LGBTQ+ Climate at Solon High School


A group of teenagers, drawn by SHS student Kiera Hale

Hannah Levenson, Feature Editor

People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and other identities that fall under the queer spectrum are everywhere. They exist, despite the fact that they may live in a non-accepting environment, where their identities have to be hidden. There is no scientific reason why a person might be on the queer spectrum, we just know it is a natural behavior that occurs in at least 1,500 animal species, including humans.

Oftentimes, LGBTQ+ people are overlooked by society because of the sensitive nature concerning LGBTQ+ individuals. Unlike race, age and some other groups, being LGBTQ+ is something that isn’t always shown in physical characteristics or can be hidden away in the mind by LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+. This phenomenon is often called the invisible minority.

With 330.5 million people living in the US, it is estimated that 4.5% of the population is LGBTQ+. A survey conducted by Solon High School (SHS) administration during the second semester of the 2019-2020 school year found that around 17% of SHS students identified themselves as a part of the LGBTQ+ community. 

A more recent anonymous survey, done during the 2020-2021 school year, found more information to further expand on homophobia and trans-phobia at SHS. The survey was answered by 265 students of the total 1,577 at SHS. The survey found that 61.9% of the respondents have heard or seen homophobic & trans-phobic slurs used at SHS.  They were heard in hallways, classrooms, locker rooms and on SHS students’ social media accounts.

“That’s gay,” “That’s sus,” “homos,” “queer,” “d*ke,” “tr*nny” and most notably, “f*ggot” were slurs that people have heard at SHS or on SHS students’ social media. 

The most popular homophobic slur, f*ggot, has a long and complex history. Originally, it was meant to refer to heretics, individuals who diverted from Catholic teachings, who carried a bundle of sticks to fuel the fire they would be burned in, as well as some other unsettling events. Gay people were often subjected to this burning, hence why it became a slur used against the LGBTQ+ community. In more recent history, even in current times, it is often the word heard frequently during hate crimes.

These slurs have become normalized and used in our society, both by LGBTQ+ people and by cisgender-heterosexual people. It has become a part of popular culture, but just like ethnic slurs, racial slurs, neuro- divergent slurs, sexist slurs and other slurs. Respondents in the more recent survey said they used homophobic and trans-phobic slurs to be funny and to tease others.

Yars Bliznets, a freshman at SHS, says he is personally not offended by the slurs but says this is because the slurs aren’t being used against him.

“I’m just the kind of person that doesn’t get offended by anything,” Bliznets said. “I do know that there are people in this school and just in general who are a part of the LGBTQ community and I respect that. I feel like you shouldn’t say those words at all but especially not to someone who is sensitive.” 

Some students in the more recent survey said that the slurs did have an effect on themselves or feared the effects it has on their peers. One student stated, “There is a lot people who use them openly and frequently, mostly without realizing the effect it can have on people who really are struggling with their identity or that are LGBTQ+.”

It is not just slurs that might be thrown around casually, as 12 out of 60 LGBTQ+ students in the more recent survey had said they had been harassed at SHS for being gay or transgender in addition to slurs. One person in the survey stated that male students would surround the student by their locker and refuse to move because they were in an out LGBTQ+ relationship.

Seven individuals admitted to harassing people for being LGBTQ+. On the other hand, LGBTQ+ students said they feel welcomed at SHS. Personal experiences from both LGBTQ+ individuals and cisgender-heterosexual people can perhaps explain why the respondents were unable to rank acceptance at SHS at a majority. Neither groups of people leaned towards one answer over another.

In the more recent survey, written response sections often referred to heterosexual teenage males as the perpetrators of the usage of slurs and harassment. A possible reason why this is so is because of toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity is the cultural concept of manliness that glorifies certain traits such as stoicism, strength, and dominance, that often leads to social maladaptive behavior and can be harmful to mental health. Because of this, men often struggle with internalized homophobia or mental health problems that go unnoticed.

SHS freshman Abbi Hrich thinks she is unsure of what a solution is when it comes to mental health and what should be done about harassment. Hrich says she has seen slurs used in a classroom setting, but that it was ignored by the teacher.

“Should the teachers be stepping up or should the students just shut up…?” Hrich said in regards to how slurs should be dealt with in classroom settings.

“How do we fix this? I think that grey area is where kids suffer the most with like mental health issues because there is no one stepping in to stop [the slurs], yet it feels so hurtful to [LGBTQ+] individuals,” Hrich said. She also said  that she feels some students might be upset because they feel like no one is intervening when incidents of homophobia may happen.

Hrich also said she worries that LGBTQ+ individuals may feel like they aren’t worthy because their non-LGBTQ+ peers and SHS staff aren’t always taking a stand against homophobia and trans-phobia. Hrich said that this is not necessarily any one person’s fault but rather that LGBTQ+ issues are frequently overlooked, even when talking about social justice issues. 

When homophobia and trans-phobia are called out, many take it as personally offensive to be called homophobic or trans-phobic. However, being called out for being discriminatory can be a wake up call for people. In the written response sections of the more recent survey, a few people said that being called out on their actions led them to become an ally for the LGBTQ+ community. One student stated that by they used to use stereotyping and microaggressions against the LGBTQ+ community before becoming more informed about what it means to be LGBTQ+ and the discrimination the community faces.

One individual in the survey states, “I wasn’t really nice back then,” in regards to why they used homophobic and trans-phobic language. Others in the survey said that learning about what exactly is homophobia and trans-phobia is what led themselves to stop using slurs and learn more about what it means to be an ally.

Non-LGBTQ+ individuals often forget that despite liking the opposite gender and being born in the right body, there are not many differences between themselves and LGBTQ+ people. Differences between LGBTQ+ and Cisgender-Heterosexual people are often the result of a society that favors gender and sexuality norms.

It is often not recognized this happens, but it can be things such as watching a romance movie where we watch a girl and guy fall in love in high school, talking about a crush, men’s  versus women’s clothing. These are experiences that enforce the cisgender-hetero-normative ideas within society. And while none of these things are wrong, they do make it harder to see LGBTQ+ people as normal because they aren’t represented as often, despite the fact that roughly one in five individuals at SHS identify as LGBTQ+. Even with increasing LGBTQ+ representation in music, television, films and books, it is debatable whether or not they accurately portray what it is like to be gay or transgender, much less, become mainstream.

LGBTQ+ people often have to hide away their identities in fear of being rejected by their families, friends, peers at school or work and other types of relationships. Many LGBTQ+ people would face discrimination for being ‘out’ in certain settings such as possibly from friends, work, school, a religious community, in their own families and even the government. It is also important to remember because we live in a cisgender-hetero-normative society, LGBTQ+ people have to come out in order to distinguish themselves from these expectations. Coming out however, is a personal choice that is for the individual to make, no one else.

LGBTQ+ students, as well as staff, at SHS are protected under several board policies, in addition it is stated in the handbook that gender or sexuality discrimination will lead to consequences. However, rules do not prevent students from being homophobic or trans-phobic. 

SHS administration recognizes there is a problem with homophobia and trans-phobia at the school. Principal Erin Short said that in addition to consequences such as out-of-school suspensions for harassment and hate speech, there are upcoming diversity and inclusion lessons hoping to broaden students’ knowledge of LGBTQ+ acceptance.

“One of our PTA lessons this year for second semester is about the LGBTQ+ community,” Short said. Short goes on to explain that while the school has done some work for acceptance, there is more that could be done.

SHS students can instead utilize resources that already exist. SHS has a Gay-Straight Alliance club (GSA) that provides a welcoming atmosphere for students of both groups that generally discuss issues such as acceptance, queer history, and sometimes even have guest speakers such as Robert Rivera, an openly gay history teacher at SHS. 

“I’ve spoken to the GSA every year for the last few years,” Rivera said, referring to his story about how he got married to his husband the same day gay marriage was legalized in every US state under Obergefell v. Hodges

“I think Solon is far better [in regards to LGBTQ+ acceptance] than the vast majority of public schools in the country,” Rivera said. He also said that he has heard stories about discrimination from his LGBTQ+ students and explains that the climate regarding acceptance towards LGBTQ+ students and teachers has gotten better since his first time working at SHS in the late 90’s. 

Both students in the survey, Rivera and Short agree that there is more to be done for LGBTQ+ acceptance at SHS. While change cannot happen overnight, the students, Rivera and Short believe the LGBTQ+ climate at SHS is improving as time goes on.