Unheard Voices: LGBT students speak out

This article is the first in the Norse Code’s new ongoing series, Unheard Voices, which explores the lives of students who are not always given the opportunity to share their stories.

Roxanne Panas, News Editor

Disclaimer: Please note that the purpose of this article is not to expose or ridicule the identified and/or anonymous persons mentioned. The purpose of this article is to inform of the effects of homophobia and show the difficulties of those struggling with sexuality. It should also be noted that those cited in this article who have chosen to remain anonymous have reason to do so and it is the wish of those persons and the Norse Code that their choice be respected.

According to the Youth Suicide Prevention Program, 4.5 percent of youth in America identify as LGBT in high school. This statistic indicates that there are approximately 670,500 LGBT students attending high school in America. Although the LGBT teen community makes up a sizeable portion of the American high school population, the issues of these teens are often ignored.

It can be easy to discuss issues facing the “LGBT community” as a whole, but the discussion becomes much more real when we realize that these problems are closer than we think. The challenges being faced by strangers are the same issues being faced by students who walk the halls of NBW. LGBT students at NBW are among thousands of teens across the country who have stories to tell.
The following quotes, stories, and experiences were collected from real NBW students over the course of almost two months. This is a representation of what it is like to be part of the LGBT community at New Berlin West, as seen through the eyes of students.

Building Relationships with Family and Friends

Because many teens do not feel comfortable talking about their problems with friends or family, the needs of LGBT youth are often unvoiced. It is impossible to completely pin down the reason why teens are uncomfortable discussing issues pertaining to mental and emotional well-being, especially when those issues relate to sexuality. However, in many cases, a teen’s relationship with his or her family and friends is a significant contributor.final graphic

Half of the six individuals who shared their stories for this piece requested to remain anonymous when credited and therefore have had their names changed to protect their identities. Two of them said that the reason for their request was that they haven’t come out to their families, namely their parents.

“I haven’t told a whole lot of people besides my friends,” Jennifer, a student who identifies as demisexual* and whose name has been changed to protect her identity, stated on the topic of coming out. “They’ve all been supportive, but I’ve brought up the idea to my family, and they were not necessarily happy about it.” Jennifer said that she feels suppressed by her family and that she doesn’t feel comfortable expressing her sexuality at school.

“My brother doesn’t really get [my sexuality],” Jennifer said, “so his coping mechanism is to just make jokes about it and pretend it doesn’t exist… My cousin told me that I was confused, that I wasn’t thinking straight, that I was letting my emotions get the best of me, and that I needed proper guidance in my life.”

Without support from her family, Jennifer is hesitant to be open about her sexuality at home aside from on social media. Jennifer readily expressed that her sexuality is a constant source of anxiety.

Coming out is largely regarded as a main source of anxiety among members of the LGBT community, especially coming out to their families. According to Ellen Friedrichs, LGBT teen expert for About.com, “Homophobia, not being able to come out, fear of being outed, and bullying are just a few things that can cause anxiety.”

Another example of this is Joe, a student who identifies as gay and whose name has been changed to protect his identity. Joe has not come out to his parents or siblings. Some of the friends he’s told, he said, do not agree with his sexuality, and he suspects that his family might have a negative reaction as well. According to PFLAG NYC, half of gay males experience negative reactions from parents when they come out.

“I feel comfortable expressing [my sexuality] everywhere except home…I can’t be myself around [my family], which is weird, because you should be yourself around your family,” Joe stated. Joe also said that if he were straight, he wouldn’t feel uncomfortable expressing his sexuality at home or allowing his parents to meet a future significant other. However, being gay keeps him from doing so.

Lack of comfort in the home environment is the reality for many LGBT teens. Josh, another student whose name has been changed to protect his identity, also has trouble coming out as bisexual to his parents, although he is out to close friends. Josh said that the main reason he hasn’t told his parents is that he fears his father would not be supportive and doesn’t want to damage his close relationship with his mother. Josh often feels as though he has to change aspects of his personality to fit in with some of his friends or around unfamiliar groups of people.

“It really depends on who’s around me and who knows and who doesn’t know,” Josh said. “There are some places where I’m completely open about it and I’m completely myself….There are other times when I have to…dial it down and be more like a ‘man.’”

Along with Jennifer, Joe, and Josh, there are many more students at NBW who feel suppressed, anxious, and fearful about coming out to their family and friends. In coming out, teens risk severe judgement from society, their family, their friends, and their peers.

“I feel like society is really stopping people who are bi, or gay, or lesbian from coming out because it’s just such a controversial issue,”Josh said. “[I think] society should lessen up on those people and accept them for who they are.”


Although direct discrimination on the basis of sexuality may not be as common as it has been in the past, overt discrimination still affects LGBT youth. Senior Taylor Jeffery, who identifies as gay, recalled that there was a time before he accepted his sexuality when he was bullied every day for being gay. Jeffery said that even now, it can be difficult to make friends with straight peers.

homophobia grapic 2
All quotes used in this graphic are taken directly from interviews with real students who attended or are currently attending NBW.

“There are times when I find it hard to bond with other males platonically due to a stigma attached to gay men,” Jeffery stated. “For some reason, straight men feel that all gay men [are romantically interested in them] and are apparently too insecure with their own sexuality to ignore [that stereotype].”

According to one West graduate, bullying on the basis of sexuality may have been an issue at West in the past as well. Trevor Whittow, a member of the NBW class of 2015, shared that he didn’t feel comfortable expressing his sexuality at school until he got to college because he was concerned about being bullied. Now that Whittow is in college, he says he is more open about his sexuality and feels more comfortable dating because of the change in environment.

Whereas direct discrimination is an issue that affects many teens, the discrimination that LGBT students at West face on a daily basis is not always easily detectable to other students. Many people choose to bully others discretely by casually using slurs or showing subtle hostility rather than starting fist-fights in the hallways. Others may not even be aware that their actions could be interpreted as discrimination.

On the topic of discrimination of LGBT individuals, Jennifer expressed that although physical bullying may be a problem, she feels the worst way that someone can be bullied is through spontaneous, ignorant comments, especially coming from trusted adults or friends. For instance, Josh stated that after he came out to some of his male friends, they began to treat him differently.

“[Some of the friends I told] would just talk to me as if I was somebody who wasn’t like them, as if I was lower than [them],” Josh said. “It didn’t feel good at all.” Josh also shared that male friends would sometimes treat him with less respect and avoid physical contact with him after he came out to them.

Situations like these that involve subtle persecution can be just as hurtful as situations involving direct discrimination and are a possible reason that being a member of the LGBT community can be emotionally taxing for individuals, especially teens.

Transphobia as it Relates to Homophobia

The term ‘homophobia’ directly refers to the persecution of homosexual individuals, but in today’s world, it has become a blanket term that represents biphobia, transphobia, and other forms of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Transphobia is the official term that addresses persecution of transgender individuals.

At West, transphobia is seemingly rare in the school environment. Senior Marshall Ward, an openly transgender student, stated that although he hasn’t experienced a significant amount of direct discrimination from peers, there are still a great deal of struggles he encounters on a daily basis.

Transgender individuals face a majority of the same problems that other members of the LGBT community face, such as bullying, family disapproval, and coming out anxiety, but some issues are somewhat unique to the transgender community specifically. For example, because Ward previously identified as female before he came out as transgender, he sometimes feels uncomfortable shopping for men’s clothes. Also, using public restrooms can sometimes be problematic for Ward because of his gender identity.

Although Ward has received mostly positive reactions from close friends he has confided in, Ward said that he has lost friends due to his sexuality. Ward, who consented to being identified in this piece, has not come out as transgender to most of his family, but plans on doing so soon. He expects that when he eventually tells his family, the news will be well-received, but there may be some extent of negativity.

A 2012 survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality showed that 57 percent of individuals who expressed a transgender identity did not maintain all family bonds after coming out. This is one of the realities that transgender individuals must face at some point in their lives, along with the possibility of being harassed by peers, teachers, and friends.


As aforementioned, according to the Youth Suicide Prevention Program, 4.5 percent of youth in America identify as LGBT in high school. If our school fits the national statistic, there are approximately 35 LGBT high school students currently attending New Berlin West. These are people who walk the halls and interact with peers every day.

The people who shared their stories for this piece are real students who attend or have attended New Berlin West. For some of them, their sexuality is a source of anxiety, discomfort, or fear in their lives. This is the reality for a significant portion of the LGBT teen community. Because of this, many LGBT teens feel they cannot speak out about issues that affect them on a daily basis.

With the legalization of same-sex marriage in June of 2015, a monumental step was taken in decreasing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. However, the LGBT community is still facing problems that may not have definitive solutions. Although there is no one clear path to creating accepting environments for LGBT teens, Josh offers a place to start.

“Be more open…because people are people,” Josh states, “and they should be allowed to be themselves.”


*Demisexuality is a sexual orientation in which someone feels sexual attraction only to people with whom they share an emotional bond, according to the Demisexuality Resource Center.