California Educator

MARCH 2011

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Four lessons to create GLBT bullying must be addressed themselves after relentless bullying at school, these four factors become critical to a healthy school culture. Educators who work on these issues know that once you make schools safer for GLBT students, you’ve made it safer for everyone. 1 Straight Alliance Lesson One: Establish a Gay- Hanford West’s GSA now draws some 30 students to its meetings and is actively involved in campus and community events. There is a mark- edly different atmosphere at the school now, compared to six years ago when two gay students ap- proached Hardgrave with a request to be the GSA adviser. At the time, the English teacher had to do some soul-searching before agreeing to the students’ appeal. Af- ter all, although she is gay, Hard- grave hadn’t come out to the school Myndi Hardgrave is proud to be the faculty adviser for the Gay-Straight Alli- ance — but she prays for the day when the club can be put to rest at Hanford West High School. “Gay-Straight Alliances should not exist,” she says. “It is sad and shameful that in 2011 our society is still so ignorant and closed- minded that a GSA is necessary to protect our students.” Still, GSAs are one of four key factors that the nationwide Gay, Lesbian and Straight Ed- ucation Network (GLSEN) identifies as help- ing to create safe schools for GLBT students. The other three are an explicit anti-bullying training with emphasis on sexual orientation and gender identity, the presence of support- ive staff, and curriculum that includes GLBT figures. At a time when GLBT students have killed 10 California Educator | MARCH 2011 community and was resistant to doing so. She also worried that the students would be made targets. Despite her concerns, Hardgrave re- alized saying no to the students “went against everything I stood for.” So she said yes. As she predicted, the action unleashed a firestorm in the conservative Central Valley town. The religious community organized protests, students were verbally attacked, and the Gay-Straight ABOVE: Myndi Hardgrave, vice president of the Hanford Secondary Educators Association, heeded the call by students to be adviser to the district’s first Gay-Straight Alliance. RIGHT: As a straight ally and GSA president, Hanford West senior Ve- ronica Felts is passionate about standing up for the rights of GLBT students on campus. Alliance became fodder for the local media for weeks on end. A parade of critics filled the school board meetings to denounce the GSA as promoting deviant behavior and de- mand that it be banned. Hardgrave also took heat from some of her colleagues and the community — even receiving a death threat. In the end, both the administration and the school board defend- ed the club’s right to exist. Six years later, Hardgrave not only continues to advise the GSA, she has set up a “safe zone” in her class- room for GLBT students, and she is known all over the campus as the “go-to” person when GLBT issues arise. “Almost without fail, if the complaint gets back to me, I work with the administration to make sure it gets addressed,” Hardgrave says. Establishing a GSA at Hanford West High was a crucial element in changing the school environment — as rocky as its beginnings were. Founded in 1998, Gay-Straight Alliances are student-run clubs that provide a safe place for students to meet, support one another, talk about issues related to sexual orientation, and work to end homophobia. From its birth in the San Francisco Bay Area, the GSA net- work has expanded nationwide, and now in- cludes more than 800 GSAs in California high schools and middle schools. While school faculty like Hardgrave serve as advis- ers, the energy and initiative behind the clubs come from students. “We provide an environ- ment that is safe for the gay community,” says GSA Presi- dent Veronica Felts, a senior at Hanford West High who felt compelled to join the club as a straight ally after the bruising Proposition 8 anti-gay-mar- riage initiative.

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