GSA Forum Receives Rave Reviews
GLSEN Central New Jersey and HiTOPS teamed up on November 17, 2012, to bring about 250 students advisors and community members together for the ninth annual New Jersey Gay Straight Alliance(GSA) Forum for gay, bisexual and transgender youth, their allies, and supporters.
A number of students and advisers talked with GLSEN CNJ board member and journalist, Bill Cannaci. Safiyah Chin of Brick High School liked the atmosphere of the Forum.
"It's really open," she said. "I didn't expect it to be like this because I figured it was just going to be like a small group of people. But it's like so many people - so many different kinds of people and everyone's really nice. Everyone's trying to help each other learn and make (everyone) grow and become better."
With Cynthia was John Hall, also of Brick. "Coming from a very open school, it's kind of surprising to hear that other schools are actually closed-minded and narrow and not accepting as much as our school. But at the same time, it's sort of upsetting that they don't have what we have. That's why we're here - to try to work forward and to try to open their schools up to the same (level of acceptance)."
Another Ocean County student stated that she learned a lot at the Forum. "It gave a lot of information to me about how I can encourage other people in my school to be more accepting of LGBTQ rights and possibly join our GSA," she said. "(I want to convince them that) you don't have to be gay to be in it because there is a lot of stigma against that in our school.
She especially liked the workshop "Let's Talk: Being Transgender/Gender Expression," which was led by Christine Hamlett, an educator and supervisor at Newark Public Schools. "It was really interesting, because I previously didn't know that transgender applied to more than just female-to-male and male-to-female issues."
While some of the students were not seeing any of their peers being bullied at school, they agreed that language is a problem. "There is a lot of use of derogatory terms, offered one participant. "Sometimes I see teachers that might have heard it and didn't say anything. I just feel like (that needs to change. It's not OK for you to say 'Oh that's gay' as opposed to saying 'that's stupid.' "
How often does she hear someone say ""That's so gay"?
"Every single day," she said. "Almost every single class. In the hallway. I try to address it as much as I can but I get bullied for addressing it and they say 'You're being over-sensitive.' "
An Ocean Township High School student leader planned to bring back a lot of information to his school. This student also hears the same "That's so gay" comments on a regular basis. "At any school you're going to have things like that being thrown around. I tend to try to correct people when I hear it and say 'Please don't say that. That offends me.' - Most of the time they'll stop because they don't want (to create a situation."
As a member of his school's GSA one of the things he liked about the Forum is that he met and interacted with other GSA leaders.
Amanda and Alex from Edison High School said the same thing.
"We made a lot of new friends," Amanda said.
Alex said she wishes other students from her school could have joined them. "But meeting people from everywhere else was really awesome," she said.
Overall, Amanda had a great day at the Forum. "There was a lot of good and new information that I can bring to our GSA," she said.
One of her favorites was the "Days of Action: Creating Change in Your School Climate" workshop, which was run by Carol Watchler of the Central New Jersey chapter of GLSEN and West Windsor-Plainsboro High School student Rebecca Rost.
"It gave us new information like the Martin Luther King (Jr.) weekend is a volunteer weekend that we didn't know about that - so we can bring that to the school. And No Name-Calling Week we can try to enforce at the high school and middle school."
While both Amanda and Alex are looking forward to returning to the Forum next year, this was the second Forum for Lindsey Brodey, a senior at South Brunswick High School.
"It was so well-organized," she said. "I loved it. I felt like everybody was so diverse. And I felt like for once everybody fit in. Nobody's the odd one out."
Lindsey's favorite workshop was "You Don't Look Gay - Being Queer My OWN Way," run by Don Dyson of Widener University. "(It) touched my heart," she said. "I'm out as a pansexual, which means gender doesn't matter to me. And everybody always goes, 'Oh well you look straight.' It talked about how I don't have to be a masculine-looking girl to like other girls or other boys or anybody."
Lindsey will take back information she learned from other sessions, including The Trevor Project's Lifeguard Workshop for Youth and FANtabulous: Queer in the Media.
John Marron, the adviser to the GSA at South Brunswick, said he learned a lot throughout the day.
"It was transformative," he said. "Lindsey went last year and brought back a ton of stuff. And she's been talking it up. And our president of the GSA, she also attends (the HiTops youth group) First and Third - And so they were the cheerleaders who got me off the dime to actually organize a much larger group. And we've been growing quite a bit. We went from 10 to 15 kids to officially 52."
Another community leader, Matthew Loscialo, who runs the support group GLBT of Hunterdon County of New Jersey, also had a great time.
"I learned lots of great ideas to take to the GLBT (youth) group," he said. "I liked sharing ideas with other people. It was nice seeing people (getting together and working) as one big happy family. I can't wait to go to the GSA Forum next year."