L.D. Bell student fought his school over forming a GSA, now he’s taking the LGBT community to task for not being more welcoming of youth
Despite a lack of help from anyone in his school’s administration, Miles Dean created a gay straight alliance at L.D. Bell High School in Hurst. And when his GSA remained small, he decided to organize with other area GSAs and created an organization called Queer Youth Coalition.
Then he began looking for community and found Oak Lawn. But he’s not entirely happy with what he found.
Dean, who turned 18 this week, spoke at the June 13 Senior Summit on LGBT aging issues in Dallas. While the Summit focused on seniors, its goal is to provide services for all marginalized groups including youth, and that opened the door to Dean.
“I hope Miles helps bring balance to the full continuum of aging in our community,” Summit organizer Cannon Flowers said of the teen’s participation in the summit. “He, too, is part of the marginalized.”
But what Dean had to say surprised many of the people attending the summit.
While GSAs are thriving in some schools in Dallas and Fort Worth, whose school systems have nondiscrimination policies, Dean said administrations in some suburban districts are actively working to prevent the groups from forming. When a group does manage to form, he added, those suburban school officials try to eliminate them as soon as possible.
Dean cited one example of a Tarrant County GSA that hung posters announcing a meeting in the wrong place and was promptly disbanded by its administration.
In his school, Dean said, finding a sponsor was an uphill battle. No teacher there openly identifies as LGBT and the sponsor they found was not actually a supporter — not at first.
Through the first year of its existence, L.D. Bell’s GSA met regularly and participants discussed issues important to young LGBT people, like bullying in school and family relationships. Dean said the group’s sponsor attended every meeting but said nothing. But he was listening.
The sponsor told students that although he agreed to be their sponsor, he disagreed with them because of his religious beliefs. But, “by the end of the year, after listening, he became an advocate,” Dean said.
Because the L.D. Bell group remained small, Dean formed QYC to interact with other GSAs. He said that organization has several goals.
Next, the group wants students at schools just forming GSAs to get some support and know their rights. He advised students to always stay on the good side of the administration, no matter how hard some made it, but to know they have a right to form. He was initially told his school didn’t have any room for more clubs, but when you’re dealing with someone like Dean, that’s an answer that just motivates him more.
“The school is legally obligated to let you meet,” he said.
Dean said the objection he’s heard time after time from principals is that the GSAs are just a place for teens to “hook up.” But if that were truly a serious concern, Dean questioned why no administration officials ever attended one of their discussions.
He urged students forming and leading GSAs in hostile school districts to “be brave.” He said he learned a good lesson in Texas politics as he spoke to school board members.
Turning to the community
When Dean didn’t feel welcomed by his school, he turned to the LGBT community for support.
And he’s not happy, folks. Things have to change.
He said Cedar Springs should be “home” — for everyone in the LGBT community. The bars are obviously not open to youth, he pointed out, then he criticized stores in the gayborhood for being too adult-oriented.
“It felt empty,” he said of area, “devoid of youth.”
Noting that an organizational event for the Harvey Milk Day celebration in Dallas was held at a bar, Dean pointed out that because he was still just 17 at the time, he — and other LGBT youngsters — couldn’t attend.
“If you want to include youth [in events, those events] shouldn’t be in bars,” Dean declared. “Hold a meeting to make signs somewhere that’s not age-restricted.”
Dean said he brought some younger students in his GSA to the Harvey Milk celebration that ended on the patio of another bar. Despite being billed as “family friendly,” the event included adult themes, people walking around in nothing more than underwear, and drinks all around. That, he said, freaked out some of the younger attendees.
Dean attended Pride festivities in Dallas last September and left there with mixed feelings, too.
Dean said he noticed lots of eyes on his group. But then he realized most of those eyes belonged to members of the community who were watching out for youth, not gawking at them. He said the group’s reception at the Festival in Lee Park last fall was a mixed bag, too, and he hopes this year more of the vendors at the festival will be aware of younger attendees who may be going to Pride for the first time.
On the plus side, he recalled, the folks operating one booth made sure the youth got bottled water, because the day was especially hot, something everyone in Dean’s group appreciated. But on the flip side of that coin, an insurance agent was handing out small Pride flags in exchange for an email address at another booth. He told the youths they had to be over 18 to get a flag. And at the HRC booth, to get a Pride sticker, they were told they had to make a donation.
Dean said there were lots more instances of welcome than not, but his introduction to the largest national LGBT organization was not positive and will remain with him and his group.
“Kids want to be involved,” he said.
Dean recently graduated from L.D. Bell and will be a freshman at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., in the fall. Although he’ll miss Pride in September, that doesn’t let the Dallas LGBT community off the hook. Other QYC students will be there, Dean said, and he’ll be watching from afar.
To contact Queer Youth Connection, email QYCDFW@gmail.com
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 19, 2015.