STORIES
Community

Janet Miller

by David from The MY HERO Project

"I got up on a table and shouted at the staff. It's our job, every single person''s job in this room, to enforce safety and provide a safe environment for ALL students, not just straight ones." - Janet Miller
Kids at Hoover Middle School file into class. (Unity Lab (The Working Group))
Kids at Hoover Middle School file into class. (Unity Lab (The Working Group))

"For the vast majority of 6th grade, I was frequently harassed... my classmates called me names... nothing was done to help me... I still hear the slurs being giggled in the back of the room... my self-esteem lowered considerably and I fell into a state of depression." 

 
These are the words of a young LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) student who is part of an at-risk population: young people of the LGBT community who are verbally and/or physically bullied to the point of depression and in extreme cases, suicide.
Janet Miller (Unity Lab (The Working Group))
Janet Miller (Unity Lab (The Working Group))

Slurs like "That's so gay," "Faggot," "Dike," and "Homo" seem to be the spoken weapons of choice. The targets are young members of the LGBT community. And they assert that these words, though every bit as painful as slurs pertaining to ethnicity or religion, are addressed far less by school officials. The result of this type of abuse can be seen in the shockingly high number of LGBT students who, at some point, consider suicide. A full 30 per cent. 

 
Enter Janet Miller, a teacher who couldn't stand by as one segment of her school's population was being left to fend for itself. "I'd gone to a professional development where they had disseminated statistics about our district and what came out of that was that (LGBT) youth is pretty much THE most at-risk student here. They are THE most likely student to attempt suicide in the district."
A frightening statistic. (Unity Lab (The Working Group))
A frightening statistic. (Unity Lab (The Working Group))

Unlike teachers who had previously looked the other way from this growing problem, Janet took action. "I got up on a table and shouted at the staff, "It's our job, every single person's job in this room, to enforce safety and provide a safe environment for ALL students, not just straight ones." 

 
"I think many of us were affected by her presentation," said Thomas Graven, the Principal at Hoover Middle School, "Middle School is a time of great difficulty for kids, a time of great difficulty for kids with a time of transition into adolescence." After gaining the support of fellow teachers and administrators, Janet Miller started the Hoover Gay Straight Alliance - one of the first middle schools in the district to start a student GSA.
Hoover Middle School (Unity Lab (The Working Group))
Hoover Middle School (Unity Lab (The Working Group))

A Hoover Gay Straight Alliance member explains its inception, "I'm in the GSA here. We started it because we felt like hate in our school was getting really bad and we wanted to fight against it. Kids in our age group should be able to express who they are. I think that's one of the most difficult things. Since we have a GSA, it's a lot easier to express ourselves." 

 
Now the whole school is taking part. The Hoover GSA focuses on awareness and education. An example of one of their events was an LGBT Remembrance Day, the Gay Straight Alliance is educating fellow students about the potential dangers of ostracizing and mistreating their LGBT classmates. By remembering those LGBT students who have taken their own lives, students both gay and straight get the chance to put the situation into perspective.
Hoover Middle School GSA - making a difference. (Unity Lab (The Working Group))
Hoover Middle School GSA - making a difference. (Unity Lab (The Working Group))

"When I have GSA meetings, I've been seeing different kids coming in, kids I wouldn't have expected, who are opening up their minds to this," says Janet, "We're definitely changing the culture here. I hear a lot from other teachers saying 'Middle schoolers aren't ready for that yet, and, they absolutely are.  They want to be activists, they don't want to just passively sit there. They want to do things. And make change." 

 
But the change goes far beyond the student body. 
 
The teaching staff has also been moved by the presence of the GSA. "The fact that our staff from my school is standing up for kids, means everything to me," says Principal Graven, "It makes me so honored to work at this school." Vice Principal Natalie Eberhard is visibly moved by the topic. "The Gay Straight Alliance makes it possible for me to be out, and to be safe being out," she says behind tear-filled eyes, "And personally, that's huge. It's really important."

Page created on 11/13/2012 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 1/5/2017 4:56:17 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

The MY HERO Project - For the short film about Janet Miller by The Working Group.
GSA Network - Empowering young activists to fight homophobia and transphobia in schools

Author Info

The short film, "Janet Miller" is a finalist in the "Community Heroes" category in the 8th annual MY HERO Film Festival.
Please consider donating today [X] Close