by Dan Savage
on Fri, Nov 12, 2010 at 8:47 AM
Another individual acting alone—not waiting on a big, slow, stupid gay org to make shit happen—comes up with another great idea:
I’m encouraging people disheartened and distressed by the deaths of five young men who took their own lives in part because of anti-GLBTQ bullying in September to write letters to their high school principals. Will you join us? Write to your principal—even if you graduated 30 years ago!—and ask what the school administration is doing to stop bullying and support GLBTQ students and their allies. Let us know what you said; we'll let you know what they're saying. Send your correspondence to email@example.com.
Mommy blogger Sarah Hoffman interviewed WYP's founder Jacquie Shine:
SH: Who are you?
JS: The big secret is this: I’m not an activist. At least, I wouldn’t normally call myself one. I’m a full-time graduate student (in a completely unrelated field) and a part-time Office Lady (in another completely unrelated field). I don’t work in K-12 education or in LGBTQ organizing or social services. I just... started this website. I live in the SF Bay Area with my wife, our dog, a lesbian-riffic number of cats, 3 bicycles, and a million books. I have been trying to control my inner monologue since 1983.
SH: Why did you start this project?
JS: I’ve been feeling pretty heartbroken in the wake of this rash of teen suicides. I think about those boys and their parents a lot. And like a lot of queer adults, I started to really confront my own experiences in middle and high school. I went to a Catholic girls’ school, and when you’re a lil’ Jewish lesbian... well, let’s just say that’s probably not going to end well. But I wasn’t satisfied with sending the message that things get better later—I wanted a practical, concrete way to step forward and speak up on behalf of queer kids and, in a way, on behalf of the queer kid I once was.
The idea to write a letter to my principal came from a college mentor, Jennifer Walters, who’s an out Episcopal priest and an all-around rad lady. She suggested it on Facebook, of all places. So I did it, and it was so scary and so powerful for me that I wanted to bring the idea to more people. And Write Your Principal was born!
SH: Why do you think it’s important? What impact can this have?
JS: I think the power of this project comes from a couple places—one is storytelling and the other is the authority of a collective voice. When we tell our stories, we find healing and resolution for ourselves, something I think the It Gets Better Project demonstrates very clearly. But we can also make the problem of violence and school bullying much more real to the administrators and teachers we write to. We make clear that this is an old, old problem that hasn’t been resolved—that what’s happening now is not an aberration, but a deep systemic crisis.
And we also make clear that we are paying attention and that we are holding schools accountable—that we care about what is happening in schools, that we insist on change, and that we are watching for signs of improvement. It really elevates education and school safety issues into communal issues, not only issues for children and their families.
I love this idea and I'm going to write a letter to the principal of the only school I went to that's still in existence. (Both my Catholic grade schools closed; two of the three high schools I attended have closed—apparently I'm bad luck.) Like I said here, nothing about participating in the It Gets Better Project precludes or excuses us from doing more to make schools a safer place for LGBT kids (for all kids). Along with supporting safe schools legislation, The Trevor Project, and holding bullies and their enablers accountable, writing the principal of your high school—and your middle and grade schools—is the kind of simple, direct, and potentially effective action that any adult can take. Do it.