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Rainbow Week at TPHS in Carmel Valley promotes understanding of differences

Torrey Pines Gay-Straight Alliance students with representatives from the Human Rights Campaign San Diego at Rainbow Week. Courtesy photo
Torrey Pines Gay-Straight Alliance students with representatives from the Human Rights Campaign San Diego at Rainbow Week. Courtesy photo

With its second annual Rainbow Week, Torrey Pines High School promoted a campus of acceptance, kindness and respect for all students. Organized by the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), Rainbow Week was full of activities and discussions aimed at making the school a safe place for people of all genders and sexuality through education and awareness.

“Rainbow Week is valuable because it takes Torrey Pines away from the feeling of being ‘us versus them’ and brings us together as a community,” said JJ Hsu, a GSA member. “By opening means of communication, Torrey Pines GSA works to bring out curiosity and ultimately an understanding of those who we have labeled as ‘different.’”

Don Collins, teacher and Torrey Pines GSA advisor, said he was very proud of the students in the GSA who organized and planned the week.

“These students put their heart and soul into Rainbow Week because they believe in equality and social justice, not because they are lesbian or gay or trans, because many of the kids in the GSA do not identify that way,” Collins said. “However, they know, just as I know, that there are LGBT kids here on campus and the GSA is working to help educate our entire campus about fairness and equal treatment. That starts with treating everybody with dignity, respect and kindness regardless of what other ideas we each individually hold.”

Last month, in conjunction with the Anti Defamation League, Torrey Pines hosted a “No Place For Hate” week to increase understanding on behalf of students of all races, nationalities, ethnicity, religions and backgrounds. During Rainbow Week, students were encouraged to sign a Resolution of Respect from the Anti-Defamation League.

The resolution included a pledge to be aware of their own biases, to seek to gain understanding and to support the belief that one person can make a difference and no person can be an innocent bystander when it comes to opposing hate.

“Students have to feel safe before they can focus on learning,” said TPHS Principal David Jaffe. “Events like Rainbow Week and No Place for Hate help all of our students know we see them and we support them.”

On Wednesday, an assembly was held with representatives from the Human Rights Campaign, the largest group in the country that works toward LGBT equality.

From Susan Guinn, a civil and human rights lawyer with the HRC, students learned that there are 79 countries in the world where it is illegal to be LGBT and that there are 31 states where people can be fired for being gay. Guinn also led a discussion about North Carolina’s anti-discrimination law that excludes protections for discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Guinn shared heartbreaking statistics that 40 percent of homeless teens in San Diego were thrown out of their family home for being LGBT and that last year, five transgender students in San Diego County committed suicide after being bullied. Two of them were only 14 years old.

“(LGBT teens) can choose to be invisible for a variety of reasons,” said Guinn. “Make it a friendly environment to be themselves.”

On Thursday, an assembly featured a panel from San Diego State University’s TransYouth Project, who shared with students the difference between sexuality and gender and addressed questions. GSA President Amal Lamb said there were so many interesting and perceptive questions that the panel ran out of time.

“Though it seems quite simple, it is truly reassuring to know we’ve created a safe and welcoming enough space that students surrounded by classmates and teachers feel comfortable enough to share their curiosity without any hesitance,” Amal said.

Teacher Abby Brown, who took her class to the discussion, said she did not have exposure to these types of discussions when she attended Torrey Pines 20 years ago.

Torrey Pines senior Lane Smith said the event helped provide some clarification on certain matters.

“It was interesting to learn about what trans people are going through because for me it’s pretty confusing. To be honest, I thought it was kind of weird, but I haven’t had these issues. I do know kids at Torrey who I grew up with and I see them trying to figure this stuff out. So I guess I’d rather be cool with it than act like a jerk,” Lane said. “I know they’re on campus and if I was going through this stuff I wouldn’t want it to be a big deal. I just want to treat everyone normally.”

Jennifer Magruder, a Torrey Pines school counselor, noted that is how Rainbow Week is can be so valuable — to allow students to see that there are others who struggle because they are “different.”

“All students need and deserve acceptance and support and to feel safe as they figure out themselves during challenging high school years,” said Mary Pancner, TPHS education specialist. “This is the time when students determine who they are and where they fit in the world. Rainbow Week lets every student know there’s a place for them at Torrey Pines.”