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Haven By Andie Burns

This book is dedicated to Kate Kesner for her work with the Mountain View QSA and outstanding personality. Thank you for all your help and for being a stellar friend!

Acknowledgements I would like to thank Freestyle Academy for giving me the tools and resources to create this book, and all the members of the MVHS Queer-Straight Alliance for allowing me to document their stories as well as invade club meetings with a camera.

Table of Contents Foreword Introduction Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Conclusion Works Cited

7 8 10 17 20 25 28

Foreword While living in a place as open and accepting as the Bay Area, it can be hard to understand just how much discrimination the queer community faces on a daily basis. We live in a very liberal place where most people are tolerant if not supportive of LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer, etc.) rights, so when I joined the QueerStraight Alliance this year, I was surprised to hear the extent of the bullying and prejudices that still manifest in this community and across the country. I came across information taken from surveys of queer youth that shocked me, and while interviewing those in the Mountain View QSA, I heard stories that really opened my eyes to how tightly some people will hold onto their preconceived notions of what is acceptable in society. There are many misconceptions in our community about sexuality and gender identity, and our QSA works to dispel those ideas and keep students informed about queer issues and how to be supportive allies to the queer community. In writing this book, I am hoping to draw attention to these issues as well as highlight the importance of having an accepting family at school for queer students who are bullied and ostracized. This documentary did not come without its hiccups, though. I found it challenging to settle on a topic, and the writ-

ing was also hard for me. It takes a lot of concentration to be able to sit down and write an entire chapter of a book while attempting to incorporate statistical and anecdotal evidence that backs up the chapter’s claim. On top of that, I struggled to keep it interesting as well as educational. That being said, I am glad for the practice and the chance to develop my writing. This documentary has not only given me an opportunity to combine the use of my writing and design skills into a professional product, which I can now show to others and be proud of for years to come, but it has also given me the rare chance to go deeper into something I care about and then share

it with the world. I am so proud of the MVHS QSA and all the work they’ve done with creating a community and educating students, and I know they deserve to be recognized for that effort. I hope that by shedding light on some of the problems faced by the queer community, and especially students within that group, I might inspire someone who feels alone and unsafe at school to form a place of their own where they and others can take shelter from prejudice. That may be a lot to ask, but every GSA and QSA started somewhere. Hopefully this book is enlightening and is able to provide a better understanding of what it means to provide a place of support for every student. 7

Introduction In a bright classroom surrounded by amicable chatter, rapidly-disappearing food, and radiant faces, you feel completely at ease and untouchable by the stresses and concerns of day-to-day life. It’s easy to forget about your troubles in such a warm and inviting environment, but unfortunately there is a plethora of LGBTQ youth with no supportive community or safe space where they can let go of their worries and be as carefree as they deserve to be. In fact, almost 90% of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer or Questioning students are verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation, and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center estimates that between 30 and 40% of LGBTQ youth have attempted suicide. It is nothing less than a tragedy that people are made to feel that way and pushed to such extremes. The LGBTQ community can generally be referenced under the umbrella term of Queer, which represents sexual minorities that aren’t heterosexual or genderbinary. It wasn’t until the 1980s, however, that the queer community began 8

to reappropriate this term and adopted it as a positive descriptor. Before this time queer simply meant peculiar, until the late 1800s when it was f i rst used as a derogatory term for effeminate gay males. The term LGBTQ is a more specifi c alternative to the term Queer. It refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer or questioning individuals, although many other letters or a “+” can be added to include more groups of individuals. The Mountain View High School QSA, or Queer-Straight Alliance, is a school club whose purpose is to provide a safe and accepting environment for LGBTQ youth, as well as to educate students about queer issues. The “straight alliance” aspect of the club is intended to give other students the opportunity to show their support for the queer community and be a part of the education as well. Together, this club is working to show others the power of unity and the impact it can have on people’s lives. For example, studies by the GSA Network have shown that LGBT students who feel safe at school have significantly higher GPAs than those who don’t, and 18% more have plans to go

to college. The MVHS Queer-Straight Alliance has created a safe and supportive environment where students never have to be embarrassed or scared to express themselves and can be a part of a non-judgemental community. The club also contributes to the school by raising awareness about queer-related issues and educating other students about the LGBTQ community. That’s why it is so vitally important i- to form and recognize school wide Gay- or Queer-Straight Alliance Clubs. They can provide a necessary escape from bullying and even help prevent suicides among today’s youth.


Chapter One: The Problem It’s diffi cult to be in high school and to stand out from the crowd. Most students feel comfortable blending into the background by conforming to social norms and accepting what’s thrown at them. That being said, what do you do if your identity, by nature, singles you out as different? For those who aren’t heterosexual or cisgendered (meaning that your gender identity matches the sex you were assigned at birth), high school can be a tough reminder that not everybody knows how to accept and appreciate diversity when it comes to ideas like gender identity and sexual orientation. LGBTQ+ students often face hardships like bullying on a regular basis, and sadly, it seems as though the bulk of them don’t have a safe place in which they can express themselves without consequences. The current president of the Mountain View QSA, Kate Kesner, noted that “there was this whole ‘gay culture,’ and a lot of people would talk about being gay,

but there wasn’t a lot of space to be anything else…. When I was just coming out as bisexual or queer or just attracted to more than one gender, it was hard because it felt… a little bit exclusive.” That kind of discrimination is, unfortunately, widespread. The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN)

ences, such as social isolation, alienation, depression, substance abuse, and suicidal behavior, are commonly experienced by glbtq youth” (GLBTQ). California in general and especially the Bay Area tend to be very liberal, but outside of our bubble these patterns become more and more visible. The purpose of a Gay-Straight Alliance or a Queer-Straight Alliance, according to an LGBTQ encyclopedia, is to “assist lgbtq youth in building a diverse network of support, teach heterosexual youth how to be effective allies surveyed nearly 900 youths from across to their lgbtq peers, and teach all youth the country, and found that “39.1% of about the effects of discrimination and the glbtq youth surveyed had experienced prejudice. GSA participation also seems to physical violence at school and 84% had shield youth from the negative influence been verbally harassed at school because of of verbal and physical violence, alienation, their sexual orientation” (GLBTQ). That’s and other forms of oppression based in an alarmingly high number of students homophobia and heterosexism” (GLBTQ). that have faced prejudice for being who The Mountain View QSA certainly accomthey are, and this kind of behavior can cre- plishes all of these goals, and more, for its ate permanent physical and mental scars. members. The strong sense of community GLSEN studies reveal that “certain experiand emphasis on education are large

“Assist LGBTQ youth in building a diverse network of support, teach heterosexual youth how to be effective allies to their LGBTQ peers, and teach all youth about the effects of discrimination and prejudice.”



factors in what draws students into this particular group. What is also important, however, is that schools teach LGBTQ-inclusive lessons in all of their classes as well as having a QSA. The GSA Network has done research across California, asking both queer/allied and heterosexual students which classes had inclusive lessons and what classes they felt safe in. Their data shows that the students who felt safe at school performed much better than those who did not, on average earning better grades and a higher GPA. It’s not just grades that matter, though; a student’s mentality is just as important. Out of a group of students that the GSA Network surveyed, some with LGBTQ-inclusive P.E. classes and some with non-inclusive P.E. classes, 33% more of the students being included agreed that they felt as though they belonged and were not outcasts among their peers (GSAN). This goes to show that the effects of simply including students instead of ignoring the struggles they face are very real, and very tangible. Outside of the classroom, it seems as though LGBTQ-inclusive lessons still don’t affect the way that some people perceive queer students. Bullying is often i concentrated towards adolescents because of their sexual identity, and “students who

also fall into the gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgendered identity groups report being 5 times more likely to miss school because they feel unsafe after being bullied due to their sexual orientation” (Bullying Statistics). Imagine being unable to go to school, even if you are passionate about learning or want to see your friends, because you have panic attacks about the possibility of being verbally or physically harassed. No child should have to feel unsafe at school, or even at home, because of ignorant peers. Sadly, it doesn’t stop at missing classes. Because of the prejudice they face, “gay and lesbian teens are two to three times as more likely to commit teen suicide than other youths” (Bullying Statistics). These numbers are unacceptable. There’s no reason that anybody should have to face such hurtful words and

actions that the only option they see is to remove themselves from the picture. QSAs can be a vital tool in the academic success of LGBTQ students and in the prevention of teen suicide by hopefully providing a safe atmosphere where queer youth can come to understand that they matter to others, and that they’re not alone in the ongoing battle against prejudice and homophobia. 13


Chapter 2: Economic and Academic Advantages We all know that bullying can affect the victim for a very long time, but have you ever stopped to consider who else can be indirectly harmed? A bully can set off a chain of events with enormous consequences. Due to incident rates over time, they are costing school districts in California millions of dollars every year solely based on “actual or perceived sexual orientation” (GSAN). We don’t often think of absences as costly to schools, but the truth is that they generate revenue based on each student’s Average Daily Attendance (ADA). “The better a student’s attendance rate, the more a student will learn and the greater the amount of funding that the district will receive from the state for classroom instruction and academic programs” (CUSD). When LGBTQ students are being bullied or harassed at school and don’t feel safe enough to attend, they begin to accumulate absences and their ADA drops. The 2001 California Healthy Kids Survey

reported that more than 200,000 kids each year admit to being bullied due to their sexual orientation, which makes up 7.5% of all students in 7th, 9th, and 11th grade (CHKS). That means that three children out of every forty feel unsafe in their schools, and the majority are missing at least one day per month because of it. When you add up all those missed classes because of

based on sexual orientation is linked to risk behavior, poor grades, and emotional distress for students (GSAN). Furthermore, less than 50% of teachers teaching any given grade in California are required to receive training on how to address discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation (GSAN). This means that, even if a student is brave and refuses to leave campus, they are left with little guidance or assistance from adults. They run out of options for support and are forced to leave, which causes further harm to themselves and to their school district. Kate Kesner believes that “a lot of the stressors of my life have come from being queer. If we lived in a world where people didn’t necessarily have bad responses that wouldn’t be the case” (Kesner). This is a vicious cycle of ignorance and lack of education that can seriously inhibit achievement among LGBTQ youths for years to come.

Three children out of every forty feel unsafe in their schools, and the majority are missing at least one day per month because of it. fear of bullying, you fi nd that the State of California is losing an incredible $39.9 million during the 9-month school year to this tremendous problem. Not to mention, every time a student misses school, they are losing the opportunity to learn and are disadvantaged in comparison with their peers. The California Safe Schools Coalition asserts that “harassment at school




Chapter Three: Inside our QSA Every Friday at lunch at Mountain View High, a group of ten to twenty students meets in room 603, the French classroom of Mme. Thuillier. They talk, they eat, they laugh, and they tell stories to each other. On some days, they watch videos, discuss current events, and have heart-to-hearts with the twenty-odd other people in the room. It means so much to these students to have a place where they can truly be themselves without being judged. In this


club, “people are so willing to be vulnerable with each other, because they understand that sharing pain makes people feel less alone” (Kesner). Not only are they given a space where they can express their own identities, but they are also given the opportunity to spend time with people who have struggled with the same issues that they face and have solutions to some of their problems. Many of the students in the QSA rely on each other for support when it comes to confronting problems.

Furthermore, they take away very important lessons from each meeting. For example, Vice President Sylvie Gitin brought a video clip from the popular TV show The Big Bang Theory to share with the members of the QSA. In it, they make a tasteless joke about a woman having been female her entire life because she didn’t have an adam’s apple, and follow the comment up by saying that it was an appealing factor. These kinds of hurtful remarks are played off as jokes in

the media every day, and it seems as The goal of the Day of Silence is to make though producers never stop to consider schools safer for all students, regardless who those words might be hurting. Sylvie facilitated a discussion about this clip and other forms of media that, either intentionally or not, make it seem as though there is something wrong with being trans. Granted, they do concede the point that a trans person should be considered to be the gender they identify with. At the very least they don’t try to say that a woman who was born as male isn’t a real woman. Overall, though, mentions of trans individuals in the media tend to paint them in a negative light, hurting both people who identify as trans and those whose opinions are formed by what they see and hear in the media. This is one of the hundreds of issues that has come up in the QSA for discussion, and it helped a lot of us gain an awareness of the transphobia (and other discrimination) that is found around us. Another important activity that this club participates in is the Day of Silence. It’s a national movement, started by the University of Virginia in 1996 and continued today by GLSEN, that encourages LGBTQ youth and allies to remain silent for a day. The idea “is to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment and effective responses.

of sexual orientation and gender identity/ expression” (Info and Resources).


At our school, the QSA provides any student who wishes to participate with the resources to do so, and they advertise the day to get as many people as possible involved in the cause. Everyone is asked to carry around some kind of card that explains why they are remaining silent and what others can do to help. Thankfully, the teachers at Mountain View are generally very respectful of the movement and allow most kids to remain silent in class. We are one of over 8,000 schools that are registered, and an even larger number that are not, to participate in the Day of Silence (Info and Resources); clearly, this campaign for equality is gaining momentum and is positively changing the way that some people think about bullying. These are just a few of the numerous projects that our QSA is involved in and helps spread to others. They hold events both on and off campus that teach others about queer issues and the challenges that are dealt with every day, and there is no other club on campus that offers this kind of community for any and every teen. They provide the accepting environment that many students need in order to feel safe and succeed in school. 22

Conclusion The Mountain View QSA has made leaps and bounds since its introduction to the school as far as raising awareness for many different issues, and especially in building a network of support within its community. Despite all the work that has been done, however, it’s unlikely that our school will ever be an entirely accepting environment. As a result, the QSA plans to shelter and include all students so that “gay youth, youth believed to be gay, and their allies have ‘free spaces’ to express themselves and to fi nd haven from the prejudicial and discriminatory attitudes, behaviors, and policies that they frequently experience” (GLBTQ). Because queer youth face so much hateful behavior over their sexual orientations and gender identities, it’s important to reach out into the community and let students know that there is a group on campus who is willing and glad to stand by them no matter what comes. The solidarity that a person experiences in a community like this has the poten-

tial to seriously decrease suicide and self-harm rates among teens, and to fi nancially benef it schools by raising students’ Average Daily Attendance to earn them more money from the state. The eventual goal of GSAs and QSAs across the country is to eliminate bullying and harassment as far as humanly possible, or at the very least to provide a safe space in which to escape from that kind of negativity. The intended outcomes, such as a decrease in teen suicide and an increase in the number of queer students that feel comfortable in school and plan to go to college, are very tangible, and will continue to grow and make themselves known. It has been an inspiration to work with Kate and the rest of the QSA, and to witness their experiences and their perspectives on queer issues and life in general. I am certain that our student body is in good hands with such an extraordinary club as a resource at our school (and its even more awe-inspiring president there

who helps everyone feel welcome). They will continue to educate, include, and most importantly be a sanctuary where kids “can let their guards down and be real” (Kesner). That is the true meaning of the “Alliance” in QSA; it doesn’t matter whether you’re straight, gay, bisexual, asexual, cisgender, transgender, or identify with any other variation of sexual orientation or gender that may or may not exist yet. What matters is that we come together to celebrate the mutual understanding that people are people, and deserve the same respect, treatment, and rights as anyone else. “A lot of people can subconsciously have these expectations about what school should look like or what people should act like that are preconceived, and once people have a chance to think that out and talk to people with a lot of different perspectives, I think we can combine all our truths into one and become more accepting of one another” (Kesner). That is what our QSA stands for.


As a teenager there are a ton of problems going down, and just to have a place where you can let your guard down and be real for a second is awesome. We try to provide a safe space on campus for both allies and queer people to be able to talk about queer issues... and be accepted totally as humans, not only the queer aspect of them or the ally aspect of them, but their entirety.

Once people have a chance to think that out and talk to people with a lot of different perspectives, I think we can combine all our truths into one and become more accepting of one another. 26

A lot of people come in not necessarily just because they want to talk about queer things all the time, but because they want to give each other support and they’ve found a community that way.

People are so willing to be vulnerable with each other, because they understand that sharing pain makes people feel less alone.

QSAs can be a vital tool in the academic success of LGBTQ students and in the prevention of teen suicide by hopefully providing a safe atmosphere where queer youth can come to understand that they matter to others, and that they’re not alone in the ongoing fight against prejudice and homophobia. 27


Works Cited “California Research | Gay-Straight Alliance Network.” California Research | Gay-Straight Alliance Network. GSA Network, 2009. Web. 14 Feb. 2014. “Capistrano United School District: Absences.” Capistrano United School District: Absences. School Loop, 2014. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. “Gay Bullying Statistics.” Bullying Statistics. Bullying Web. 4 Mar. 2014. “Gay-Straight Alliances.” GLBTQ Social Sciences. GLBTQ. Web. 14 Feb. 2014. “GLBT Historical Society.” GLBT Historical Society. GLBT History Museum. Web. 14 Feb. 2014. Hatzenbuehler, Mark L., Katie A. McLaughlin, Katherine M. Keyes, and Deborah S. Hasin. “The Impact of Institutional Discrimination on Psychiatric Disorders in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Populations: A Pro spective Study.” American Public Health Association -. American Journal of Public Health, 24 Aug. 2009. Web. 25 Mar. 2014. “Info and Resources.” GLSEN Day of Silence. GLSEN, 2014. Web. 25 Mar. 2014. Kesner, Kate. Personal interview. 17 Mar. 2014. Lett, Jeff. “Facts and Statistics.” Bully Facts & Statistics. Make Beats Not Downs, 2009. Web. 4 Mar. 2014. “Mission.” GSAN. GSA Network. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. “Nutrition, Health and Safety.” Gay/Straight Alliances: A Student’s Guide. Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education, 15 July 2005. Web. 14 Feb. 2014. “Queer.” GLBTQ Glossary. GLBTQ, 2006. Web. 14 Feb. 2014. “Research & Reports | Gay-Straight Alliance Network.” Research & Reports | Gay-Straight Alliance Net work. GSA Network, 2009. Web. 14 Feb. 2014. “Safe Schools Research Brief 14.” California Safe Schools Coalition. GSA Network, 2012. Web. 14 Feb. 2014. “Safe Schools Research Brief 7.” California Safe Schools Coalition. GSA Network. Web. 14 Feb. 2014. Swain, Keith W. (21 June 2007). “Gay Pride Needs New Direction”. Denver Post. Web. 14 Feb. 2014. 29

Haven Andie Burns

Andie Burns is a junior attending Mountain View High School and Freestyle Academy. She lives in Los Altos, California with her mom, dog, and twin sister. Andie loves to sing and play the guitar, and spends most of her time after school in color guard or directing a student-run musical. She is currently undecided on her plans for the future, but knows that she would enjoy working with animals and would like to spend time traveling.

Haven By Andie Burns

Andie burns