent challenges that come with being GLBT.
The bottom line is: You are not alone.
This is not a political issue but a human issue. We hope that message will become clear to more people in the near future. Until then, remember that all are welcome at Avalon.
Ben Kercheval is student leader of the Avalon School Gay-Straight Alliance.