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DETROIT – Nkenge Browner knows how desperately a gay-straight alliance is needed in Northern High School. She found out the hard way – by trying to start one, something that didn’t sit well with her principal.
“I got signatures from gay and straight students who thought that it would be a good idea and he lost them,” said Browner, 18. “And whenever I tried to meet with him he wouldn’t meet with me, and eventually the teacher who was backing me changed her mind.”
The effort caused so much commotion that Browner eventually left Northern at the end of her junior year.
“My principal and my father thought it would be better for me so my dad took me out,” she said. “The principal, Dr. Sammy Harris, said that me trying to start the GSA was the reason my GPA fell and it was hurting me academically.”
As she finishes her senior year via home schooling, Browner still can’t help thinking about a GSA and what it would have done at Northern.
“I think it would have made people aware,” she said. “There were a lot of straight students … most of the signatures I got were from straight students and I think it would have made the straight students who supported us feel comfortable that they could support us and not be gay, that it was ok to be an ally.”
And as she knows all too well, gay and lesbian kids at Northern need allies. While Browner says she didn’t lose any friends when she came out, there were incidences, such as the time the words “carpet munchers” were spray painted across the bank of lockers she shared with her friends.
“For the girls it was kind of easier, but guys who were found out about were beat up, their book bags would be taken and their papers thrown in the street,” Browner recalled. “They called them ‘faggot’ and just talked about them when they walked by.”
Lee Ninja has been called a fag, as well as “fudge packer” and an “ass monkey.” An 18-year-old senior at Central High School, Ninja never tried to start a GSA, but he did make it a point to come out to his entire high school.
“I came to school as a rainbow kid one day, rainbows everywhere,” he recalled. “I had the little rainbow necklace. I had a rainbow flyer with a little windsock on my book bag. I had rainbow flags on all my books. I had this little rainbow belt buckle, these rainbow suspenders and little rainbow pin.”
Ninja, who plans to attend to attend the International Academy of Design and Technology in Chicago in the fall, said he was not surprised by the reaction he received.
“The girls were like, ‘Ah, we already know. Take that shit off and get out my face,'” he said. “Some of the boys kind of gagged at it.”
A brave boy to be sure, and bravery sometimes comes with a cost.
“There have been a few threats made, but they were never carried out,” said Ninja, who knows he lives every day with the possibility that they will be. “A friend of mine who used to go there, he graduated last year, he got jumped by four people. He got bruised up pretty bad.”
Incidents such as these could possibly be avoided, Ninja said, if Central had a GSA.
“If it was carried out the right way, I think it would have a very big impact, just teaching people about the gay life, about being transgendered and bisexual and gay,” he said. “It would give support, it would give that backbone that’s needed. It would help kids to get resources, to put them in contact with people that could help them and just be that support group that’s needed.”
Still, he doesn’t expect DPS administrators to warm to the idea of GSAs anytime soon.
“Personally, I believe that a few of them are insecure with their own sexuality, then there’s that whole black Baptist down South religion thing, and then some people just aren’t open to the fact that there are gay organizations for teens,” Ninja said. “They think it’s a choice and that the GSAs are like recruitment camps.”
Ninja’s response to that theory is simple.
“‘Fuck you,’ to make it short and sweet,” Ninja laughed, before a serious anguish washed over his face. “There’s really nothing I can say to them, because no matter what I say, they still look at me as a child and I’m not taken seriously.”
But if they would take him seriously?
“I’d say, ‘Why would I choose to put myself and my life in danger?'” said Ninja. “And the answer is, I wouldn’t.”