Danielle Murray on the disparities of support towards the LGBTQ+ communities in school
I hurried around all corners of my room, shoving as much of my clothes as possible out of the camera’s view. Coming home right from school, I was already nervous enough knowing that this was going to be the first time I’d ever conducted an interview. It was scheduled at 4:30 p.m. and as I glanced at the clock, it was already 4:23 p.m. Hurriedly, all of my nerves shot up at once as I rushed to my seat to start the Zoom meeting.
Since I still had time left, I tested both my camera and microphone settings, making sure that no technical difficulties would be in my way as I conducted the interview. After trouble-checking everything, I sat, staring at myself and critiquing my own posture and facial expressions. As I furrow my brows in anxiousness and frustration, in the corner of my eye, I saw two names, Danielle Murray and Sharra Gaston.
“You’d only see me in my office or yelling at kids for their hats and hoods.” Ms. Murray chuckled as we both nodded in agreement with each other’s statements. While many students know her as the assistant head of school at Boston Latin and the advisory lady on the first floor, fewer students know her for the active role she plays in the LGBTQ+ community.
“I always think of my LGBTQ activism starting in college. I went to Boston College which is a big catholic school. It was a challenging time to be out back in the mid-1900s. There weren’t really supportive laws in many places.” Ms. Murray reminisced as she recalled her own sets of challenges as a member of the LGBTQ+ community in the school system. Unfortunately, Ms. Murray was not the only one to face hardships when it came to her identity. Throughout history within America, minority groups such as the LGBTQ+ community have been undermined yet many of its members have fought for the rights and representations that we now have today. For example, Sharra Gaston from BPS’ Office of Communication details that Boston Public Schools has “tons of policies in place” and are equipped with “a really amazing office of equity” for the LGBTQ+ community. However, such policies aren’t the finisher to the LGBTQ+ community’s challenges as many youths continue to struggle with their identities today, primarily due to their educational environments because that’s where many children spend a majority of their days.
“There was a lot of pushback and I kinda felt like being in that environment almost made me have to be an activist. The education piece became really tied into me on that.” However, with many adults such as Ms. Murray, who have stepped up to educate about the LGBTQ+ community, schools may become a new safe space for students to express themselves freely. “Working with students is my biggest joy and my biggest passion”. Ms. Murray exclaimed with her face lighting up to the point where you could sense her cheeriness through the computer screen.
It was heartwarming, to know that adults, such as Ms. Murray, existed to help people (including myself) to be their best selves. Nevertheless, many teenagers and children find that there are major disparities in their resources. While some are fortunate to have adults to talk to and a solid community within their schools, others find themselves isolated and unable to talk to anyone. “When a kid is one of the only kids who are out in school, there’s certainly a feeling of isolation and you also risk that there’s a single narrative in the school about what it’s like to be LGBTQ+ because there’s only one kid living and representing it. And if you don’t connect with that, it’s hard to see yourself come out as well. You can never compare identity stories but oftentimes being LGBTQ+ is an invisible minority and most folks have a real sense of isolation until they start seeing people like them around.” She also explains that kids “want to be seen and affirmed” and if not in school, then they’ll start searching for validation elsewhere which “might not always be the safest best option for them.”
How does Ms. Murray approach such a complex problem in today’s educational system? “Working with kids too, it reels in that relationship building that I think is the most important. Not only for the students but then as we work to educate people in our school community about what it’s like to be an LGBTQ student there and what were the concerns that folks have and what we brought to the community.” Ms. Murray believes that one of the ways we can support people, not only students but adults as well, is to build relationships and educate others about the community. A majority of prejudice towards the LGBTQ+ community is the amount of misinformation that is spread about its people. “What’s changed is the amount of legislation, laws, and policies which have to change my dynamic in conversations to like ‘this would be really great’ to ‘this is what we have to do’. In both cases, I still want to help you figure out how to do it… I work with many colleges who are not able to have those conversations safely.”
“You do see things around suicidal rates and dropout rates. I think it’s so important to remember that none of that is on the subject of being LGBTQ. Those are all products of being in non-supportive environments. When trans kids are in supportive environments, they have the exact same statistical outcomes as everybody else.” If we give LGBTQ+ people the validation they need and deserve, they can strive as well as anyone else and if we educate adults about the community, then they are able to understand their students and help them with their feelings of isolation to make sure they don’t stray off into the wrong path.
At about thirty minutes into the interview, our time together was almost up as the time limit for Zoom Meetings could only be for forty minutes maximum. A meeting that had spawned butterflies in my stomach, had suddenly come to a close and I felt as if a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. The knot in my stomach was untwisted yet I couldn’t help but feel a little sad that the meeting had to come to an abrupt end, right when all three of us were about to engage in another hearty discussion. While I had only met Ms. Murray and Sharra Gaston for a short period after school, they had undoubtedly ensured my faith in the future of schooling and the fate of the LGBTQ+ community. After our last few waves, Ms. Murray and Sharra Gaston left one by one until I was left to stare at myself in the Zoom call with only 2 minutes remaining. Registering what had just happened, I took a deep breath before finally leaving the call too.