Bella and Alice present FAIR at Birmingham Community Charter High School for the GSA
My name’s Alice Vardanian, and I’m a volunteer at Equality California. I got started one fine day when a lady wearing a shirt that read “EQCA” across it swooped me up off my feet and got me into this whole mess. It’s a good mess, for sure. I’m only 16 years old, the youngest regular volunteer. Ever since then, for about 4-5 months now, I’ve been volunteering at EQCA almost every week at the gay pride parades, phone banking, door-to-door canvassing, and all throughout EQCA’s fight for SB 1172 and the FAIR Education Act. Last week, field organizer Bella Week and I gave a presentation at my school on the FAIR Education Act.
I attend Birmingham Community Charter High School in Van Nuys, and am currently running the schools Gay Straight Alliance Club for the LGBTQ youth and allies. An amazing 50 to 60 people attend at each weekly meeting, which is a great amount of people considering it’s a school run club and that I could hardly get 10 people to attend at last years weekly meetings.
Bella and I spoke about her coming down to my school to speak to my GSA. I thought it was a great idea and agreed to it. She quickly worked on setting up a day for it, grabbed four dozen donuts, and got to my school at 11 a.m. When the meeting started, we greeted the 63 kids that came, introduced Bella, introduced EQCA, then started talking about the FAIR Education Act. Bella explained what FAIR was, and how it affects all of us as high school students in California. She spoke about how the social studies guidlines had been updated in January to include the historical contributions of LGBTQ people. She mentioned that FAIR will be age-appropriate, so we would learn about these figures like the way we learn about Martin Luther King Jr. with the Civil Rights Movement, the Chicano movement, and more. To give an insight on what or who we might be learning about, we brought up Harvey Milk, Bayard Rustin and the Stonewall Riots. To my surprise, not many kids knew anything about Milk, Rustin and the Stonewall Riots. But this will soon change.
Talking about the Briggs initiative was especially powerful. Bella pointed out that Ms. Nelson, the teacher who runs the GSA, would have been banned from working at our school had the anti-gay initiative been passed all those years ago.
The GSA was really engaged by the discussion about Bayard Rustin. It was really shocking to learn that his contribution to the Civil Rights Movement of the 60′s was kept out of history books because he was openly gay. We then opened it up to a discussion on how the students think the implementation of FAIR would have on their lives at school. The key points the students brought up were equality, promoting acceptance, and not excluding a group of people.
The students were very excited to learn about LGBTQ history in school. Everybody was engaged in everything that Bella had to say because FAIR is a big deal. When we asked why they think FAIR is important, we got tons of responses that went along the lines of, “It will put us on the same level of equality as everyone else.” And I agree. People sometimes dehumanize those of the Queer community just like they do their enemies. Now that FAIR will allow youth to learn about LGBTQ figures, it will change for the better. When a social studies teacher talks about the Civil Rights movement, the Chicano movement, and the Stonewall Riots, hopefully kids will realize that we all, being a very diverse school, have been discriminated against and thought of differently because of where we come from, our background, the color of our skin or our sexual orientation. The FAIR Education Act is something every high school in America needs.
High school is definitely the perfect time for kids to be exposed to diversity. The students all agreed that FAIR was important because the word ‘gay’ would be used in schools in a more positive context in terms of historical achievements, not as a slur. The presentation on the FAIR Education Act was successful. Not only did it spark hope in students, but they were also excited. How rare is it to see high school students excited about learning? Pretty rare. The GSA plans to set up question booths around the campus for lunch next week so they can talk to students about FAIR using the messaging from the Breakthrough Conversations project.
It was a great experience and I can’t wait to do more with EQCA.