We’re not there yet.
For the past month, I have had the opportunity to write a feature on some of the diverse relationships in my school. The idea sparked after Mr. Conner ignited a fire under the staff and challenged us to write for the middle–the kids that are often seen as average yet make up the vast majority of the student body. So, the idea came to me to feature modern romantic relationships in my school that don’t fit into the stereotypical dating scene. The articled explored interracial, inter-religious and LGBT relationships and how their experiences differ from the typical, storybook romance.
I’ll be honest though, when I first pitched the idea, I thought of it nothing more than an interesting take on a common occurrence in high school (dating); however, I was surprised to find my “middler” story was actually an example that there is still much improvement to be made in society and that we’re far from the Utopian idea that we’ve fooled ourselves into believing.
Meet Emily Plummer and Anna Kemper:
These two sophomores were featured in my piece as the sole LGBT couple. The two have been dating for more than a year and are a lesbian couple. I remember going to interview Emily and Anna with the intention of making it quick, for I had to meet up with faculty from Ohio University. Even when I initiated the conversation, I had the idea that I was going to get brief quotes that were merely surface level since they were sophomores and student interviews are rarely very thought-provoking.
I was wrong.
I left that interview taken back and slightly disgusted. Not because what they said was rude, but because I knew everything they said was true. Anna was quoted saying her family uses ‘gay’ as a curse-word, and that the word, rather than being used to describe one’s sexual orientation, was instead being used to degrade people. Emily said “people hate me more” when discussing the reaction she got from her classmates when talking about her relationship with Anna. These girls are at most 16 years old. They, along with many other teens around the nation, are growing up and being told that who they are is wrong and “annoying.”
Meet the eight couples that refused to be in my article:
Like I said, when I first dreamt up this idea, I had the naive idea that everybody would say yes and that everybody would love the idea and that everybody would be itching to showcase their modern relationships.
Again, I was wrong.
Eight couples told me they didn’t want their names printed in this story. I was dumped over the phone, in text messages, in GroupMe, in person, through a third party (and not gonna lie, it was a small shot to my self esteem). At first I shook it off. I thought to myself, ‘So what if one couple says no, there are plenty more out there.’
For the first time I was right. There were plenty more couples out there. But they said no too.
I couldn’t understand why they were so against the idea of being featured. The entire article was meant to showcase and nearly praise the diversity. It was meant to highlight these couples not shame them. But then I realized it. There was something telling them not to do the story, something telling them it was either embarrassing or dangerous to have their names printed for the entire school to see. Let me get one thing straight, I fully support their decisions not to be featured. The entire story was to make them feel more comfortable about who they were dating and show the school that this is a good thing, but if they didn’t want to do it, I didn’t ask twice. With that being said, they didn’t want to do it. For some, it was because their parents may not have known about their relationships, and they didn’t want to be ousted. But for many, they turned me down because they didn’t want to have the label ‘interracial’ ‘inter-religious’ or ‘LGBT’ tacked onto their names and were worried about how they would be perceived.
We as a society hold this falsehood that everyone is treated as equals. We hold this falsehood that we’ve finally achieved Martin’s dream of people not being judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. We hold this falsehood that millennials and the generation after them are completely accepting and have no prejudices towards minority groups.
We are wrong.
The fact that so many students felt uncomfortable with being in the January edition of The Chronicle, a high school newspaper produced in Mason, Ohio, shows that society is still uncomfortable with seeing these relationships on a production of NBC news shown across the United States of America. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve made impressive strides since that address in 1963, but we’re not done progressing.
The debate on same-sex marriage and laws about which bathroom transgender students should use and court cases about businesses discriminating against the LGBT community and the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight against Islamophobia and the Women’s March for equality and the controversy surrounding immigrants are not just politics. They’re not just policies. They’re people’s lives. There are people fighting everyday for equality. There are people fighting everyday to be able to love freely. There are people fighting everyday to be able to hang out with who they want to hang out with. And, this country’s got a whole lot of work to do.
In the wise words of Tina Broaddrick, “It’s not the 60s, but it’s also not what you think it is.”