Gay Straight Alliance blossoms at Brentwood High School

A new club at Brentwood High School has a handful of openly gay students and their straight friends hoping to expel the homophobic undertones they say fill the halls.

Several students and their favorite, forward-thinking teacher, Emily Sherman, organized the school's first Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) and held their first meeting in late January. Several of the group's members said the GSA has already shaken things up in the conservative Brentwood area - and that's not a bad thing.

The Alliance

The GSA holds formal monthly meetings in Sherman's classroom after school. Members discuss current GLBT issues including homophobia, acceptance, religion, family, friends, politics, and coming out, Sherman said. The group also invites speakers to attend meetings and shows educational films.

Visiting speaker James Huff discussed transgender issues with the group at it's Jan. 26 meeting with an even mix of GLBT, questioning and straight students in attendance.

BHS junior Noah Mayhew said the group has already helped change some people's view about gays and lesbians.

"I'd say we have a few goals," Mayhew said. "One of them is to try and make a dent in the school in regards to eradicating some of the bigotry that has infested the place. If we can't do that, we at least want to silence them to help make the school an easier place to be GLBTQ. It's shown some of the more ignorant students that we are here and here to stay."

Mayhew said there are between 5 and ten BHS students who are openly gay and many more who are questioning. Part of the GSA's mission is to help students understand more about sexual orientation and gender identity - their own and their friends.

"Unfortunately, I've actually had many students ask me what the point of the group was, as if that wasn't painfully obvious in such a school," Mayhew said. "A few of those members have actually attended a few meetings since asking those questions and found it to be quite cool."

BHS senior Cecile Bower said the GSA is like a second home to some of the group's members who are not out or not accepted by their families.

"The group has provided GLBT students and their allies a safe place where they can fully be themselves without the risk of harassment," Bower said.

Mayhew said the group has shaken things up in a positive way by inspiring many closeted and questioning students.

"I feel like we've let many GLBTQ members of our school know that they aren't alone, even if they have remained silent."

Sherman said group members plan on attending Nashville Pride, The Alternative Prom and numerous other GLBT sponsored events across Middle Tennessee and will also participate in the National Day of Silence.

The Opposition

After being approached by a group of students early this year about starting the group, Sherman feared that school administrator's and faculty might oppose the GSA because of the conservative nature of the Brentwood community.

Fortunately, she and the school's administrators shared the common goal of helping students feel safe and secure in who they are.

"I thought the administration might fear it would cause too much controversy, but not all," Sherman said. "They were very supportive."

Sherman said a few faculty members thought the school shouldn't have a GSA the same as it wouldn't likely allow the formation of a religious-based group. But, the group's main opposition came from the student body.

Bower helped post about 100 fliers around the school announcing the group's first meeting. The next day, group members found that nearly all of the signs had been ripped from the walls. Some of them were placed in urinals and used as targets, Bower said.

A portion of the student body was indifferent about the club; it didn't bother them, so they didn't care," Bower said. "However, a large majority of the students saw it as a joke."

Rumors began circulating that some students were planning to crash the first meeting, so Sherman took precautions.

She placed paper over the window to her classroom door and asked other teachers and the principal to stand watch in the hallway to shew away bullies and curious onlookers. Sherman said the meeting went smoothly with no disrespectful distractions from curious outsiders.

The Ally

Even before agreeing to sponsor the GSA, Sherman had a zero-tolerance policy for disrespect in her classroom.

The teacher of modern and classical languages expects her students to respect one another. She doesn't allow them to use 'gay' as a passing insult. She encourages them to express their individuality and applauded one of her students who was had the guts to wear a pair of rainbow socks.

So it only seemed fitting that she help organize a group where GLBT students could find reprieve from the homophobic undertones that filled the halls.

"I've always had a soft spot for kids who get picked on about anything," Sherman said.

In high school, it can take as much courage to be a friend of the gays as it takes to be openly gay, Sherman said.

"This is a high school and some students are immature," Sherman said. "This is a bold thing to do in a high school. I supposed if I'm willing to put myself out there and support this club, it could be a good example for the students."

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