On Nov. 9, over 60 students from Westminster High School listened, enthralled, as sophomore Jonathan Lightner shared his personal experiences as a gay teen.
This was one of the first of Lightner’s many future connections with local high schools, as he works to support the establishment and growth of their Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA).
He is working with high school counselors and the members and directors of each GSA to determine what each club needs.
“Every GSA is an individual,” explained Lightner, emphasizing his role as a resource. “Every issue is different. Everyone’s journey is different. I’m going to ask what they want and not tell them what I’m going to give them.”
Ms. Donna Balado, teacher at Westminster High School and director of WHS GSA, is excited about the new connection.
“Maybe some WHS students will develop more interest in attending McDaniel,” hypothesized Ms. Balado. “The connection is brand new so I wouldn’t want to limit the vision.”
Currently, this is a solo project, but later, Lightner anticipates seeking help from likeminded individuals as well as McDaniel’s own GSA, Allies.
“I would love to get Allies involved, and maybe even Admissions, because we need to show that McDaniel is friendly to all,” he said.
Members of WHS GSA attended a McDaniel Allies meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 17. They joined in on the discussion about the idea that homosexuality differs from gay culture.
“My hope is that we can start a dialogue about LGBT issues with other schools, and that bringing so many enthusiastic people together in discussion and activism will make our work in Allies so much more meaningful,” said Allies co-president Laura Manos-Hey ’11. “I also hope that we can provide support to high schools so that their own GSAs can continue to grow, as I know how much it takes to get one off the ground.”
Lightner wants to connect with the high school students that are struggling with similar issues to those with which he struggled. He wants to help them connect with people at McDaniel, as well as to give them hope and courage.
“I want to be a role model for these kids,” he said. “I just want them to know that everything is going to be okay.”
He noted the importance of heterosexual support.
“There are a million ways that people can be supportive if they want to,” said Lightner. He urges straight Allies to stand up to derogatory remarks and attend GSA meetings.
“GSA has the opportunity to be a safe place for students who need support and those who are interested in supporting each other,” said Ms. Balado. “I love the idea that it is not necessary to be LGBT to be a member of the group.”
The recent suicides of gay teens are what inspired Lightner to begin this endeavor. They reminded him of his own school, which did not have a GSA.
“My area has a lot of controversy around the subject,” explained Lightner.
The biggest obstacle he anticipates is general closed-mindedness. While he believes that his work is important, Lightner acknowledges that there is only so much he can do.
“I’m just offering my help,” he said.
He plans to also work with the GSAs of South Carroll High School and North Carroll High School, as well as to help Winters Mill begin theirs.
“Having as many student-run LGBT groups in high schools as possible is an invaluable part of changing the negative and prejudiced views held by so many teens today, both gay and straight,” said Manos-Hey