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Gay Straight Alliance wants school bullying at Central Kitsap High addressed

Linsey Mayhew, left, director of youth programs at the Q Center in Silverdale, talks to Danielle Shaw and Alex McGinity Dec. 8 at a Gay Straight Alliance meeting. The student group at Central Kitsap High School wants to bring Mayhew in as a guest speaker to address issues on verbal harassment against gay youth.   - Kristin Okinaka/staff photo
Linsey Mayhew, left, director of youth programs at the Q Center in Silverdale, talks to Danielle Shaw and Alex McGinity Dec. 8 at a Gay Straight Alliance meeting. The student group at Central Kitsap High School wants to bring Mayhew in as a guest speaker to address issues on verbal harassment against gay youth.
— image credit: Kristin Okinaka/staff photo

Devin McGinnis of Central Kitsap High School is a typical student, if one doesn’t count the harassment he regularly endures in the halls of Central Kitsap High School.

“I get called a faggot,” said McGinnis, 16, a gay student who said he hears the word directed at him about once a week. “I really hate it. I usually ignore it.”

Students in Central Kitsap High School’s Gay Straight Alliance, a student group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight youth, wants to raise awareness about the intentional, and unintentional, verbal harassment gay students endure at school. Since the beginning of November, the group has been attempting to bring a guest speaker from the Q Center in Silverdale to give a presentation to students on bullying.

If approved by administrators, the students hope the speaker will make the presentation by February. The push to bring the speaker to campus started in early November.

If the presentation is approved, it won’t be mandatory for students, but will be left to teachers to decide if they have time in their class schedule and if it fits into the curriculum.

Senior Nicole Stearman, the group’s president, said Dec. 8 that bringing Linsey Mayhew, director of youth programs at the Q Center, to speak to other students is not going to eliminate bullying, but hopes it will bring attention to the ongoing problem and how it affects students.

“There’s a lot of ignorance in this school,” Stearman, 17, said. “People say a lot of hurtful things without meaning to.”

She frequently hears students say “that’s so gay,” without realizing that such a comment could alienate a student still coming to terms with their sexuality.

And the verbal harassment against gay youth not only affects them, but others, as well.

“Just hearing it hurts me,” said Danielle Shaw, 16, referring to when she hears the derogatory statements directed toward friends.

Being bullied is a common experience for young people who do not fit traditional roles at school, said Dr. Michael Corpolongo, a clinical psychologist at Kitsap Family Services in Bremerton.

“Anything that is out of the mainstream is found threatening,” Corpolongo said. “Because they don’t understand it, they persecute it.”

The group’s advisor, English teacher Susan Wachtman, is preparing the proposal for the guest speaker, requested by Principal Stephen Coons.

Last week Coons said he is following the district’s procedure for bringing a controversial issues guest speaker, adding that bringing a speaker from the Q Center may not necessarily be controversial. He then said Tuesday that Wachtman may no longer need to submit a written proposal, and that the two of them needed to discuss the matter further.

Coons said he is looking for ways to work with Wachtman to “make it happen.” Wachtman intends to get some type of proposal to him before Christmas break.

“Students would like to improve the atmosphere,” Wachtman said.

However, some are questioning the additional scrutiny the student group is facing.

JD Sweet, a history teacher at the school, has invited many guest speakers and said he has never had to write a proposal, though none of his speakers were deemed controversial. A variety of speakers have come to the school, including a Native American dance troop, a Khmer Rouge survivor and a speaker on human trafficking.

“They’re making Susan jump through these hoops,” Sweet said. “If the building is not doing anything to meet the needs of the students — and they aren’t doing it — then the students have the right to seek support from the community, to educate the student body.”

Even students said they can sense the reluctance of school administration.

“The topic, they’re wary about it,” Stearman said.

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