Fighting homophobia at school: ‘Be proud, shout it out’

Issue 

Hannah Williams, a year 11 student, was recently told by her school, Ivanhoe Girls Grammar, that she couldn’t take her girlfriend Savannah Supski to the school formal.

Angered, the two refused to attend the formal and will transfer to another school next year, where they would be allowed to attend formals together.

They caught up with Resistance’s Chris Peterson.

* * *

You took your high school to the Equal Opportunities board; what was the outcome?

Hannah Williams: We had mediation but couldn’t reach an agreement. We were going to take it to [the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal] for another mediation, but then with exams and everything, we decided to drop it. It was too much for us to handle.

What provoked you to stand up for yourselves to the extent you have?

HW: I wanted to do it because when it was happening at school, it was such a hard time. It was putting so much emotional pressure on me, I didn’t want it to happen to other people.

How were your schoolmates? Were students and their parents supportive?

HW: [The homophobia] was only from the principal really.

Savannah Supski: Everyone’s been completely supportive. I think that’s partly because it’s Melbourne and Melbourne is pretty accepting of everything.

I’ve had to hide my gayness before, since I was in Year 3 when I used to live in Perth and it was totally not acceptable to be gay.

Has the school backed down?

HW: It has. The principal has backed down. At the first interview, she was saying I’d done nothing, and then the next week came out with an apology in the Herald Sun, but it was full of lies.

She said she was sorry the policy didn’t suit us — but she made the policy after we came to her. We asked to see the policy and they gave it to us a week after we asked to see it. They obviously made it up to exclude us.

What do you say to women in your situation?

SS: Every time I talk to anyone, I’m like, “be proud, shout it out to everyone”. We have this chance to be different and difference is so much better.

There was a report that just came out from Latrobe university on homophobia in high schools [being on the] rise. But the authors said that this was because more people are out.

How did you gain the confidence to do this?

HW: We’d never actually been to a rally before. We started our campaign with a petition and mini posters. But then we did come to a rally, in our uniform, to highlight homophobia at our school.

I don’t know, I don’t think homophobia makes sense really.

SS: I’ve done activist work before, I went on the Make Poverty History road trip. So I was brought up to fight for what I believe in.

Where to from now?

SS: Hannah and I have been talking about setting up a website or something to help teenage boys and girls come out and [for] if they need any help. We have a sort of image now and people have been talking to us on Facebook. We’ve had heaps of friend requests so we thought that would be good.

You are moving to a public school and you made a great comment about public schools being more tolerant. In your experience, do you think private schools are more judgemental?

SS: I’ve been at a private school all my life and I’ve always had issues with being different and standing up for what I believe in. I think [private schools] like to believe they are really supportive of everything, but really they are in their own little world.

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