Rainbow Week promotes understanding of LGBTQ issues

The Rainbow Pride and Transgender Pride Flags flew in the Torrey Pines High School’s Learning Commons April 17-21 as part of the campus’ third annual Rainbow Week put on by the school’s Gender & Sexualities Alliance Club.

Rainbow Week coincided with the student-led National Day of Silence on April 21 to bring attention to anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment. Some students took a vow of silence for the day while others joined for a silent lunch on the quad in an effort to show support for the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community by illustrating the silencing effect of bullying on LGBTQ students and those perceived to be LGBTQ.

“Rainbow Week is one way students come together to share their experiences and have discussions to increase understanding, which can increase respect and safety if we are willing to consider another person’s experiences and humanity,” said Don Collins, the advisor for the GSA. “The week is one way to help everyone see and understand that every student has a right to a safe, free public education. The district school board passed an important resolution in March that restates their policies for safe and inclusive schools and supports California state laws.”

The TPHS Jazz Band performed at lunch on April 19 after an assembly attended by 800 students. Guest speakers Kathie Moehlig, Isaac Gomez and Relle Goan from Trans Family Support Services talked about the gender spectrum and their personal experiences. Rebekah J. Hook-Held of the San Diego LGBT Community Center talked about services provided by the center and presented information on anti-LGBTQ bills currently being debated around the country.

Piril Nirgis, the Torrey Pines GSA vice president, read a letter written by a trans sophomore student currently attending Torrey Pines, who remained anonymous. The student wrote about how he only has one friend and on most days never talks to anyone but a teacher.

“I’m what society would call ‘transgender’ when in reality I am only being true to myself. I’m not confused, for me being trans is not about my gender, it’s about my identity. I identify as male and will for the rest of my life,” the student wrote. “Every day I worry about our country and specifically the LGBTQ community as a whole. There are groups of people who don’t understand which includes some who are not at all interested to consider LGBTQ experiences and struggles in order to understand. They’d even say some of us shouldn’t be able to go in the bathroom we think and know we belong in, when in reality, you haven’t noticed us in the first place. We are not different, we are as human as you are, and that includes me. A bathroom is just a bathroom and no one, including you, should be restricted to go just because someone thinks you’re something that you aren’t.”

Collins said the student’s letter and the speakers’ stories were powerful and generated a lot of thought and discussion.

“Rainbow Week is a good reminder of the kids on campus that we might not think about and it does a great job of letting them know they are included as part of our school,” reflected junior Ty Willden. “I think it’s important and it definitely has a place here.”

“I think bringing a subject like this to campus just brings more criticism to it. In a certain way people in the LGBT crowd can be misunderstood, so in a way this event was important, but it can also add fuel to the fire,” said senior Curtis Broxterman. “I disagree with having programs like this or Black History Month in school because it creates division. Putting a label on yourself puts you up for criticism and scrutiny whether that’s being a jock or being gay.”

Piril said in past years, the GSA saw the usual writing on posters and torn down decorations but this year they noticed more verbal insults being thrown around. He said the club understood the resistance as they know it will take time for society to adjust but they were a little taken aback by the amount of derogatory questions and attention.

“We attributed this increase in resistance to the changes happening in our political climate. I hope that human rights won’t be a partisan issue in the coming years. This resistance only hurts the LGBTQ+ students at our school who are afraid to speak up. Like the mother of the trans son said at the assembly, ‘I am most afraid of you, the students, when I send my transgender son to class trips.’ We even saw someone write ‘lol’ on the ‘40% of teens who commit suicide identify as LGBT’ poster,” Piril said. “TP GSA honestly hopes that much of this resistance is only caused by immaturity, and that seemed to be the case in previous years, but now we aren’t so sure.”

Collins said the shared experiences heard on Rainbow Week can be lifelong lessons for students.

“Imagine if next week or five, or 10, or even 20 years from now someone close to you like a best friend or your brother or a parent, came out as lesbian or gay or transgender. You might think that would never happen, but it happens every day,” Collins said. “How would you want other people to treat your sister or your brother or your parent? Would you worry about your best friend’s safety or discrimination they might face at school or at work? Would you be able to accept them and love them and support them? Rainbow Week can help reduce the fear and misunderstanding that creates conflict.”