During elective on Jan. 12, the Matthews Library filled with high schoolers and faculty while English teacher Jason Hinojosa and six students who identify as part of the queer community sat at the front of the room. The panelists discussed a series of topics ranging from how they came to terms with their sexuality or gender identity to how they think allies can help the queer community.
Hinojosa moderated the Country Day Queer Voices panel. For the first time, the panel featured students from the Country Day community rather than members from the Sacramento LGBT Community Center.
The panelists spanned all four grades: seniors Angela McCurdy and Lilah Shorey, juniors Liz Cook and Sage Spradlin, sophomore E Robinson and freshman Ash LaPlaca.
While each panelist spoke on their unique experience, there were also consistent themes that spread across many of the speakers.
Multiple panelists spoke about the importance of educating yourself on the queer community, especially if you have queer friends. They said a combination of using the internet and consulting queer friends is ideal for a more accurate understanding of the queer community while avoiding overwhelming queer individuals with questions. The panelists emphasized that making misjudgments or accidentally misgendering someone isn’t a big deal when someone is putting effort into understanding the members of the queer community.
Many of the panelists also addressed the harm that homophobic and transphobic jokes or appearence-based assumptions that may seem insignificant can have on the queer community.
The panelists also highlighted the importance of friends, and how your true friends will support you when you come out while toxic friends need to be cut off.
Spradlin, a panelist who identifies as bisexual, said the meeting went well.
“I felt like it was a really productive conversation,” she said. “I really appreciated that we were able to do something like this just to start a conversation about it. That’s something that hasn’t really been done at Country Day in the past, at least not to this degree.”
During the panel, Hinojosa asked the panelists what their story coming out was. Spradlin had a unique take compared to other panelists. She said she didn’t believe in coming out.
“Straight people don’t have to tell everyone that they’re straight,” she said. “I shouldn’t have to announce that I’m bisexual.”
Spradlin said speaking on the panel was both nerve wracking and powerful.
“I was sweating violently the whole time. But overall, it was really nice and almost empowering to just go up and be able to talk about these things in a way I haven’t had an opportunity to talk about them before.”
Like Spradlin, McCurdy said speaking in front of so many people at once was nerve wracking.
“I’m better at speaking to people one-on-one,” she said.
McCurdy hopes students who listened to the panel will know the Gay Straight Alliance, a club in the high schoool, is welcoming to everyone.
“It doesn’t matter your gender or your sexuality. Anyone can support.”
Beyond that, McCurdy said an important takeaway is for people to use their voice and speak about issues they are passionate about.
Senior Hailey Fesai, who joined the Gay-Straight Alliance club this year, had multiple friends on the panel, including McCurdy, Spradlin and Shorey.
“In these panels, we’re able to learn how to be more accepting, and I think in the end that’s the goal,” she said.
“It’s important to make this more of the norm,” she said. “It’s important for all people to feel like they can be who they want to be.”
Hinojosa said he thought the panel went well.
“These panelists were really articulate. It felt real to me.”
One thing that initially surprised Hinojosa was there were fewer specific stories told by the panelists than he originally expected, but he said he realized it made sense as members of the Country Day Community were already familiar with many of the panelists. There was less need to contextualize, as compared to when the school invited guests from the Sacramento LGBT Community Center.
How the panel will be conducted in the future is up in the air. Both the speakers from the Sacramento LGBT Community Center and the Country Day community have been powerful, Hinojosa said.
“I want to see the student response and the administrative response, and how people felt like it went,” he said.
Spradlin said she hopes the school will continue to hold similar events.
“I really hope everyone listened to the things that were said, and really absorbed them,” she said. “And to anyone who was angry or upset about it, to take this moment to reflect on why they’re irritated.”
— By Ethan Monasa