It was quite the scene, the day the posters came out. There were only two— two unboasting little fliers, on regular eight by eleven printer paper, incredibly slight in comparison to the huge laminated pieces of posterboard advertising cheer tryouts or student council elections. I’d been thrown off guard walking into the crowded sixth-grade hallway that morning, finding my classmates gathered in one big clump by a wall, snickering and whispering amongst themselves, pointing at whatever was hung up that had caused such a commotion. I shoved through the wall of students, craning my neck until I finally saw what all the fuss was about— the paper, posted with scotch tape, reading Gay Straight Alliance, Wednesdays, Room 215, 2:00-3:15 PM. Underneath was a small icon of a rainbow flag.
By second period, both posters were torn down.
By that point, I’d started to understand how things worked. Kids like me were different, and there are a lot of people who don’t like that. I’d seen conservative billboards along interstates demanding people like me repent. I’d heard the talk of not supporting such “alternative lifestyles.” I caught some of what the politicians said about us in the news, and some of it was really, really nasty. Whoever made those billboards didn’t like us, those politicians didn’t like us, and God knows my parents didn’t like us.
My classmates’ reactions aligned with what I’d seen in the world, though it disappointed me. They mocked and scorned us, laughed when the club was announced over the intercom, tore down and shredded the fliers. But the club’s existence— even though it was off to a rocky start— had planted within me a fresh seed of optimism. My entire life, the word “gay” had been treated with such hush and taboo that I didn’t know it was the kind of thing you could talk about at school. To see it displayed, out for everyone, to know that kind of club had been allowed to start, was a breath of fresh air.
I came to the first meeting that Wednesday while my parents thought I was at “Craft Club.”It was held in an abandoned, cramped little classroom, one that had once been home to History of Pop Music or something of the sort. The room, though once barren, came alive that day. The turnout was wonderful; there had to have been over thirty of us bustling little preteens there for the very first time. All around me, desks and tables were covered by different pride flags of every color. The people around me all dressed like I did, all in flannels and short hair, regardless of gender identity. I was welcomed with grins and handshakes and pointing to pronoun pins. Sure, we were awkward, naive, sheltered, but we were with our community. For the first time, I felt whole and completely at home with who I was.
I bonded quickly with the group. That little middle school GSA swooped in to fill the hole that had been left in my life when church stopped meaning family to me. We stuck together, even if numbers dwindled at times. We were brought even closer (forced to be, really) by the fact that the adversity never stopped. Our classmates, I hate to say, never let up. The very first meeting, in the midst of introductions and club mission statements, a group of boys opened the door to sneer a few colorful words (see: slurs) at us before running away.
They’d repeat this throughout the year, our regular reminder that though we’d gotten away with the creation of the club, they’d never make things easy for us. Every Wednesday, when our club announced itself over the Student News, my first-period class would erupt into mocking laughter. I kept my head down during these times and just listened. I learned what people were safe, learned how to gauge who in my generation would learn to accept us and who would be clinging to the beliefs of our traditional-oriented parents.
As I became a more core member of the group, I took to coming to school early every morning to print out a sizable stack of posters in the library. I made my rounds through each hallway before the first bell rang, disappointed every time to see the ripped scraps of the one I’d put up yesterday. I put up a new poster, prayed it survived through that day, rinse and repeat. I had to grow accustomed to seeing groups of people gathered around to point and laugh at each new addition. Nobody knew I was the one putting the posters up; in the club, I was out and proud, but the regular world was a different story. Nobody would know I was part of GSA except for my GSA friends themselves.
Then came time for club pictures. When the sign up sheet came around to me, I froze. Was I willing to give up my anonymity here? I thought about what it would entail, thought about the day yearbooks would come out and everyone I knew would see me there, clear as day, surrounded by my friends with Gay Straight Alliance printed below. Once that photo was released, the secret would be out.
I don’t know, really, what convinced me, what random surge of courage or streak of strength made itself known that day. All I know is I signed the sheet, passed it along, and was committed. I arrived dutifully on picture day, and though my heart was racing, and I could hear roaring in my ears, I sat in the front row and held the flag. Click— we were through. My fate was sealed.
And when yearbooks finally were released, when confused peers walked up to me with their books opened to the picture and demanded, “Is this you?,” I glowed with pride. I’d done it: I’d bitten the bullet. With the help of my friends, with the help of a tiny middle school GSA, I’d made the first step in my long journey to total self-acceptance. So even though they narrowed their eyes and recoiled a bit, I was happy to point myself out in the front row of that photo. Our little club had endured a lot, and still we’d fought to exist, to hang our heads in shame. In that moment, more than the cross or the American flag ever had, that symbol— that rainbow cloth— felt like me.
Me, circa 2016
About the Author
Samantha is a Filipino-American high school student writing from Las Vegas, Nevada. Her work focuses on feminist and queer issues, social media, and pop culture. An avid reader, her favorite authors include Mary Shelley, E.M. Forster, Gillian Flynn, and Sylvia Plath. She hopes to one day attend Vassar College to study political science. In her spare time, she finds joy in drawing, writing letters, and cooking vegetarian cuisine.