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Friday, November 12, 2010

Write Your Principal

Posted by 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

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.

Read letters that have already been sent, and learn more about WYP, at Write Your Principal.


Comments (14) RSS

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I went to a Catholic high school, which actually got more conservative after I left, so I'm assuming that "what they are doing" is somewhere south of jack shit.
Posted by K on November 12, 2010 at 9:17 AM · Report this
Did it. I even looked up and saw that my old HS now has a GSA - that is amazing to me
Posted by riotgrrljock on November 12, 2010 at 9:17 AM · Report this
AHHHHH. Dan. Thank you so much! I'm so excited that you like the project!
Posted by jacqui s. on November 12, 2010 at 9:32 AM · Report this
I think my HS is closed down now, but I plan to find out the local schools that my taxes are now supporting...

Seems to me that also writing letters to school boards (in the wake of the McCance fiasco) asking pointed questions would have similar impacts.

Posted by BEG!/browneyedgirl65 on November 12, 2010 at 9:39 AM · Report this
You really want to make a difference? Create a simple fill in the blanks letter for the kids who are being bullied that is written by a lawyer with the basic point of officially putting the school administration on notice that bullying is taking place, that it is against the law, and warning that the school needs to take immediate action or be held liable for inaction. There's a precedent of winning cases against school districts that ignored issues like this and the school admins should be aware of that.
A letter from a lawyer, or just obviously written by one and sent by a student or parent, will get their attention a hell of a lot quicker than a nice letter that asks a vague question that they can give a platitude laden non answer. It also makes it more effective to have a tool that can be used where there is an actual problem.
HIre a lawyer, or find a nice one who will draft it pro bono, and post it up with the IGBP videos so that bullied kids have a weapon they can use against their schools that are ignoring the issue.
Posted by SPG on November 12, 2010 at 10:35 AM · Report this
Done! Just sent in my letter. What a great idea - genius in its simplicity and potential impact.
Posted by mpkdc on November 12, 2010 at 10:41 AM · Report this
I had any number of ideas for different people:

But nothing there quite beats the wonderful simplicity of writing letters directly to school administrators.
Posted by BEG!/browneyedgirl65 on November 12, 2010 at 11:21 AM · Report this
My high school was actually kind of amazing: the drama teacher wore a tiara and sparkly Keds on opening nights; girls could wear tuxes, boys could wear dresses; and they've let gay guys try out for homecoming queen. Maybe I should congratulate them...
Posted by -ink on November 12, 2010 at 12:12 PM · Report this
Just sent the letter. It write lots of letters, but writing this one was a surprisingly emotional experience.

I attended a Catholic high school, so I made a point of saying that, regardless of whatever Leviticus or Deuteronomy says, Jesus himself said:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.
Let that person who is without sin cast the first stone.

Posted by Clayton on November 12, 2010 at 12:43 PM · Report this

I agree--you should congratulate them.
Posted by Clayton on November 12, 2010 at 12:44 PM · Report this
BEG 11
@8 I would! Positive reinforcement's a good thing, too ;)
Posted by BEG!/browneyedgirl65 on November 12, 2010 at 12:51 PM · Report this
icouldliveinhope 12
I'd do it, but I went to Nova. Maybe I'll try something similar to #8.
Posted by icouldliveinhope on November 12, 2010 at 1:47 PM · Report this
@5, I'll be honest, I was the worst law student ever, so there isn't much I remember about the law in general (only a year and a half after graduation...oops!)...and Education Law was one of my least favorite classes, so my remembrances of education laws are even less significant. Buttttt, I think you're right, and putting the schools on notice, legally, is an excellent idea!
Posted by MissJess on November 13, 2010 at 1:06 PM · Report this
@5 and 13, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education are actually doing that. Every single school in the country received a letter recently. More info:…
Posted by jacqui s. on November 13, 2010 at 3:54 PM · Report this

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