From today’s Age online: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/coming-out-is-in-at-school-20100424-tklo.html
Coming out is ‘in’ at school
April 25, 2010
”COMING out” at high school can be traumatic.
But for the guys at Melbourne High it’s like, whatever.
Not only is it OK to be gay or bisexual at the school, there’s a club you can join – SOFA, or Same-sex-attracted, Other, Friends of Alliance.
It’s one of about six ”gay-straight alliances” in Melbourne schools that have formed recently to support same-sex-attracted students.
SOFA is open to all students, regardless of their sexuality, and has 15 members, from years 9 to 12. It has movie nights and outings, and meets weekly in a classroom to chat about … well, stuff.
Who’s dumped who, who’s going out with who, and who’s come out to who.
They’re a motley bunch – some jocks, some ”drama-heads”, some squares. Some prefer either guys or girls, some like both, but all agree that the best thing about the group is it’s a safe place to chat without being labelled.
Founder Dylan ”Izzi” Williams starts the ball rolling at a recent meeting. ”OK, so, Jordan and I went to see Lady Gaga,” he says, flicking his punky side-swept hair out of his eyes and casting a look of mock seriousness around the circle. ”Best night of our lives. Try topping that.”
The well-built boy with the more sensible haircut sitting next to him pipes up. ”I recently came out to my older brother, his girlfriend and all my cousins.”
”Yo!” says one boy, as the others applaud.
”Except, it was a bit weird,” he continues, his voice quavering. ”Like, they reacted. As good as it felt at the time, now it doesn’t feel so great because I think about my parents and how I’m going to tell them, and I can’t protect myself by pretending they already know. So … life’s gotten harder.”
Coming out, the boys agree, isn’t easy, but they have each other to talk to. And most of their peers accept who they are.
Izzi says there will always be a degree of chauvinism and homophobia in an all-boys school.
But the existence of SOFA, and the school’s unwavering support, has made being gay a non-issue.
When Izzi and Jordan called the group’s first meeting at assembly two years ago, the audience was dumbstruck.
”There was no heckling or snickering,” says welfare co-ordinator Jenny Mill. ”I think the boys were shocked into silence, not because of the gay thing but because of how brave they were.”
Posters advertising group meetings were torn down in the first few weeks and the jocks started using ”SOFA” as a derogatory byword for ”gay”.
Two years later, most boys couldn’t care less. ”I asked in class today if anyone knew when the SOFA meeting was,” said group member Harry. ”It’s just like asking when footy training is on.”
Other schools are not as tolerant. Izzi spent three years at a public, co-ed high school in the bayside area before moving to the selective Melbourne High. ”I had people threatening to stab me … verbal abuse in the bathrooms,” he said.
Homophobia is still entrenched in school cultures, experts say. ”We’ve had teachers who say, ‘There’s no bloody poofs in my rugby team’,” says Rachael Ward, of the Rainbow Network, for people working with same-sex-attracted youth.
She says an increase in homophobic bullying has been blamed on more students coming out in high school. But it is no excuse for complacency.
”Young people are coming out earlier and it’s more on the agenda, but we need mandated support at all schools, not just the progressive, inner-city ones.”
Northcote High School and Princes Hill Secondary College, in Melbourne’s inner-north, are two such ”progressive” schools with gay-straight alliances.
But the concept is spreading. The private Methodist Ladies College in Kew has a gay-straight alliance and Sacred Heart College in Kyneton has a ”Celebrating Diversity” group that includes same-sex-attracted students.
”While there are challenges within the official teachings of the [Catholic] Church, as a Mercy College, we agree that all students should be safe and that Christ’s message of salvation is for all,” says acting principal Brian Reed.
Other schools support students covertly. ”If you write about the group … other students are going to try and find out who’s in it,” said one principal.
For many of the SOFA boys, worrying about people ”finding out” is no longer a concern, and discussion flows from Gaga to gender stereotypes – a topic that prompts the group to try on their best ”man voices”.
”What do I say?” whines Izzi.
”Say I’m a big gay diva!” says Jordan. Izzi raises an eyebrow saucily. Then, dropping his voice to a bass grunt, ”My name’s Bruce. I like football.”
Chuckles all around.