They met Jan. 3 for an hour after school let out in an English classroom at Stevenson High School in suburban Lincolnshire. It was the first day back at school after winter breakand some of the school's gay-straight alliance ( GSA ) members had emotional, personal stories to share.
An area mom of twoMarti Goldzwig, who lives in Hawthorn Woodsserves as the co-sponsor of the GSA, which has about 40 members, although only 14 students attended on this day. Goldzwig has been a part of the Stevenson GSA for four years since her daughter ( Glenne, 17, a senior ) started questioning her sexual orientation in middle school. Glenne is straight, her mom said, but mom is still overly supportive of the LGBT community.
She attends the GSA meeting, sitting by herself, listening and chiming in at times with thoughts, opinions and family experiences.
Mostly though, it was lesbian senior Sarah Graves who led the group of students, talking freely and openly about life in, or at least around, the LGBT rainbow.
There were several coming-out stories from the holiday break.
There was a new name for a transgender studentone of three openly trans students at Stevenson.
There were tears of joy, tears of sadness, acceptance and rejection.
However, in the GSA, it's all support. Most of the students enjoyed lollipops during the meeting, a fitting sign of acceptance as the Dum Dums were in a rainbow of flavors.
"There's some magical feeling that you get from being here," said another lesbian student. "It's just a happy feeling I get when I come [ to the meetings. ] "
A male student added, "I come just for the physical space, being with people who think alike, [ to ] feel safe, to be able to express yourself, be who you are, even if it's just for one hour per week."
Graves, who lives in Buffalo Grove and will likely head to the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the fall, led casual discussions on multiple pertinent topics for LGBT teensstarting with how people learned of Stevenson's GSA. ( Answers included through friends, club notices, a family member and more. )
One male said he heard of the GSA while in eighth grade, but admitted he was afraid to go due to the social stigma.
The group discussed changes they've witnessed at the suburban school of close to 4,000 students that, during their four years, have directly impacted LGBT students.
"It does seem to be getting increased awareness, or maybe I'm just hanging with a better group of friends," one student said.
Graves started her coming-out process as a sophomore, initially revealing she was bisexual, and then ultimately saying that she is lesbian.
Nick Holcman, a transgender student, is the group's other co-president.
Graves, standing behind a podium, led the thoughtful discussions about personal and revealing topics. Students raised their hands to reply; she never singled anyone out.
All who attended commented on at least one topic. No one is ever asked his or her sexual orientationbut, at this meeting, one said he is heterosexual and a proud supporter of the LGBT community.
There was a debate and discussion about the N-word in comparison to the F-word, one that is derogatory to African-Americans and one that is offensive to the LGBT community.
Attendees also offered tips and suggestions for any anti-gay comments they may hear, or situations that may arise.
"The way things are here [ at Stevenson ] , it's almost worse to be homophobic than it is a bad thing to be gay," said a pansexual student who came out last year during his senior year. He is now a college freshman at American University.
The group also discussed what still needs to be fixed on campus for a better LGBT student life. One issue involved unisex bathrooms for trans studentswhich club members expect to change next school year.
"For the most part, I did not have any problems" after coming out last year, the college freshman said. "Any homophobic situation that ever arose [ at Stevenson ] , the teachers would stop immediately.
"For the most part, I think Stevenson is a pretty safe place to be out."
Still, some GSA members admitted that they lost friends when they came out.
"Speaking from the other side," said another male, "I'm straight. I'm sort of jealous of all you because each of you has pride, but I don't really have pride in anything."
"Things are actually really good for us in comparison to what they could have been, or what they were years ago," an open lesbian said.
The group talked about coming out, and many shared their personal stories from winter break, which had taken place days ago.
There was the 17-year-old lesbian who told her uncleand he was accepting, even offering dating advice.
Graves, for instance, shared the tale of telling her grandparents.
One lesbian was teary-eyed when she told a close, 25-year-old female cousin during a family dinner in Chicago. The cousin replied, "It doesn't matter; I still love you."
Another female student came out to her parents, who live in their native Philippines. Both were accepting, she said.
However, things weren't as rosy for another Stevenson student, who admitted that her brother disowned her over winter break after hearing the news.
Paul, the Stevenson alum who is now a college freshman, offered perhaps the best advice to the group, first admitting it might be a bit cliché, but certainly true: "It does get better. [ Coming out ] is worth the happiness [ that comes eventually. ] "
This is part one of a two-part series on LGBT students at Stevenson High School. Part two will run in the next few issues.