Students find Foothill a tolerant place for LGBT youth

Kienna Kulzer

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The majority of students said that Foothill is tolerant of LGBT students in an informal survey conducted by The Foothill Dragon Press. Photo illustration credit: Aysen Tan/The Foothill Dragon Press

The majority of students said that Foothill is tolerant of LGBT students in an informal survey conducted by The Foothill Dragon Press. Photo illustration credit: Aysen Tan/The Foothill Dragon Press

On May 8, North Carolina became the 31st state to put a constitutional ban on gay marriage, the next day Obama told America he believes same-sex couples should be able to get married, and on June 3, over 300 active Mormons in Utah joined in gay pride parade declaring their love and support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community.  

The United States as a whole is divided when it comes to opinions about sexuality and the rights of LGBT people. A poll conducted in late May by CNN/ORC International revealed that 54% of Americans approve of gay marriage while 42% oppose it.

At Foothill, opinions about the topic are also somewhat divided, although more students are supportive and accepting of their LGBT peers. The Dragon Press anonymously surveyed about 30 students from each grade about their views on sexuality. The biggest agreement was on the environment at Foothill: about 92% of the 115 people interviewed said that the school is very accepting and tolerant of LGBT students. Most also agreed that gay marriage should be legal in California; only 17% believe marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

An environment of tolerance is not always present in middle schools and high schools. Many LGBT students keep their sexuality a secret to avoid bullying or discrimination from their peers.

“The first time that I came out and told someone, it was in middle school, and they were my closest friend. Slowly I progressed to telling a couple more people, and then I told my parents and that was really hard. And then after that… I don’t care what other people think,” sophomore Levi Williams said.

Williams experienced bullying in middle school because he identifies himself as a pansexual, but said he has found Foothill to be very accepting about people who are different.

Senior Evan Skora and his boyfriend Matt Zinik have been together for about a year and a half. Skora said he doesn’t feel like they are treated differently by the staff or other students on campus because they are not a boy-girl couple. 

“I feel like it is a non-issue for most people. I know there are a few people out there who strongly disagree with my sexuality, but that doesn’t impede me feeling comfortable at school at all, and I don’t believe they would go to any lengths to mock me or physically assault me. That is just not how Foothill is. We are all very different and have many varying opinions, but we don’t exclude each other because of those differences,” he said. 

Although he admitted he hasn’t spent a lot of time on other Ventura Unified school campuses, Skora thinks that Foothill is much more accepting towards LGBT people than the other high schools.

“I know if I had gone to Buena or Ventura I would be a radically different kid because I don’t think I could have been as open and out as I am at those other schools,” he said.

Senior Taylor Kennepohl doesn’t like to label herself with a specific sexuality, but said she “definitely leans more towards the ladies.” She thinks Foothill’s accepting environment is due to its many academic-driven students and smaller population.

“At least from my experience because when there’s a really, really huge population of people, they have this sort of gang mentality of you know ‘that’s them and this is us.’ And I feel here at Foothill, because it’s so small, we get to know each other and who I’m dating doesn’t really factor into the equation,” she said.

Counselor Debbie Freeman thinks the general acceptance of LGBT people at Foothill is a wonderful thing, but wants to expand that acceptance to every view point. She said a student recently came to her office very upset because she opposes the idea of homosexuality and feels she can’t openly voice that opinion at school.

“I think that we should definitely teach that it [marriage] is a person’s civil rights, but there are still other students who feel differently because of how they were raised or their religion. They also need to feel safe to voice that opinion,” Freeman said.

Kennepohl also believes that every view deserves to be heard.

“I’ve had people at Foothill voice their opinions, which I’m not going to talk down about in any way because everyone has the right to their own opinion, even if sometimes it is… not so nice. I think everyone has the right to their opinion and I’m hoping that maybe I’m changing some of those opinions,” she said.

Although a large portion of Foothill’s population is accepting of LGBT people, there are still students who make rude remarks about someone’s sexuality. To Kennepohl, the best response is patience and kindness.

“If someone says something ignorant to me, that’s because they’re ignorant and they don’t know better. So if you meet that with some kind of anger, then they’re just going to get angry back. It’s just going to build animosity,” she said. “So if someone asks you a question, even if you consider it to be ignorant, you need to answer it calmly and you need to answer it in a way that helps them to better understand, you can’t just snap at them.”

What do you think?