Holly Jordan is the staff sponsor of Hillside High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance, which she helped found in 2010, before she was even “out” to herself. Jordan says she has learned a lot since she began teaching at the predominately black high school when she was 22 years old.
“I came from a background that did not require me to investigate issues of privilege and oppression and white supremacy and got thrown into a world that was very different from the one that I grew up in,” Jordan said.
Her reaction was to listen and learn. It was the only thing that made sense to her, she said. From listening to her students and reading on her own, Jordan said she learned about systematic racism and the other forms of oppression her students face.
“It changed the whole trajectory of my life,” Jordan said. “Now, my activism is the thing I do when I’m not teaching.”
Jordan is very protective of her students. She allowed the Durham VOICE to sit in on one of her GSA meetings on the condition that everything be kept off record. She also asked that the VOICE not interview students for this story.
Some of her students are still figuring out their identities, she said. During GSA meetings, some students can act in a certain way and say certain things that they are not able to say or do in the rest of the school, or at home, she said.
In contrast to the culture of acceptance that Jordan has been building at Hillside, the state of North Carolina has passed a series of laws largely seen as discriminatory against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The Public Privacy and Security Act, nationally known as HB2, is the most recent bill passed by a Republican-controlled state government that limits the civil rights of LGBT people. The bill imposes restrictions on which public restrooms and changing areas transgender people can use, in addition to removing anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people in the workforce.
HB2 has received wide condemnation, from President Obama to the federal Departments of Justice and Education and from the NCAA to Bruce Springsteen.
Out of the eye of national politics, the Durham Public School District took its own action by passing a resolution calling for the repeal of HB2.
Heidi Carter, the chair of the district’s Board of Education when HB2 passed, says that the district was already working on upgrading its non-discrimination policy to add language protecting transgender students.
“Durham is a pretty united front against HB2 and against codified discrimination,” Carter said.
However, Natalie Beyer, a current member on Durham Public School’s Board of Education, says that policies set by the district are different from what is practiced by teachers and staff in schools.
“I think at most high schools we have supportive staff and student organizations that are raising awareness of issues and supports that student need,” Beyer said. “I still think we have a long way to go in training staff.”
Jordan agrees, saying that no school in the district is doing enough justice toward kids and their needs.
“You go to the district and they say, “We have these initiatives in place.” You go to a school, a principal, and they say, “We have these initiatives in place.” But if a kid comes to you and tells you, “This is what I experienced, though.” That to me is what matters.”
In 2010, Jordan changed the trajectory of her life by listening to kids. Now, when asked about the biggest positives at Hillside High School, Jordan talks about her students.
“I think that kids are resilient and amazing,” Jordan said. “So many of my students have been through things that are a trillion times harder than anything I’ve ever been through. They are still maintaining a sense of optimism. I’ve never seen a student in this building who doesn’t want to learn.”
This is the first in a series of stories that will focus on the treatment of LGBT minors in schools, homeless shelters, juvenile detentions, youth development centers, jails and prisons in North Carolina. If you are or know a young person who was treated differently in any of these systems because of being LGBT, please contact Jordan Wilkie using the following form.
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