SOUNDOFF: Gay alumni proud of schools

I grew up in Oak Harbor, and with my 20-year high school reunion coming up next fall I have recently started reading The Whidbey News-Times online. It is a great opportunity to get reacquainted with the town of my youth and to keep an eye on the issues facing the area.

I was delighted to see the articles and letters to the editor regarding the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance at Oak Harbor High School. I am thankful that the progressive nature of education and of society has not missed my alma mater.

Twenty years ago I was a self-loathing depressed young man who knew nothing of his emerging homosexuality except that it was something to be despised. Had I had a group at Oak Harbor High School like a Gay/Straight Alliance perhaps I would have skipped years of therapy, painful choices made out of self-deprecating loneliness, and been able to be true to myself and my family years earlier. Instead, I spent years lying about my sexuality, deceiving my family and avoiding it altogether.

Now nearing 40 years of age, I am an openly gay man, free of the turbulence of my youth. I work closely with the local chapter of The Bisexual Gay and Lesbian Alliance for Diversity as an educator and staff member at Boise State University in Boise, Idaho. I've learned first hand how these kinds of organizations are important progressive tools to create a safe learning atmosphere for all students. They are important parts of a 21st century education.

Even for those of us that are not gay, you can recall high school as a time of overwhelming new experiences emotionally, spiritually, and physically. We received very little guidance on how to live lives as successful heterosexuals — let alone homosexuals. Whether we want to admit it or not, we were all somewhat confused young people searching for our place in the world. Today's high school environment is all that, and more, as MTV and other media introduces teenagers to adult issues much earlier than I can remember being as an 80's high school student.

Twenty years later we have openly gay politicians, actors, televisions shows, websites, and organizations openly protecting the rights of gay Americans. It is an important move to acknowledge the struggles of gay youth and provide them a safe space. Being gay is no longer something a youth need be ashamed of or look to despise in themselves.

An article back in February from the News-Times showed that students are being "harassed at the high school" and that "none could be found who would speak publicly about the club or their school experiences." This speaks to the all greater reason to promote clubs and organizations that teach tolerance to today's high schoolers, particularly in smaller rural military communities like Oak Harbor.

Gay youth are at great risk for spending their twenties in the same fog of self-loathing and fear that I did, unless we have the courage to support groups like a Gay/Straight Alliance to bring guidance and support their way.

Thank you to the brave efforts of seniors A.J. Burgin and Korja Giles, and to the faculty and staff that are supporting their right to understand the uniqueness of gay youth in America — and keep discrimination of any kind from happening at Oak Harbor High School.

It makes me very proud to be an alumni.

Robert McDiarmid, Oak Harbor Class of 1985, lives in Boise, Idaho.

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