R-FH CONFRONTS HARASSMENT OF GAYS

gsa_think_b4_youR-FH students have been proactive in educating people about tolerance and GLBTI issues. (Photo courtesy of Kate Okeson; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

A rash of suicides by gay teens, and its spotlight in the national media, is simultaneously a tragedy and opportunity, said Kate Okeson, who heads Rumson-Fair Haven regional high’s Gay-Straight Alliance.

So when journalist and author Beth Greenfield, a native of Eatontown, comes to the school Friday night to speak about living as an out journalist and memoirist, the event takes on a little more importance than usual, Okeson said.

“There is some sort of critical mass happening with anti-bullying that’s drawing a critical lens on the communities,” Okeson said. “We’ve gotten a lot more visibility because of that.”

While the spotlight is on anti-bullying and gay, lesbian, bisexual transgender and intersex topics, small groups like R-FH’s alliance have been proactive in educating peers on these issues all along, Okeson said.

The high school group this month launched a “Think Before You Speak” campaign to bring awareness to the potentially dangerous effects of bullying and using words like “gay” and “fag” — terms that resist eradication, Okeson said.

Greenfield will be addressing that issue, and how she’s dealt with it in her own life.

“There’s kind of an educational piece about this, when people rub you the wrong way and how to deal with it,” Okeson said.

Okeson hopes that amid the heightened interest in these topics, Friday night’s event will contribute toward a culture change of sustained awareness at the local level.

“It’s getting covered more. It means hopefully the conversation will occur and people will realize there’s safety in numbers,” she said.

Friday’s event, at 6p in the library of R-FH, is free and open to the public.