Two-time teacher of the year Ebonee Weathers created the first Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at San Diego's Horace Mann Middle School. It’s something the educator didn’t get to have at the private Catholic school she attended when she was growing up in Seattle.
“I think it’s hugely important, and it’s something from my own upbringing and childhood [that] was missing,” Weathers told NBC Out. “And I wonder what kind of difference it could have made for me and other people who were seeking somebody to love them or support them and give them guidance.”
Weathers came out to her students her second year of teaching by hanging pictures of her wife and son in her classroom.
“I just decided I’m not going to hide it,” she said. “I’m just going to answer questions, and if that leads to more questions, then I’m OK with that.”
As Weathers came out, so did many of her students. She realized there were many who identified as LGBTQ who lacked a safe space, so she created a GSA.
“We’ve got close to 50 regular members, which are students that come from our school, but also we’ve got students who come from the local middle schools and high schools that are finding they don’t have a lot of support in their GSAs,” she said.
In April, the students created a campaign for the worldwide National Day of Silence, in which they took a vow to raise awareness around anti-LGBTQ bullying, harassment and discrimination.
“We had over 200 students come in and get ‘silence’ papers that they used on their desks that day to explain to their teachers and other adults why they wouldn’t be speaking,” she said.
Whether it’s going on advocacy field trips or getting to see a drag performance at a local high school, many students have found the GSA transformative, according to Weathers.
“I just feel like if it’s that one kid — that one student that feels like they are being supported by me or this [GSA] or something we are doing at school — then that’s what I’m looking for,” she said.
In addition to her support for LGBTQ students, Weathers is helping her pupils, many of them foreigners, assimilate to the U.S. The school has a program for political and economic refugees who come from war-torn nations and have a limited understanding of English.
“They are facing quite a bit of trauma from what they’ve seen and been through before they get here,” Weathers explained.
Being the difference in her students' lives is what drives the educator to be a change maker.
“I love letting kids know that they are safe, and they can be whoever they want to be, and that there is at least one person in the world that will love them and support them,” she concluded.
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