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Gay students seek acceptance at East Chapel Hill High

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To all students, high school is a place to begin the development of dreams for the future. For gay students, however, it's another issue. Not only do students who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning have to hide their sexuality, but they have to hide their desires and their dreams as well.

"The issue is having to be quiet all the time," says one student from East Chapel Hill High School. "Other students say it's wrong to be in the closet, but the truth is that gays are afraid to come out for fear of not being accepted."

As a member of the school's Gay-Straight Alliance and as a gay student, she must face the harassment and verbal abuse that comes with being gay in high school. However, for those students who are "out of the closet" and have been shunned by their peers, seeking refuge with those who are like them seems like the best idea.

Some have found acceptance, particularly at the school's GSA, and some turn to teachers and counselors for advice and help. Many times high school teachers who are gay offer a haven for gay students.

But other teachers tend to be apathetic and can sometimes be hurtful rather than helpful. In fact, some teachers have been known to make jokes along with their students.

"Chances are that in every classroom there are students who identify as gay or bisexual or are questioning," says Mary Gratch, a school counselor at Chapel Hill High, and sponsor for the GSA.

In hopes of clearing the underlying issue raised in classrooms, East Chapel Hill High has recently started a teacher training program that's run by students, most of whom are members of the GSA. The teacher training was developed in hopes of educating teachers about homosexuality and the issues that come along with it.

"We're hoping it will have a snowball effect," says teacher Mindy Johnson, also the advisor for the GSA at East. In its second year, the training has gotten a positive response.

On another note, many schools are hoping to increase the awareness of the gay population through their GSAs. The Gay-Straight Alliance is there to inform people about what it is to be gay, while creating a more welcoming environment for those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning.

One would think that Chapel Hill, with its liberal reputation, wouldn't have problems accepting the gay community. "Chapel Hill schools are more accepting because Chapel Hill is more liberal," says Katie, a freshman at East.

But she's quickly countered by another student, a sophomore and member of the GSA, who says that she thinks the liberal reputation is a myth. "People consider it a liberal town, but there's always the harassment; that's more conservative," says Anne, a junior and member of the GSA at East. "It's not as accepting a climate as it used to be or pretends to be."

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