Examining WHS’ recent surge in LGBTQ activism


Credit: Paola Antonelli

WSPN explores the particulars of the recent surge of LGBTQ activism from both dedicated groups and individuals.

Meg Trogolo

Over the past five years, WHS has experienced a surge in LGBTQ activism among students, either sponsored by the school’s Alliance club or produced by individual students.

Alliance has held numerous activities supporting equality across orientations and gender identities. During some years, Alliance created large posters bearing pledges to work towards LGBTQ equality, which gained students’ signatures during lunches. The club has also organized training for teachers in how to address LGBTQ issues in class and be respectful towards students that those issues may affect.

“We’ve had a number of workshops for teachers where eyes have been opened to why it is so important to make a school feel safe, to have gender-neutral bathrooms, which I’m not 100 percent sure is the endgame that we’re looking for, but it’s another step,” Alliance Advisor Naomi Rosenthal said.

Possibly Alliance’s most widely known project has been the gender-neutral bathrooms in the English wing, which were designed in fall 2015. The change came in the midst of a national debate over whether, and how, bathrooms should be segregated by gender.

Alliance member and graduating senior Ab McCarthy helped bring about the new bathroom designation and told WSPN that she has seen a change in attitudes at WHS since first coming here as a freshman.

“Since I came to the high school, the Alliance has become more active in the school community,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy has since earned a scholarship from PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) for her work. This year, she wrote multiple opinion pieces for WSPN on LGBTQ issues, ranging from representation in a film to an LGBTQ unit in WHS’ history curriculum.

“I personally love learning about LGBTQ history, since a lot of people fought and died so that LGBTQ people could have basic human rights like the right to marry and to be protected against discrimination,” McCarthy said.

Alliance has also made efforts to educate the WHS community on LGBTQ issues. In April, the group hosted a panel of six LGBTQ students who discussed their experiences and identities.

Some members of the group, such as Declan Nolan (Class of 2015), have also unofficially represented the LGBTQ community to their peers.

“The first year or second year I was here, there was a student transitioning, a transgender boy who was willing to be an ambassador for transgender people,” said Rosenthal, who has worked at WHS as a special education liaison since 2012. “That just made everything really fun, because [Nolan] had the courage to do this,” Rosenthal said.

Apart from Alliance, the school community has changed on its own in recent years. For instance, most classrooms now have stickers that read “LGBTQ Safe Zone” in their windows.

“Whether it’s something [teachers] say at the beginning of the year, like acknowledging [students’ preferred] pronouns or putting a sign up that says, ‘I’m an ally,” I think that’s changed.”

Despite the progress the WHS community has made, some still continue to report negative experiences. Some students who do not identify as girls or boys have spoken about a lack of acceptance at school regarding their gender.

In March 2015, students posted signs outside the media center with quotes from other students that were disrespectful towards marginalized groups. Most of the quotes concerned race and ethnicity, but some referenced sexual orientation. One read, “You’re bisexual? You’ll choose someday,” alluding to the stereotype of bisexuals who “choose” a gender with which to exclusively have relationships.

Overall, Rosenthal believes that although WHS is not as welcoming as it could be, her Alliance can take pride in the work it has done.

“[Staff and faculty training have] happened because every year, the club has done some reaching out,” Rosenthal said.