The why and how of being nice to those around you

Sydney Jezik, News Editor

Waunakee High School contains over a thousand people. This means many hundreds of opinions, hair colors, religious beliefs, sexual identities, academic and athletic abilities and shoe sizes are packed into one building. A great deal of acceptance or at least a great deal of vocal discipline is requisite for peaceful coexistence. However, many people can not even do that. (Including yours truly, sometimes.)

One group at the school that strives to serve as a safe haven for differences is the Gay-Straight Alliance, or GSA club, which meets every Thursday in room 1111 for educative meetings about the LGTBQ+ community and to create a fun and nurturing experience.

This club and the safe space it entails, therefore, are made requisite by the school environment surrounding it. Members of the club, queer and straight alike, share what they wish students knew about who they are.

First of all, freshman Kaleb Connors explained that the transition to Waunakee High can be an especially hard experience for those who do not fit the heteronormative standard, and his desire for that to change.

“For me, [the high school] has been a lot more negative,” he said. “I’ve experienced a lot of stares… I wouldn’t call it being a victim, but I’ve been harrassed in the bathroom for wearing jeggings and I have been stared at weird for having nail polish. That’s… part of my whole gender identity, and my kind of story.”

“For me… I wish that the school knew that being LGTBQ+ in general is something that should be awkward to talk about. I wish that people would talk about it more often, even if you are straight… it’s okay to have questions.” 

Conners told me that people tend to clam up and become embarrassed when the subject comes up. Sophomore Mikaela Colby talked about a potential reason for this immature behavior. 

“A lot of people think that being an ally means you’re also gay, or that you’re going to be somehow turned gay. Being an ally is really just making sure the LGTBQ+ community feels safe,” said Colby.  

“I think there’s also a lot of stigma around various sexualities. Like, being a lesbian, it makes you seem very sexual and very dirty. It creates a lot of internalized homophobia, which doesn’t just come from the outside, it comes from [inside the person] too, which drives a lot of kids to think they need to kill themselves.” With this, Colby refers to the perennially rising LGTBQ+ abuse and suicide rates. 

Colby mentioned she had lost friendships from coming out, including those with people at Waunakee High School. Even her own parents began to treat her differently, and would no longer discuss relationships in any capacity with her. 

“I think that the fact that I like girls and not boys doesn’t make me different from anybody else… When [people who are LGTBQ+] come out, it’s actually because we live in such a heteronormative society and… you have to come out as trans, you have to come out as gay… but it’s not a big portion of my life, besides the fact that I’m dating someone who’s a girl.”

“I wish [the rest of the school knew that] there are more of us than they think,” said senior Kayla Stolen. “Sometimes, when I hear people say questionable things about [the LGTBQ+], I wish they knew there are [people who are queer] who hear those things and could be not feeling great because of it.”

The author of this article would like to say that the vast majority of LGTBQ+ students she knows are not fully out and are not members of the GSA. The “questionable things” Stolen referred to have a bigger impact on the people around them than the jokers know. 

So how can students at Waunakee be better allies to those who are a little different than themselves? Because the Golden Rule and the don’t-say-anything-if-you-can’t-be-nice rule don’t seem to work for everyone, the students at GSA offered up a few ideas upon my request.

“A big thing is trying to not use ‘gay’ as… negative at all,” said senior and GSA president

Alex Poleski. 

“If [students] hear potentially questionable things, [they can] call it out,” said Stolen. “Because there’s a lot of statistics saying [the LGTBQ+] are more likely to be depressed, [I heard it said] in homeroom that it’s clearly something wrong with them, and not just a reaction of people thinking negative things about them.”

“I think the students could be better allies by just trying to educate themselves more,” said Conners. “Even if it’s just asking, ‘what’s your pronouns.’ I think that makes me a better ally… not assume that all the boys are going to have a wife one day, all the girls are going to have a husband one day… ‘cause that’s just not how it is.”

Junior Julia Bright advised that persecution is not a necessary ingredient for being a nice person. “Being an ally doesn’t mean you have to know what it feels like. It just means that you’re there to support and fight for the LGTBQ+ community. Just be able to listen and be aware of whatever bias you might have.

“We are there to help those whose voices have been muffled and just support,” she said.”

At the end of his interview, Poleski talked to me about the GSA’s particular aims and strategies this year. “Our aim this year [is] education…. There’s a lot of misconceptions about the GSA, like… only certain people are allowed to go… you’re not really out of the club or in the club, you just come whenever, it’s really a support group.”

Finally, the club advisor, Computer Science instructor Aaron Pavao, weighed in. “I love working with people who believe in decreasing world-suck,” he said in reference to the hopeful attitudes of the GSA students. “It helps me believe that humanity is going to turn out okay.”

When over a thousand people are crammed into one school, differences, dislikes and even actual disputes are bound to emerge. One thing that does not have to emerge, however, in any shape or form, is prejudice. Whether this prejudice shows itself in thoughtless words and actions or in calculated ones, it is a bad thing, and ought to be watched for. And in a place where most people are underage and their characters are works-in-progress, prejudice ought to be especially watched for, lest it triggers words or actions that end up affecting the rest of someone’s life.

Therefore, students at Waunakee High School, certainly including me, should think first before they speak and act. While we cannot help the prejudice we are taught by our environment, we can consciously mitigate it through our own behavior.