High school freshman Leah Matz saw the words “Dykes Suck” scrawled in deodorant on her locker earlier this month, and she decided to take action. After reporting the incident to school administrators, who promptly sent letters to parents, she organized a student rally to confront bullying and threatening behavior in her school, located in St. Peter, just north of Mankato.
The rally, held Friday in the lunchroom of St. Peter High School, drew hundreds of students and community members concerned about the bullying of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
Matz came out as a lesbian in junior high. She told the Mankato Free Press that she has endured bullying and threatening behavior ever since, but that has not deterred her or her friends from raising awareness about the situation faced by teens who come out in high school. Matz was successful in getting a gay-straight student alliance set up at her high school last year, and after the graffiti episode, she and her friends were prompted to action.
“I realized there were certain places in the build–ing where I knew I would–n’t be safe, and I knew that wasn’t OK,” Matz told the Free Press before the event. “When you’re in school for eight hours a day, you should feel safe wherever you go.”
The rally was a huge success. T-shirts made by Matz and fellow students that read, “Stop Hate. Just Love,” sold out. Principal Paul Peterson opened the rally to the local community. “I’m proud of the organizers for stepping up and speaking out,” said Peterson. “When you talk about relevant learning experiences, this was about as relevant as it gets.”
Peterson’s action of alerting parents to the intimidating vandalism as well as creating an open forum for students was praised by the editorial in the Free Press.
“I wanted to stand up for all students, minorities or not, who are oppressed through acts of hate, whether they are physical, emotional, or verbal,” Matz told the Free Press. “There is no reason why a person should ever be made to feel inferior.”
The courage and thoughtfulness that Matz has displayed can be seen as a reflection of the support of her mother. “I couldn’t be more proud,” Matz’ mother, Kathy, said. “Even as a little girl, Leah worried about the people who were hurt. She did this today for those people.”
Matz is fortunate to have what many gay teens still lack: a supportive family, school administration and friends. She’s using that support wisely to raise awareness of the hostile environment toward LGBT students in small towns, and even better, she’s bringing the community together to create change.