A kiddie pool sitting outside Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School quickly filled up with negative energy.
Words and phrases like “that’s so gay,” “white-washed,” “you’re lucky you’re pretty,” and “slut” floated around the pool on June 13. But then they faded away.
It was an effort by the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, called “Dissolving Stereotypes,” that encouraged students leaving school for the day to rid their minds of any hurtful or negative words and misconceptions. Students and staff members wrote down the negative phrases on thin paper and dropped them into the pool, where they slowly dissolved.
“It’s therapeutic — I promise!” GSA president Sierra Miles, 16, called out to students while standing on the school patio. “I know you want to dissolve a stereotype today.”
Miles, who was junior at the school this year, said this event has been a tradition for the club dating back several years. It’s an example of the type of education and inclusivity the club members try to boost for the school.
“It’s a really good opportunity to release that tension,” Miles said. “When someone says something negative about you, it lasts a lot longer in your mind … watching it dissolve away eases your mind.”
The stereotypes, slurs or phrases could be about gender, sexuality, race or just about any trait in general. Some of the students who approached the pool wrote down just one word, or phrases like "women are emotional" or "you’re faking it for attention."
Other students wrote down something in private and folded the paper tightly before throwing it in the pool, to keep it to themselves.
“It shows people that these stereotypes don’t define us,” said Samantha Rosenberg, 16, a sophomore at the school this year and the public relations secretary for the group. “Watching them melt away in water shows us that these stereotypes are not something that defines who we are.”
Principal James Murray stopped by the pool and wrote “that’s so gay” on a piece of paper to watch it dissolve. He said he wants to see students refrain from using that phrase as an expression and instead realize it can be hurtful to some.
“This is an opportunity for them to be able to say, ‘Whatever words were said that hurt you, let go of them, and don’t carry them around anymore,’” he said.
Murray, who identifies as gay, said for the 16 years he’s been at the school, there has always been a GSA club in some form. He wants the high school to be a place “where all feel accepted.”
“It’s their school. I want it to be a safe place for them to learn to grow to develop who they are and who they are meant to be,” he said.
In an interview at the school last month, the leaders of the group said “Dissolving Stereotypes” would be one of several efforts by the club to educate their peers to boost inclusivity at the school.
Members referred to the club is as a “safe space” for the LGBTQ community, including people who have not been comfortable coming out, along with allies. Each meeting starts with introductions and a review of everyone’s preferred pronouns.
Earlier in the year, members of the GSA went to health classes to talk to their peers about terminology to explain identities and concepts within the LGBTQ community and to expand on its history and culture. The GSA has also had guest speakers tell their stories to the club.
“We want everyone to feel comfortable,” Rosenberg said. “The best way to make everyone comfortable is to educate those who could make others uncomfortable.”