Students in the Gay-Straight Alliance at Frank W. Cox High School led an open panel at the “Love is Love: An Evening with the Gay-Straight Alliance” before a packed auditorium at the school Monday evening.
Initially scheduled for Dec. 5, 2016, during the school day, the forum was canceled less than 24 hours before it would begin by school administration due to limitations on when student-led groups can hold events or meet.
The educational forum, which is the first of its kind at the Virginia Beach school, highlighted the importance of the club’s existence. The goal of the club, according to alliance Vice President Ashley Harris, is to “create a safe, welcoming and accepting environment for all students” regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Before Monday, students at the high school were able to submit questions that would be asked to alliance members on the panel. In response, a unifying message encouraging acceptance was championed by speakers on the student-led panel. Shawn Murphy, who said that even though he does not identify as LGBTQ, he feels that the club is for everybody.
“It doesn’t really matter what your sexuality is because we’re all one,” Murphy told the audience. “Everybody, as a people, is one. We’re all the same.”
Other questions addressed concerns like questioning sexuality, how to come out to your parents and how to deal with difficult situations at school.
Philip Malamatos said one problem is that discriminatory language is commonly used among his peers and is much more hurtful than most realize. Malamatos said he considers using words like “fag” or the phrase “that’s so gay” as harassment.
“It’s being ignorant in a way because you’re inconsiderate of everybody’s feelings,” Malamatos said. “It’s unacceptable to be using words like this in demeaning manors.”
According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s 2015 National School Climate survey, 85 percent of LGBT youth reported being verbally harassed at school and 66 percent of students said they were being discriminated against.
Michael Berlucchi, president of Hampton Roads Pride, said that he knew how painful high school bullying could be. He recalled a time when he avoided playing football in gym class because, often, the ball would be thrown to him so that others could purposefully tackle him. This side-game had a name, Berlucchi said.
“It was called smear the queer,” Berlucchi said, “and it’s still being played today.”
Virginia Beach Police Department Sergeant Shelly Meister, who serves as the department’s LGBT liaison, said that when she moved to Virginia Beach, she decided to be open with others about her sexual orientation – a choice she called the best decision she ever made. That choice led to her position as the LGBT liaison, she said.
Sgt. Meister closed the forum with a warning to students who may say something that could be perceived as a threat.
“What some people call bullying is actually a criminal offense,” Meister said. “If a person makes a threat, either in writing or electronic communications, on school grounds, and that includes a school bus, they can be charged with a class 6 felony even if the intended person didn’t receive the threat directly.”
After the forum, attendees were invited to view student art and enjoy to live music. A large sheet cake, decorated especially for the alliance, was cut and passed around, bringing a sweet end to the forum.
Faculty sponsor Victoria Sachar-Milosevich said she was pleased with the event’s turn-out, and hoped to hold a similar event next year.
“We want to do it again,” Sachar-Milosvich said, “but in a bigger venue.”