October 17, 2012
Back-to-School Voices: Liam Arne
As far back as I can remember in my school experience, negative connotations and stereotypes have existed relating to gay individuals and the words “gay” and “faggot.” When I began to discover my own sexuality, I was struck with fear that I would instantly be banished by my peers and family. However, once I finally shared this secret of mine to my best friend, nearly vomiting from an anxiety in the meantime, she looked at me and blankly stated, “That’s your big secret? I was expecting something worse.” I was truly shocked at her laxity regarding what I thought, at the time, was a life-ruining flaw. That moment was my first step to realizing that sexual orientation and gender identity have no influence on whether we are worthy of love and appreciation.
By the time I had emerged out of the confines of middle school, I was energized towards creating a school environment where “gay” was no longer something dreaded, misunderstood, or a synonym for “ridiculous” or “stupid,” but rather a benign word that simply described students like myself who had feelings for people of the same gender. Where was I to start? A quick Google search resulted in my first experience with GLSEN and its abundant and helpful resources. Though I was too nervous (and ultimately without a ride) to attend any GLSEN events in Northern Virginia my freshman year of high school, I decided to jump head first into the waters of GLSEN’s work by applying to, and eventually joining, the GLSEN Student Jump-Start Team of the Northern Virginia chapter. Through that student group, GLSEN paved the way for me to actively speak my mind about what was happening in my school and my experiences, and applying it to the many conferences, workshops and panels in which I participated. Not only did I gain a plethora of resources and options to take back to my community, I gained a wonderful set of friends that had gone through very similar situations.
GLSEN’s Safe Schools Advocacy Summit (SSAS), sparked me to engage my community and my school’s young Gay-Straight Alliance (of which I had become the co-president) to create a safe school environment for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. At this four-day conference in the nation’s capital, I discovered that I could make irrevocable change for the better. I learned so much about how to approach legislators about supporting anti-bullying legislation (which I now have done on several occasions). The people I met there have made a lasting impact in my life by not only providing recommendations and insight but by inspiring me everyday to work towards the goal of a safe school environment for all.
GLSEN has given me so many opportunities, ranging from attending SSAS and the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus Launch, to participating in a small discussion with the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, about the status of LGBTQA youth in schools. The organization has truly given me a chance to actively seek change in my community. I have gone on to aggressively pursue the implementation of a comprehensive anti-bullying policy in my school district that enumerates protections for LGBTQA students and those who are perceived to be. My principal and I have begun to talk about educating others on issues of bullying, not only on the student level but also among teachers. We will be doing this by educating teachers, faculty, and students of every grade level about what they can do to end bullying and how and when to stand up. Most strikingly, last year’s GSA had maybe a half dozen members that tried to show up to meetings. With such limited involvement, we were unable to make an impact on the school’s climate. This year, 170 students have signed up to be a part of the club, blooming a cornucopia of opportunities for the year ahead of us.
If there is just one student in each school district that is willing to take a stand against bullying and anti-LGBT language or slurs in their school community, change is indubitably bound to occur. If there is one thing that I hope my experiences may do, I sincerely wish that students just like me will be inspired to actively seek protection for all students and make change for themselves and the others around them.