Meet a Delaware teen making her school safer for LGBT students and all students

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By Amanda Litvinov

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Delaware 10th-grader Lida Gannon likes art and science. And she just joined the color guard. But lately she also spends time copying petition forms and collecting signatures from educators, students, and members of the community to show support for a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at Lake Forest High School in Felton.

She says that even though there hasn’t been a rash of bullying incidents against LGBT students reported since she’s been at Lake Forest, that doesn’t mean there is no need for a GSA.

“I think it’s something all schools should have,” Gannon told EducationVotes. “When people are in high school they are really discovering who they are, and there’s so little education about the LGBT community. There are a lot of people out there wondering who they are and why they feel different from everyone else.”

Lida Gannon
Sixteen-year-old Lida Gannon organized a Day of Silence to draw attention to LGBT issues.

Gay Straight Alliances are student run, and serve as a safe place for students to talk openly about sexual orientation and identity. GSA members work to curb homophobia, transphobia, and bullying in the school community. They typically have a staff adviser.

One particular GSA adviser and teacher at a Pennsylvania high school is also Gannon’s inspiration—her sister. “Some of the stories she told me about how the GSA helps students in ways you might not expect really influenced my thinking,” said Gannon.

“Even if there aren’t violent incidents, name-calling and negativity against LGBT students is a problem. It can make people feel bad about being themselves,” she continued. “A GSA can help people embrace who they are, but also help others be strong enough to support them.”

She reports that so far, staff and students have shown support for the GSA, just as they supported the Day of Silence Gannon organized last month.

“A Day of Silence raises awareness that many LGBT members of the community have to live in silence or face bullying and harassment,” said Gannon. Once she had the support of her teachers and the principal–with the agreement that students would answer questions if called upon in class–she made “tons of posters, and plastered them on every wall in the school.”

DE Day of Silence
Lida Gannon (third from left) and fellow Day of Silence participants.

Roughly 30 of Lake Forest’s 900-plus students participated this year, and Gannon expects that number to grow when she organizes Days of Silence in her two remaining years of high school.

In the fall, she intends to take her petitions to the school board and to a meeting of the school’s Positive Behavior Support team. Gannon wants to include them early in the process, though she knows that federal law protects her right to form a GSA at her school.

Gannon’s efforts are especially important since Delaware is one of the many states that has not passed enumerated anti-bullying legislation. That means that the state’s anti-bullying law does not specifically name protected groups, making it far less effective in protecting LGBT students.

Research shows that when a law enumerates particularly vulnerable segments of the student population it enables those in charge to better address student needs. Students in schools with policies that enumerate categories report less bullying and harassment than students in schools with only general policies.

But the latest report by GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network) examining anti-bullying policy in more than 13,000 school districts found that the vast majority do not have policies explicitly protecting LGBT students.

And only 3 percent of district anti-bullying policies include all three elements shown to most effectively protect LGBT students: In addition to specifying protected groups, policies should include strong accountability provisions and require professional development for school staff.

Lida Gannon would like to see her school covered by stronger anti-bullying policies one day. But first things first.

“My goal is to get our school’s GSA up and running. When I’m getting ready to leave this school in a couple of years, my hope is that people will feel no hesitation in joining the GSA if they want to show support for our LGBT community,” said Gannon.

“If having a safe place, having a network can help take away that fear, that hesitation, then it’s worth however much work it takes.”

Tamara Carr, a media specialist at the secondary level in the Lake Forest District, says Gannon’s advocacy shows how important it is for students to be empowered to take up important issues and lead change at their schools.

“Events such as a Day of Silence or the organization of a GSA challenge socially constructed norms,” said Carr, “and move us away from stigma and toward the creation of an environment where young adults can freely be themselves.”

 

 

Reader Comments

  1. U go girl!! If the bigots of the world would only think, this would not be a problem. Do I recall hearing somewhere, “Out of the mouths of babes”?? The kids of the world often seem much more intelligent than than the adults. And also more accepting of change.

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