The staff made it clear my sexual orientation should be kept hidden.
I’m constantly amazed by the leaps and bounds we’ve made in the last decade when it comes to not just legal but social acceptance of LGBT folks.
Most people are aware of things like trans issues, Hollywood knows that it can’t get away with the standard gay and lesbian stereotypes for much longer (or it should at least), and country after country is making leaping bounds forward when it comes to civil protections and rights. When I was a highschool senior in a small Texas town, this kind of future was impossible to imagine.
When I came out in 2000, my partner and I were the only open same sex couple in our school district. Since we were both women, we got the occasional eye roll worthy cat-call, but that was really the worst of it. By and large, the student body just shrugged it off, or if they had horrible comments, they kept them to themselves and we never heard about it.
I acknowledge that at least part of this must have been due to the fact we were both white women in a part of the world where treating white women with at least condescending respect was close to a social imperative, but it’s one a lot of queer couples didn’t get regardless.
Despite the support – or at least ambivalence – of the student body, the adult faculty seemed to have a problem with us. My girlfriend and I only shared two classes, and when we would hold hands it was very clear one of our teachers was both horribly scandalized and completely unsure of how to handle the situation. At one point I caught her glaring at us and shaking her head, though she didn’t say anything outright. This kind of passive aggressive disapproval is something we were used to and rolled pretty easily off of our backs.
At one point I was called to the vice principal’s office for being queer in the hallways. Apparently our hand holding and arm linking was offensive enough that at least four different teachers had “expressed concern” to my vice principal, so he called me in for a talk. He essentially told us that he’d had to tell them there was nothing legally he could do, and not so subtly hinted he’d call our parents and out us if we didn’t start being more discreet.
We were again very fortunate that both of our parents not only knew, but were completely fine with the fact we were seeing each other. For a lot of teenagers this could’ve meant homelessness.
I was never a fan of school dances – I can’t dance and I always feel awkward at parties – but when the senior prom approached, my girlfriend all but begged me to go. I figured if I was only going to do one dance, I was going to go all out. So we spent hours picking out dresses and planning where our group was going to go out to pre-prom dinner before the tickets even went on sale. Being students we were determined to get the cheaper set; my school sold couples tickets at a discount.
Tickets are usually sold by a student group. I don’t know or can’t remember why that wasn’t the case the day we went to buy ours, but we were greeted by two older women when we went to pick up our tickets. They were all smiles when we first arrived, but when we gave the names for each of our tickets – both obviously women, obviously together, and clearly not there to buy tickets for our boyfriends – the attitude changed quickly. With smiles dropped and chins raised, in voices dripping with unwarranted superiority, they informed us only “traditional” couples qualified for tickets.
I can attribute our level of shock to the relative privilege we’d had so far. Aside from my vice principal, we’d gotten over fairly well for the area we grew up in, and this was the first time we’d run into someone directly telling us that we didn’t count as a couple. Astonished, we went back to our lunch tables and told our friends what had happened.
There were lots of small changes happening from our administration at the time, with the most recent being a Gay Straight Alliance proposed to our principal. In response, rather than risk negative media attention by outright rejecting the completely legitimate application, our school announced it was no longer supporting student clubs that weren’t directly tied to a class of some sort.
So, as it turned out, our bit of discrimination had come at a perfect time to create a perfect storm of indignation in a student body that was all too eager to rebel against unjust authority figures. I know letters were sent to the principal from both students and parents, and I heard rumors there was even a threat to bring over news cameras.
In the end we didn’t even have to pay for the tickets. A friend brought them to our table, grinning, and told my girlfriend and I we were both listed for our highschool prom – as a couple. From that year on, the rules for couples prom tickets changed to allow couples of any gender to buy at a discount.
There are a lot of stories about the terrible ways queer folks have been treated in the south, and I’ve experienced some of those myself. But it warms my heart to remember the times when my peers unexpectedly and simply had my back when I needed them to.
Comment: Have you ever experienced discrimination because of your sexual orientation?