Niles North Teens Come Out, Speak Up
Group says being identified with a sexual orientation is hardly the goal of a school-sponsored group.
In a Niles North classroom after the day’s final bell rung, a cozy gathering of five students plus a faculty advisor convened like any other student organization or club.
Before her fellow members filed in, group leader Rachel Burton began listing on an easel everything necessary to stock the group’s upcoming “movie night.” There was no hint of the emphasis of the club’s existence. And that’s the way the members want it.
The school’s Gay-Straight Alliance was in session, but few of the members announce their sexual orientation. For good reason – that is only a part of each student’s personality, not his or her abiding identification, they said.
“We’re trying to bring people together,” said Burton.
Regular teenage activities the main focus
“Our goal is be more aware, more aware of life, people that are gay and bi-sexual. They function the same exact same way as we do,” said Aliza Malyani, a member of the GSA.
“Our meetings basically run like any other club meetings. We have business, and then we hang out. We plan parties. And we plan events,” Malyani said. “We randomly plan pizza parties."
Burton drew upon her own ethnic background as reason for avoiding labeling as a prime identity, as organization members socialize and, in turn, deal with the greater school population.
“It depends what circle of friends you’re talking about,” she said. “If (in one circle) you’re gay or straight or bi or trans (gender), it’s kind of a big deal. There are circles I know where it’s a non-issue."
Burton added, “One of the reasons I got involved in GSA, and it sounds like a convoluted reason, I’m Chinese and Cuban and Jewish," she said. "That’s kind of uncommon, doing that labeling thing can be kind of annoying. I’ve had people say, ‘You can’t be Jewish … you’re Asian. Are you a Jew-Asian person?’ I don’t think any part of those three ethnicities define me as a person. It’s a shame where people are thrust into having a single identity. People are complex.”
Within and outside the GSA – once called the Gender and Sexuality Acceptance Group – there is progress toward acceptance of a different sexual orientation. But attitudes still have a ways to go for the end of epithets and discrimination, and the lifting of emotional burdens of students who are deemed “different” than the majority, the group said.