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Illustration by Alberto Palomar, L.A. Youth Archives

Last month 15-year-old Lawrence King was shot to death in his Oxnard classroom by a classmate after recently telling other students he was gay. Students told the Los Angeles Times that he was often teased, and he’d had a confrontation about his being gay with the suspect a day before he was killed. His 14-year-old classmate was arrested and charged with murder in his death. A recent California Healthy Kids Survey said that every year in the state more than 200,000 students are harassed because they are gay or lesbian or someone thought they were. We asked the teen writers at L.A. Youth if their schools are safe and accepting places for gay students, and how to make schools more tolerant. Below are responses from five students.

I help make my school a supportive place

My school, Crossroads, supports different ethnicities and sexualities, even if they aren’t in great abundance. FLAG, Friends of Lesbians and Gays (of which I’m a member), and People for Ethnic and Cultural Diversity are thriving clubs on campus. The administration allows FLAG to host monthly movie nights featuring films with gay characters, such as Transamerica and Quinceañera.

I think that in relation to other schools in Los Angeles, Crossroads offers a very safe environment. There are several kids who are openly gay, and they are respected. My friend Charlie, who came out last year, said he received support from students and faculty. While, unfortunately, “gay” is still used as a negative slang word, I’ve never heard of people using any hateful slurs.

That said, there are a number of closeted kids, according to FLAG advisor Adam Behrman. It’s hard to say why; coming out can be affected by so many factors, like attitudes at home. I think, however, that there’s a subtle stigma attached to FLAG, in that a kid who was afraid to come out, might worry that attending a club meeting would confirm for others that he or she is gay.

FLAG tries to solve this by encouraging straight allies to share their voices, which is how I became involved. There are many straight people in the club, some supporting friends and others fighting for what could be considered the civil rights movement of our time. I’m proud to be part of a school that maintains a supportive, safe atmosphere for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community.
Sasha Jones, 18, Crossroads School (Santa Monica)

Most of us are accepting

When I heard about the Oxnard shooting I felt very upset because some people are not open-minded to others’ differences. I am glad to say, though, that I don’t think something like that would happen at Venice High. There have been openly gay and lesbian couples and nothing has happened to them that I know of.

Some people use “that’s gay” to mean “that sucks” or they’ll say “no homo” when they want to make it clear that something they’ve said that might make them seem gay doesn’t mean they are. But I have never seen anyone get picked on because of his or her sexual orientation.

I do not mind when people say “that’s gay” because I feel that the phrase has taken on another meaning. However, I understand that it can be offensive to people and I try not to use it.

Venice also has an active Gay-Straight Alliance and the members have organized days of silence when people do not talk for the whole day in recognition of the struggles the gay community faces. I think kids at my school joke around with the word “gay” but accept people who are lesbian or gay.
Jennifer Velez, 17, Venice HS

Gay-Straight Alliance makes me more understanding

I think that a good way to stop violence and create a better, more inviting environment for LGBTQ teens is to create or join a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). My school is small and this is the first year we’ve had a GSA. I am very proud to be a member because I have learned so much, like the struggles and difficulties LGBTQ teens face and their courage in facing them. Because of this, I understand their situation and would never do anything to hurt them, and I would help stop others from verbally or physically hurting them.

To get the entire school involved with the club, we did a Valentine’s Day activity called “Get Hitched.” Anyone could marry whoever they wanted and however many people they wanted. There was a huge turn out! People were lining up the second the lunch bell rang and when the ceremonies began, people even began to cut! There was a happy, excited mob around the aisle.
Students really liked the activity and it showed that if clubs like the GSA reach out to the school, students will also reach out to them and be great allies, even though they are not members of the club.
Helen Trejo, 17, Downtown Magnets HS

Sometimes I can be judgmental too

Gay students at Hollywood High aren’t very accepted. Students make comments and jokes behind their backs. At a pep rally recently there was a guy on the drill team doing the booty pop and everyone, including me, started laughing at him and saying things like, “Look at that fag.” I didn’t think there was anything wrong with these types of comments because the person we were talking about was not around. But coming to L.A. Youth and having an open discussion about the Oxnard shooting has opened my eyes. I realized that even though I believe the gay lifestyle is wrong, who am I to judge them? I also realized you’re still attacking people even if they’re not around because if one person hears you making fun of someone, other people are going to and it might lead to you saying something even when they’re around. I think everyone can help by not making jokes. This is how closed-minded I think my school is: I kinda feel scared and feel like I’m going to get clowned in school for even writing about this.
Luis Pineda, 16, Hollywood HS

There should be laws to protect gay students

My school’s GSA had an emergency club meeting about Senate Bill 777 the week we came back from winter break because churches in our area were petitioning against the new law, which took effect Jan. 1. SB 777 protects students from discrimination for various reasons including sexual orientation. When our GSA advisor told us the bill was being petitioned, I was shocked. After learning about SB 777 I didn’t see how it could’ve been bad. I was glad that those who were against it didn’t gather enough signatures to get a referendum on the ballot to repeal the new law.

My school is an accepting place for most students. One of my former classmates came out and everyone was really supportive of him because he was all right with who he was. People didn’t make fun of him, call him names or pick on him because he was gay. Still, it is important to have a strong law protecting gay and lesbian students from discrimination because it allows them to feel safe at school. SB 777 is needed to remind students to be tolerant and let gay and lesbian students know there are laws to protect them.
Amanda Ly, 16, Mark Keppel HS (Alhambra)