Those of us who frequently browse the www.gayfresno.com site were recently informed of, and, likely, appalled by the events that took place at Tracy High School in Tracy, CA…..
Last Saturday, June 11, 2005, during their graduation commencement ceremonies members of the Westboro Baptist Church, an organization associated with the infamous Fred Phelps (who was a no-show I might add), staged a protest in opposition to the schools Gay-Straight Alliance club that meets on campus. The Westboro Baptist Church is known for its anti-gay, anti-American, anti-anything protests all over the country, and for its controversial website godhatesfags.com, and numerous other hate oriented websites. Their organization has protested a number of events that affect our community, including the funeral of Matthew Shepard in October of 1998. Gayfresno.com along with several individuals from the Fresno area including Robin McGehee did an excellent job of spreading word about Phelps organization in the valley. Word spread fast across the state regarding a counter protest being organized. News of the protest was even graciously posted on Margaret Cho’s Marriage Equality website www.loveisloveislove.com, which reaches people all over the state and the entire country. THE WORD WAS OUT! But why so much controversy over a club which provides a safe place for students to meet, support each other, to talk about issues related to sexual orientation, and work to end homophobia? I had the opportunity to discuss these very issues, and the recent protest with Justin Daley, the up and coming President of the GSA at West Tracy High School this week.
Nathan: Justin, thank you so much for taking a moment out of your schedule to talk about the protest that occurred last weekend in Tracy.
Justin: No problem. Thank you for taking an interest in what occurred.
Nathan: Just to clarify, what year will you be in school in fall?
Justin: I’ll be a starting my senior year.
Nathan: Obviously you’re active in the GSA at West Tracy High, how long has the club been established and what office will you hold in the 2005-2006 school year?
Justin: The club has been going for about a year now, since 2004. I will be president of the GSA at West Tracy for the 2005-2006 school year. I’m also currently training someone to take my place after I graduate.
Nathan: Approximately how many students would you say, on campus participate in the GSA, and what is the ratio of gay student to straight students?
Justin: We have close to 100 members, and on average, attendance at our meetings range from 20 to 40 people. The ratio of straight to gay students is about 4 to 1. Most of our members are heterosexual, and of the members about 60% are women and 40% are men.
Nathan: When and where do your meetings take place?
Justin: We meet after school hours. One of the teachers opens their class up to us.
Nathan: Let’s talk about the protest for a moment. Do you feel that it had a negative effect on the graduation ceremony, and if so, how?
Justin: No, I actually think it had more of a positive effect. I feel that it gave the GSA a good reputation and a lot of credibility in the school and in the community in general. There was certainly much more support that came out to support the GSA than the other side. Many parents, students, ex-students, teachers came up to me after the ceremony and offered affirming compliments.
Nathan: Do you see the protest, media presence, and exposure as a positive experience for the community of Tracy?
Justin: Absolutely. Tracy is a small conservative farm town. Issues like this are like mixing oil and water in such a small town, but at the same time, it’s promoting tolerance, and enlightening the community that there is definitely a gay presence in our city, and taking it a step further, that there is a gay presence among the youth in our community as well.
Nathan: Why is it important to you to be involved in a leadership role of a club like the GSA?
Justin: Leadership has always come naturally to me. I enjoy it, but I also realize that being an effective leader means working with the team, not forcing my own agenda. This is also an issue that hits home for me. I take it to heart. I also have the desire to get into politics down the road, and I see my experience in working with the GSA as a building block towards reaching that goal.
Nathan: Do you feel that the GSA on your campus has promoted tolerance towards LGBT students?
Justin: Definitely. Our group is very much like a family, and many young people don’t get that in their own homes. Some of the students who have come out as a result of the club depend on the club for support that they otherwise wouldn’t get in their own families.
Nathan: How active is your GSA within the school and the community?
Justin: We’ve been quite active within the school during the school year. For homecoming, and multi-cultural week we handed out literature. We’re also working on a prom for the coming school year that would include several schools in San Joaquin county, that would be gay friendly. And again, we do hold meetings weekly during the school year.
Nathan: What is your family’s reaction to your own homosexuality and of taking on such an important position such as you have with the GSA in the coming school year?
Justin: What if I said I wasn’t gay?
Nathan: Laughs…..but seriously….
Justin: My family is very supportive of my homosexuality and lifestyle; I guess they worry just as any parents would. We can’t deny that there is prejudice out there, and I guess there is some risk associated with being involved in a club that isn’t acceptable by all people’s standards. But, I’m standing up for what I believe in and that’s what’s most important to me.
Nathan: If there were one person you could have the chance to meet….someone who has inspired you, who would it be and why?
Justin: I would have to say Assemblyman Mark Leno (Democrat – San Francisco – 13th District). I admire his policy, the way he works and conducts himself, and isn’t shy about authoring and trying to pass legislation like AB 19, which would have legalized gay marriage in California. He’s not afraid to speak his mind and stand up for what he believes in.
Nathan: So, Justin, what’s next for you?
Justin: I’m actually going to be in and out of the country for the next 3 weeks doing several LGBT events. After that, I’ll be interning with Mark Leno in his internship program for students this summer.
Justin certainly is one determined, intelligent, and inspiring individual. His future in activism, equality and politics is undeniable. Just promise us all one thing, Justin. If you ever become governor of California…..be sure to tell Mr. Governor Schwarzenegger "thank you" for keeping your chair warm!
Written by: Nathan Christoffersen
Contact him at: [email protected]