“Absolutely discrimination affects mental health,” Anne Gibbs, high school social worker, said.
Gibbs added, “Mental health issues are sometimes caused by situational stressors, but once we navigate the situation, and we come out the other side, the pain can wain over time. If the stressor is something like being a part of a minority community, then that doesn’t go away or lessen over time. You’re left always trying to navigate peace as well as mental health.”
Drama teacher Todd Schaefer, who identifies as gay, said about whether being part of the LGBT+ community affected his mental health, “Currently, no, but when I was younger, for sure. My situation and the time in which I grew up, I couldn’t be my authentic self, not in high school and not even in college. It does affect you, being forced into the closet and living a dual life, and we’re not intended to live in two different realities. I’m still unpacking and dealing with the repercussions of being in the closet well into my 40s, almost 50s.”
High school is noted as one of the most stressful times in a teen’s life and mental health resources are sometimes a necessity.
“School schedule, homework, changing relationships with parents/caregivers, being a little kid to growing into an adult. Just navigating change and how relationships work,” said Gibbs when asked about stressors.
These external factors weighing on individuals are already difficult enough and adding on internal turmoil revolving around one’s identity can be even harder.
Melissa Gardner, new to the school as an instructional aid, as well as the head women’s lacrosse coach, identifies as a lesbian and wants to do better for LGBT+ students.
“It was very difficult trying to find your place where you fit and not being labeled as such. It was hard in college, so I can see how it’s hard in high school.” Gardner added, “I was very lucky to have supportive parents. Hundred percent supportive people help, or guardians and family members or whoever you trust, to have them look at you and just want you to be happy and not care about how you identify. It’s so big. Being happy is the top priority.”
As widely understood as the subject of discrimination is, there’s nuance in how adults, more specifically teachers and administration, see best to offer their support.
“The administration doesn’t prioritize our community as much as they should. Our mental health resources need to be (accessible/inclusive and the people providing them) need to be more educated about LGBT+ people’s issues,” senior Izzy Gunning, who identifies as pansexual/ queer and non-binary, said. They added, “It shouldn’t be left up to the students to educate the people who are supposed to be helping us.”
“From the teacher’s perspective we can always do better. Remembering to use proper pronouns and seeing where their mental health lies and opening conversations,” Gardner said, adding, “Some gender neutral bathrooms exist, and we could do with having more. It would take pressure off of kids who are in the middle of transition and it’s difficult for students to find their place.”
“As a teacher, I bring the conversation of social justice to my classroom, to our scripts and plays, not just for my LGBT+ students but the whole class and community,” Schaefer said, adding, “Not taking full credit, but my honesty has hopefully helped other people around me who need it. The culture of the school has been open and I feel like I was at the beginning of that. If I’m authentic then kids can be authentic here. They can talk their truth.”
This is Zeke La Mantia’s third year on with Echo publications. He has earned multiple awards for his photographic contributions.