Every Wednesday at 2:15 in the afternoon a small group of Jamesville-Dewitt high school students gathers in a classroom to discuss the state of the world. The people gathered there could not be more different from each other, but the group as a whole has some defining characteristics: they challenge the status quo, they are freethinkers, they are highly opinionated but value the opinions of others, and, most importantly, they see acceptance as the key to a healthy community. They could not have been more apt in choosing a name for themselves: the Acceptance Coalition.
I first started coming to meetings when I was a Freshman. I was attracted to the discussions that went on, which ranged from the topics of gay rights activism to world politics to the scant legal rights we have as high school students. At that time we weren't a school-sanctioned group; we met surreptitiously in the room of a sympathetic teacher until we managed to gain recognition from the school board. Since we were officially a GLBTS alliance (an acronym which stands for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Straight), we did face some opposition; we were immediately branded "The Gay Group" by our more narrow-minded high school peers. And although a large part of our focus is directed toward gay rights activism, we go far beyond battling homophobia, for it is only one form of oppression.
We call ourselves the Acceptance Coalition because it is our goal to create a respect for diversity in our high school community. It is our hope that we can inform our peers about the harms of fear, hatred and ignorance and how these sorts of words and actions play key roles in every form of oppression. For more than four years we have organized, educated and protested toward our goal, and I am proud of what we have accomplished. Aside from hosting numerous discussions for the teachers and students of J-D, a conference for the youth of Syracuse held at SU, and our annual Acceptance Coalition benefits at Happy Endings Coffee House (attended by over 200 people), we have also been the only youth group to participate in the Gay Pride Parade for four years and counting.
And, like all good ideas, we have spread. Our group has spread to six other high schools across Onondaga County, including Fayetteville-Manlius, Manlius Pebble Hill, Cicero-North Syracuse, Christian Brothers Academy, West Genesee and West Hill. Some groups still only occupy a tentative foothold due to the unwelcoming environment they are faced with, but at least the idea has been planted. It would take a great deal of opposition to ever destroy that seed.
Although I will not see our goals accomplished by the fast approaching end of my high school career, I believe that we are progressing; we are gaining ground. Meanwhile, I can only hope that one day it will not be so rare to see a school community like the one the Acceptance Coalition strives for: a community in which diversity is accepted and honored, not ostracized; in which we are all free to be freethinkers.
If you would like to know more about the Acceptance Coalition or are interested in becoming involved, feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.