Student Advocate of the Year Ose Arheghan at the 2017 GLSEN Respect Awards - Los Angeles
I remember my first week of high school. During lunch, I was sitting in the journalism classroom (which doubles as the meeting room for my school’s Gay-Straight Alliance), and two of the coolest people I’d ever seen in my life were making GSA posters for the freshman activities fair.
I remember seeing this Black, queer, androgynous person having a conversation about whether “LGBT” was really inclusive to the queer community. Fast forward to now, and that’s a person I consider my friend.
That experience was one of the first times I saw someone who looked like me as a Black person, AND a queer person, AND a gender nonconforming person. This person just simply existed in my community. I find that at my school the students who lead freshman tour groups and run student council don’t reflect my experiences. Sure, they have Black students, and they have queer students, and they might even have gender nonconforming students; but I don’t see the students who hold ALL of these identities.
A lot of high school is insufferable. I’ve sat through lectures in English class where students theorized as to whether Shakespeare was gay or straight with little to no understanding of the complexities of sexuality. I’ve had math teachers separate the class into guys and girls for the most arbitrary of reasons, which leaves me, as a gender nonconforming student, feeling out of place. In the classroom and curriculum, I simply haven’t felt included.
GSA is the one place I’ve felt included in all my intersections. Most of the queer people of color that I’ve met at my school I’ve met through the GSA. The students who have taken point on confronting the school administration on issues regarding the protection of our queer youth have been queer and trans Black students.
I’ve loved having GSA be a space where I felt like I was represented, where my entire self was represented. But honestly, that’s not even guaranteed. When leadership changes year to year, so can the level of inclusivity within the space. What is safe and inclusive this year can feel isolating the next. It’s important that we have schools and GSAs that are aware of identities that are important to me and students like me, no matter who is in leadership.
This month is Black History Month, and there’s an overdue emphasis on Black history and Black culture. Not only for this month but all year round, I urge schools to be proactive about creating spaces that are inclusive based on race, sexuality, AND gender identity in classrooms, curriculum, and school clubs. These GLSEN resources are a great place to start.
Ose Arheghan is GLSEN’s 2017 Student Advocate of the Year and a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.