My name is Mike, and the reason I am here today speaking to all of you is that I grew up going to a school in which I and many others did not feel safe. We dreaded going to school (And not for the reasons most kids do, like crappy lunches and boring classes) but because we had become targets for simply being different.
Change is possible. It isn’t always fast, but it is possible. Never forget that you are not alone in this fight.
I think as adults, we can easily forget what it means to not feel safe at school. Our minds conjure the image of a bullying PSA in which kids are told to “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” It’s seen as something benign that all kids just have to deal with to “build character” because, as we all know, “boys will be boys.”
The story I want to share with all of you today is about the reality and the consequences of existing in an unsafe school environment.
I was 13 years old when my friend Sam took her own life. Her death shook us to the chore. In the days and weeks after Sam’s death, our sadness turned to anger as the details surrounding her death began to crystallize. Sam had been enduring near-daily torment from students as well as teachers simply because they thought she might be gay. For Sam, there was nowhere for her to go to feel truly safe.
Six months after Sam’s death, we started the first Middle School GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) in the state of Minnesota. GSA is an afterschool program for anyone to come and listen to music, make art, or just hang out somewhere you could be your authentic self. At our first meeting, over 60 students showed up. Every Wednesday from then on, this empty classroom would transform into a place of laughter, creativity, but more than anything, safety. A place where all students could be themselves. By the end of the year, our group inspired six other middle schools to start GSA’s of their own. Unfortunately, before every school could be given access to student-led safe spaces like these, 8 more students in the district took their own lives. These students were all either gay or perceived to be gay by their peers.
I tell you all this story not to frighten you, but to remind you how important it is that every student feels safe in their school because the stakes are literally life and death.
I’d like to also take a moment to address those who believe that public schools and their counselors are working to indoctrinate children with some sort of “gay agenda” When all that we really want is for every student to know that they belong, they are safe, and above all that they are celebrated for who they are.
Lastly, I want to speak directly to students. Change is possible. It isn’t always fast, but it is possible. Never forget that you are not alone in this fight. There are millions of us out here who love and support you. We are working every day for a future in which rallies like these are no longer necessary. We will always be here with you, and we’re ready to follow your lead into a better, safer world for everyone.