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In 2000, entering the school as a freshman, the R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, NC, was not a safe place for LGBT students. In an effort to help other LGBT youth, as well as myself, I founded the Gay/Straight Alliance. Through four years of working toward making Reynolds a safer place for LGBT students, on top of educating myself and graduating, the school gradually grew more accepting and tolerant of all
After I graduated, the principal with whom I had worked with during my matriculation there left the school to start one of Winston-Salem's new high schools, resulting in a new principal unaware of the past issues and ignorant of the awareness I had helped to create within the Administration.
Today I met with the new principal, Dr. Art Paschal (who replaced long-time principal, Mr. Stan Elrod) and shared with him my concerns for the school as a member of the Alumni. The meeting went well and I was happy with the conversation which took place. Dr. Paschal may be new to Reynolds, but he is not new to working within high school administrations. I was pleased that he was willing to openly listen to my concerns. Like Mr. Elrod did when I was still a student, Dr. Paschal assured me that he would do all he could within his power to make sure Reynolds High School would be a place where all students could feel comfortable and safe.
Of course, he also mentioned the same thing Elrod did: he cannot address harassment unless he knows about it. We discussed how many LGBT students, or students who are percieved to be LGBT by others, are afraid to come forward with the harassment. Many students feel as though coming forward with reports of harassment will only make things worse. Dr. Paschal assured me that in instances such as these, the safety of the student is of utmost importance and that there are ways to make sure that the harassment would not get worse.
Dr. Paschal also mentioned that he has not heard of any instances of anti-LGBT harassment. Because of this he assumes that there is no such harassment at the school. I was so wrapped up in the conversation I neglected to mention that harassment could include anything from direct attacks to the simple use of words such as "fag", "queer" or "dyke".
I offered him a packet of resources and I hope he will use them to make Reynolds better. Reynolds has always been above par on the issue of harassment when compared to other schools. During my sophomore year a friend of mine and myself did a survey of anti-LGBT comments we heard during the course of the day. I came up with an average of 6-8 per day, while she came up with an average of 25-30. My friend was a student at West Forsyth High School.
I hope that Dr. Paschal's assumption that anti-LGBT harassment doesn't exist at Reynolds won't go too far. Just because you may not hear about it, does not mean it is not occurring. I hope that he does not wait too long to take preventative measures against harassment; doing so would only endanger LGBT students.
Overall, however, I'm pleased that Reynolds is continuing to make sure that all students are safe, although it could still improve.
With time, however, all things will get better.
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