The Gay Straight Alliance at Hanahan High School could be a lot of things. It could be a club, a social organization, or a resource. But it couldn't be what Steven Parham needed: a safe haven ... at least not technically.
Last summer, a string of high-profile suicides highlighted the need for support systems for students who feel bullied. But Parham's effort last fall to form Hanahan's GSA came from his personal experience.
He was bullied in the halls, and his car was vandalized. Parham asked his dad if he could transfer schools, but his father told him it was only one more year and he needed to stick it out. So Parham decided that if he wasn't going to find a better school, he was going to make Hanahan High a better school.
"I wanted a place for people to go and feel safe," he says. "I wanted the whole student body to come together and be one."
In a meeting with the school administration, Parham came prepared with the bylaws for the group. He was told they couldn't use the words "safe haven" because the school was supposed to be a safe haven. They couldn't talk about sexuality, either. Steven grudgingly met the requirements, and the group first gathered in December and grew to include more than a dozen students at one time.
"Not only could I talk about the issues I faced, I learned about issues facing other people," Parham says. "I found that other people were being bullied too, but they never stood up and talked about it."
With just a few weeks left before graduation, Parham's unsure about the future of the group. The last few meetings have only included the group's officers.
Some gay students likely avoid the meetings because they're not out to their family or their friends.
"People walk by and see you in the room and they classify you as gay," Parham says. "People have walked up to a couple of straight people in the group and said, 'You're part of the gay group so you're gay.'"
The group has picked strong leaders for next year, so Parham is hopeful they can kick-start the effort again in the fall.
And he's seen an improvement at the school. He sees students addressing bullying in the halls when they see it, whether the victim is gay or straight. And they're not the only ones.
"I'll walk down the hall and hear 'that's gay' coming from a classroom," Parham says. "The teacher will say, 'That's wrong. That's degrading.' It puts a smile on my face. It feels good that I helped do that."
Next year, Parham will be attending the Art Institute of Cincinnati, and he's excited to head to a city with a large gay community.
But he wants to come back and see a successful GSA at Hanahan. Even if gay and lesbian students aren't using the organization, he says the resource needs to be there. "It's important because they know if there is anything they need help with, they can go to a meeting." It could be a safe haven from bullying and abuse ... just not technically.