Facing criticism silently
April 12, 2019
Displaying her pride
As it slowly began to rain on the parade, she continued to celebrate her pride and sexuality without a care. Rainbow flags flew through the air as she was able to be around people like her. She was devastated when she had to leave early because it was her only day.
Her only day to be fully accepted by her peers.
Senior Kiya Brown never understood why she wasn’t attracted to guys but when she found the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at Harmon, she realized she was lesbian. After telling her sister, she soon felt terrible keeping a secret from her mother.
“I was at this mother-daughter function with my mom and my sister at church,” Brown said. “They were basically saying daughters should confide in their parents and don’t keep secrets from your mother. I just remembered thinking ‘I’m keeping a big secret from my mom’ and so I felt really bad about it. I went home, sat my mom down on the couch and told her.”
Even though Brown was accepted by her family, people still react negatively toward her because of her sexuality. While at her first pride parade, Brown continued to stand strong by not giving any homophobic comments attention when she was enjoying herself.
“I want to do what makes me happy, [but] there are people out there that just hate on [us] because they find different reasons to hate people,” Brown said. “It really scared me, but at the same time, I was really excited because it was pride so I wasn’t really bothered by it.”
Brown doesn’t let her peers’ offensive comments like ‘You look a bit gay today’ and ‘That’s such a gay thing to say’ phase her. While facing stereotypes, Brown shares her issues involving hate or homophobic people who don’t understand the LGBT+ community with her peers.
“I had to figure out a way to tell [my sister] why [pride] was so impactful for me because she is heterosexual so she didn’t really understand it,” Brown said. “I told her ‘You get to walk down the street with your boyfriend if you want to and no one would say anything because it’s normal and accepted nationwide, but if I were to do that with my girlfriend, we would get looks and it would be a different reaction.’”
Brown’s mother, Tanake Powell, is supportive of her daughter no matter what sexuality she defines herself as. Powell knows she loves her daughter without any hesitation and continues to cheer her on.
“I tell my child to keep her head up and that people are going to hate on her no matter what if you’re gay, straight, lesbian, white, black, orange, purple or gray,” Powell said. “It doesn’t matter what road your child goes down, as long as you continue to love your child and support them.”
GSA is a place where students like Brown can share their stories and receive support. The club has helped Brown figure out her sexuality and has shown her the support she needed to keep her head held high while facing criticism.
“We share personal stories,” GSA sponsor Robert Borenstein said. “Everyone is just very open-minded, but really above all else, it is a safe place for students to come to feel welcome, to feel included, all inclusive, doesn’t matter who you are.”
Brown hopes anyone who feels ostracized because they can’t find people to connect with can find the right community and meet others like them. Being around others who have the same interest has helped Brown find herself.
“I know for me, I thought I was [alone] and then I found GSA,” Brown said. “Even if you’re not accepted by the people you think are supporting you, you can always find new people to surround yourself with – just know that you’re never alone.”
Finding her identity
Senior Maggie Russell always knew she had an attraction to both genders. She officially knew she was into women when she was in sixth grade and developed a crush on a girl. She wasn’t shocked by these feelings but didn’t make them public until she started to date girls when she was in eighth grade.
“[When I came out, I felt] pretty much the same as I’ve always been because this is just how I’ve been existing,” Maggie said. “It wasn’t really that different telling people.”
When Maggie came out to her friends and family, she wasn’t afraid of backlash because her friends supported her and her family understood her decision, maintaining their bond. While Maggie doesn’t tolerate backlash toward any group, she stands her ground for what she believes in.
“It’s not the end of the world because there are gay people, if you don’t want to do that, then that’s great for you,” Maggie said.
While being in Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at school, Maggie is able to state her opinion and support others in similar situations. She has received encouragement from her peers and teachers ever since she joined GSA. She is able to find a shelter within the group to voice her opinions and thoughts she has to controversial issues.
“My goal is to protect the students,” GSA sponsor Robert Borenstein said. “If I could prevent the students from their life [being] negatively impacted, then I’m going to make sure I could prevent that in my power.”
Maggie’s parents were her top supporters from the moment she came out to them. Maggie’s mother Stacey Russell bonds with her daughter to assure Maggie knows she can always confide in her.
“Her father and I make sure to keep our dialogue and communication regular about how she feels and what we can do to support her,” Stacey said. “We make sure to tell her every day how much we love her.”
Maggie has learned about herself coming out while she ignores negative comments from homophobic people and maintains a healthy relationship with those around her. She continues to attend GSA to help others in situations related to their sexualities.
“It’s a good thing to come out to the world because you could find out more about yourself, about other people who are going through the same thing,” Maggie said.