Silenced through their fears

Whispers follow them down the hallway, stares linger too long, slurs muttered as they pass. The words cut, head hung low and pace sped up. A proud member of the LGBTQ community–until they walk the halls surrounded by peers who simply don’t understand. Don’t understand what they have gone through, what they have to face, or who they are.


Junior Alex started discovering their identity in middle school.They felt confused on why, unlike their friends, they didn’t have the same intimate feelings that everyone else was having, and they didn’t feel drawn to any gender. 


“I did a lot of research… looking at different identities, trying to figure out who I was, and aromantic and asexual just kind of fit in all aspects,” Alex said. “Then the gender thing was harder. I have never really felt strongly towards any gender. I just don’t feel like I’m a girl or a boy or non-binary. So then my one friend, they found out they were agender, so I did some research again and I was like, ‘that fits’.”


By the time they got to high school, they wanted a space where they could be themselves, where they could be safe and talk to others that had been through a similar path as they had; they found that safe haven at Spectrum Club. 


“It’s helped me feel more comfortable with myself, with my identity. It’s helped me feel more comfortable making friends too. I was really shy for a while and now I’m actually branching out and I just have a safer space to be,” Alex said. 


However, for students like Henry, there has never been a specific accepting community like there was for Alex. Instead, Henry felt pressured to change certain aspects of himself to fit in with his peers, some who were less than understanding. 


“Girls always seemed to be more accepting and more liking of my personality and how I acted when straight stereotype guys were more, rejecting of it and pushed it to the side. So I would lie and act differently around [those groups]. So like if I was ever put in a group project with a group of all guys, I would now act how I would act around my friends and I would act differently to fit in more and I’d stay quiet and intentionally lower my voice to not seem as ‘gay’,” Henry said. 


While Henry himself has never been specifically targeted, the fear of it still hangs over his head, as he sees the treatments of other students. 


“There’s definitely still the fear of lashback, like in the hallways I hear kids call other kids f—–, in a derogatory way, and it kind of reminds you that not everyone is accepting of who you are,” Henry said. “It’s a constant reminder that you are not always safe to express who you are here sometimes, because you don’t know who’s listening, and you don’t know who could take that the wrong way.” 


Despite not being a part of Spectrum Club, Henry still surrounds himself with accepting friends, and people who give him a sense of comfort through shared experiences. 


“I feel like when people say the gay bubble is a thing, it kind of is. People who are part of the LGBTQ community do generally attract friends who are also part of the LGBTQ community. Having friends that are also sharing similar experiences as you is nice to have. There are a lot of people at our school who are openly LGBTQ and knowing that other people are also openly part of the community is nice because you know, there’s someone you can talk to about it if you need to,” Henry said. 


German teacher Stephanie Mignone is also the adviser of Spectrum Club. She has found that for some students, knowing that there is a community at Spectrum Club is comforting, even if they don’t attend the meetings or events–just knowing that it’s there. 


“So to come to Wando and see that, ‘oh wow, there are other people who are in this situation.’ And I firmly believe that having the publicity for [Spectrum Club] helps to create a school culture that is healthier for everybody and more welcoming to LGBTQ kids,” Mignone said. “Even if you don’t come, you know, it’s there. You know it’s there, and you know a teacher runs it, and it was approved, and it happens every week, and you see the signs for it.”


Mignone is not only the sponsor of the Spectrum Club today, but was the founding sponsor as well. Mignone started the club in 2010, and the club is personal to Mignone as she first helped start it as a way to support her son. 


“There had maybe been the beginnings of a GSA at the old Wando, but nothing really came of it. The real impetus was my son who in his sophomore year, came out as trans to us as his parents and we were supportive from the beginning,” Mignone said.


Sabian Mignone came out as transgender to to friends and family; It was no easy feat for him and he eventually realized he needed support. Thus, the club was made as a space for him and other students going through similar things. Mignone said that It was only reasonable for her to be the club’s sponsor. And eventually, Sabian took a bold step to come out to the entire school with a guest editorial in 2011.


“He had come out to various friends and got tired of trying to remember who knew and who didn’t. So basically, he was on the Tribal Tribune, and he came out to the entire school through the paper. Immediately, he got afraid, and recognized that he needed support. His friends realized he needed support. They needed support too. So, Wando gathered around us, and showed its very best self. We decided we needed a GSA and they asked me to be a faculty sponsor. And so, I had to be, and he was the first founding president,” Mignone said. 


As Wando has changed over the years, so has the Spectrum club: from the type of members, to the activities the club does.


“Some years it’s huge, some years smaller. Some years they have been more focused on events outside of Wando. Some years I’ve had kids who really wanted to do advocacy, who wanted to get more of an education on LGBTQ history or things like that. One year we had people who would take turns telling their stories,” Mignone said. “Other years people just wanted to hang out with each other and forget about the politics or what was happening at Wando, and they just wanted to have a place where they could hang out together and not have to worry about anything else. The interest and the emphasis changes.The kids can change.”


Mignone has also found it notable that as the years have passed, students’ knowledge of identities has increased and they have become comfortable expressing themselves and who they are. 


“As the knowledge of identities grows more, students who identify as non-binary or transgender or pan romantic, etc… I feel like that’s reflected in the general culture, as information or knowledge or ideas get put out there our students bring them in here,” Mignone said. 


Sociology and psychology teacher Donna Moore is the co-sponsor of the Spectrum Club. Being a member of the LGBTQ community, Moore understands the struggles that queer students have faced as she has faced those struggles as well, allowing her to be a pillar of support for any student that needs it.   


“I feel as an adult now, it’s my responsibility to become that support, because I am the adult and because I am in a much more settled place in my life, I have the emotional bandwidth to be there for other people who need that,” Moore said. “Either coming to terms with themselves or not knowing how others will react, I would say that there are other people who have been where you are, and there are other people, both your peers and adults, who know what that feels like, and you can find those people, and rely on those people. There’s always someone you can talk to if you need to talk.”


Alex finds that while their identity is as much a part of them as anything else is, it still has majorly impacted who they are as a person, through their level of understanding and acceptance of others.


“I don’t really know how to describe it. It’s more of a feeling. Like, yeah, I am who I am. And it’s not like, it’s not defined by that, but that is just a bit in the mixing pot. Yeah, it’s in there and I can’t take it out, but it’s not the only thing in there,” Alex said. “It’s made me very accepting and open-minded of many different things. It’s none of my business… It’s made me more respectful, more open-minded to different people, and different communities in the world.


According to Alex, the negative feedback they and other members of the community have gotten is uncalled for, as it doesn’t affect their life and they should stop trying to restrict things that don’t involve them. 


“It’s not about them. It’s not affecting their lives in any way. If they don’t believe in gay marriage, then they don’t have to get gay married. It’s not about them. They need to stop being so selfish,” Alex said. 


Because of the environment Henry grew up in, at first it was hard to accept his sexuality. Instead he wanted to live the life that he thought was ‘normal’ and ‘right’.


“When coming to terms with my sexuality, I did not want to be gay. There were many times where I cried or had panic attacks and wanted to throw up over the thought of accepting that I was gay. I told myself I wanted to like girls so bad,” Henry said. “I wanted to grow up and get married and have kids, and like I created this false sense of what I wanted for myself to make myself feel better to fit the societal norm. So there was no part of me that came to terms with it wanting to accept that it was gay, but it was only until I accepted the fact that I became more accepting of myself and open with it.”


Once Henry became comfortable with his sexuality, he decided that he was going to not let fear of things that he couldn’t control rule his life. He would allow himself to be the way he wanted. 


“I’m not gonna guide myself for the rest of high school and say I’m straight. I’m gonna give myself a high school experience of being my authentic self… I want my high school experience to be what I want it to be. [Social media] has made it more accepting because it’s more globalized versus like us living in South Carolina where it’s just kind of a different mindset,” Henry said. “Getting to see a lot of other people in my similar situation and getting to see them like thrive and be happy in their situation and just stop caring about what other people think at that point”


Acceptance has been a struggle for many adolescent members of the LGBTQ community, both internally and with acceptance from others. Sabian Mignone struggled with own identity, however put on a brave face, and expressed his emotions publicly to the whole school. As Sabian Mignone wrote in his letter to his past identity–his coming out letter to the school in the March 2011 issue of the Tribal Tribune:


“So, little boy, you lost child, listen well. Though your past is painful, your present is difficult, and your future is uncertain, you can always lean on the people around you. It’s okay to cry sometimes. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. And never, ever, let anybody tell you to be somebody you are not. Follow this advice, and any other wisdom you may come across and maybe, someday, you and I will be a good man.”