Alice, Just Graduated
Co-creator of sexual diversity group Spectrum
What made you want to start Spectrum? I didn’t feel there was an overwhelming desperation for a group to be formed at school, but I definitely witnessed a lot of casual homophobia. My friends Finley, Michael and I set up Spectrum to create a safe space within the school for people who were unsure of their sexuality, or coming out, or whatever, and give them a place to talk openly about what they’re going through. Especially getting support from people who’ve gone through the same things...I know that’s exactly what I needed when I first came out.
How did it go from there? We first started meeting one lunch time a week and mainly discussed various issues like media representation, marriage, coming out, religion (which was surprisingly positive), legal issues in australia and the rest of the world, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and all about homophobia. Pretty much anything! We set up an anonymous suggestion/question box in the library for all students, we made posters and a banner together which we used at Pride March and at a few Equal Love marriage rallies. We even had our own bulletin board.
What’s the most amazing thing about standing out? Just one thing? Haha. We had 40 people turn up to our first meeting which was completely mind-blowing. Teachers approached us wanting to help out, and everyone was quick to come out of their shells and talk openly about who they are and how they feel. A real sense of belonging was established both in and outside the group.
What advice do you have for those wanting to stand out? I’d have to say try and start as soon as possible, especially if you’re trying to start up a group. It took us three months of meetings and planning / organising with the school and each other but it was totally worth it.
Also, I’d say don’t give up! If your posters are torn down by idiots, put up twice as many. If your school isn’t being very helpful or supportive, that should give you more reasons to make positive change. You don’t have to change the thinking of every single student either - helping just one person is enough to make a massive difference. Seriously, every little bit counts.
Melbourne High School
Chris, Anthony, Smoley and Peter
How did SOFA all come together? We set SOFA up to provide support for queer students at our school so they could feel comfortable being themselves. The homophobia experienced around the school was verbal, but extended to attitude as well, phrases like “that’s so gay” or “do this, or you’re a faggot”. The sort of thing that’s pretty typical.
What difficulties have you faced? Some of the difficulties we faced when we tried to start SOFA, was people saying that there wasn’t really a need for gay students to have their own group. We started putting up anti-homophobia posters around school. Some were torn down, but they also started conversations, and the support that we had in our school grew.
What impact has SOFA made on Melbourne High School? When we started up SOFA, we invited a speaker from Minus18 to our school assembly. The guy who spoke had only recently left high school, and spoke about his experiences with homophobia and how things have changed after only being out of school for a few years. It was such a personal story - it changed the students’ way of thinking about homophobia and really clicked with them that homophobia is actually something that can cause a lot of hurt.
The most amazing aspect of SOFA? By far the stand out moment for SOFA was attending Pride March this year where lots of students from the school, in the group and even teachers came along to support us. It was amazing – we got the largest cheers. We had the support of the entire queer community, but also from the school community.
Do you have any advice for other students? Get teachers to support you. We have so many supportive teachers here, and they’ve us helped us out more than we could have imagined.
Michael, Year 12
Anti-Homophobia Task Force
What made you challenge homophobia at your school? In year 11 I went to talk to the school counselor to check what resources we had at the school on sexuality and gender. As it turned out, you only ever got resources on sexuality if you specifically asked for them – they weren’t on display with the other resources. I thought this was a bit crap - and so did the Counsellor - so she and I had a meeting with the Vice-Principal, getting conversations started on what the school was doing to support sexual diversity.
What happened from those conversations? From there, the three of us started an “anti-homophobia task force” around the school with students and staff. We made posters, and put them up around the school, which was pretty awesome, since up until this point there had been nothing around.
We also did a presentation on International Day Against Homophobia at a full school assembly, which all the students and teachers thought was really moving. Everyone got behind it, it was pretty amazing.
What sort of impact have you made so far? I sort of noticed that what we were doing was working, when other students came up to us who were asking for help with their sexuality. It just felt really good – especially when guys on the football team got behind the initiatives. That sort of stuff is just so important, cause it shows that sexuality doesn’t matter any more, and that everyone can get along – as cheesy as that sounds.
What advice would you give to other students? Be confident about whatever you do - the more you believe in what you’re doing, the more everyone else will. And don’t even worry about the kids who won’t appreciate what you’re doing. They’re probably douchebags anyway.
GIRLS’ HIGH SCHOOL
SSAYF - Same Sex Attracted Youth and Friends
Why was SSAYF created? We created SSAYF after being inspired by other schools and what they’re doing. We really thought it would be beneficial to have a sexual diversity group in our school environment. We didn’t really have that much of a problem with homophobia but we really felt there was a bit of ignorance. Sexuality wasn’t talked about much and we thought it needed to be out there. We also thought that as an all girls school, we wanted to be a powerful image of women, and accepting of all different ways of life.
What difficulties have SSAYF faced? Definitely striking a balance between privacy and activism. So, when SSAYF started we wanted it to be a safe, welcoming environment for everyone, and we didn’t want people to be afraid about coming. So we made it a little bit private but still welcoming for those who wanted to come. This year, we’ve tried to become more of a presence in the school. We’ve “come out” a bit, and wanted to really have an impact.
What’s a typical SSAYF meeting like? Some of the things we do in SSAYF are sit around and chat, usually we have after school meetings with beanbags and food, and what we like to do to start off our meeting is go around, talk about our week, and usually that leads into some form of discussion. So really what we do is talk as friends. When issues come up, it’s so good to be able to discuss them with people who are accepting of you.
What advice would you have for others? It really helps to have people around to support you – so friends, people at school, or even people outside of school who are there to encourage you. One of the things we were surprised about at SSAYF was how many people were actually supportive. Once it started, people were coming to me saying “this is really great – I wouldn’t have thought of it before – I’m so glad this is happening”.
Try not to be too afraid; it’s difficult, but once you’re there, it changes the school environment, and feels really fantastic.