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Christopher Pepper

Health Education Teacher
Balboa High School

Q: At school, what have you done to create a safer climate for LGBTQ youth and their families?

I teach health education class and I try to be inclusive of all sexual orientation and gender identity when we talk about sexuality. I teach students proper terminology so they understand what it means if someone says they are gay or bisexual or transgender.  I also teach students that regardless of their personal feelings they must behave in a mature manner.  That means they need to be comfortable working with a wide a variety of people they will likely encounter as coworkers, or neighbors.  There are diverse array of people who are gay or lesbian, or bisexual or transgender.

Q: What were some challenges/barriers you encountered?

I feel lucky to be in a school that’s been very supportive.  We’ve had some students come to school who expressed their gender in non-standard ways, boys who come to school wearing makeup, painting their fingernails.  We’ve had some students who have transitioned well.  They might say, “I used to be a boy, but now I want everyone to call me by my female name now.” Other students have responded well—just kind of rolled with it. I’m very impressed by the students.  It’s so different from when I was in high school 20 years ago.

Q: What inspired you to create safer spaces for LGBTQ youth?

I volunteered for several years on a phone line.  The calls that made the biggest impression on me came from teenagers who had poor medical answers.  They had questions about their bodies that were biological.  I answered calls from students who said, “I just came out to my mom.  She did not take it well and told me I can’t live here anymore.  I need a place to stay tonight.”  These calls were from teenagers in crisis—they needed immediate care and it made a big impression on me.   They needed an adult to treat them with respect and give them good information. This led me to enter into education.

Q: What has been the school/community reaction for the work you’ve done?

It’s been positive.  People have generally been supportive of equal rights or at least fair treatment especially students who are 14 or 15, they really want fair treatment at that stage in life.  I believe everyone should feel welcome to come to school and it should not matter what their religion is or the color of their skin, or their sexual orientation, or gender identity.  No one should put them down because of who they are. 

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Quote - “Treat everyone like you love them, even if they are different.” - 12th grader, School of the Arts High School

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