2008 Youth Scholar - Brian Carrell, Hononegah Community High School, Roscoe, IL
"Brian stepped forward when no other student did, and spoke his conscience in the face of vehement opposition. As president of the GSA, he has risked his own personal comfort to fight for fairness for LGBT youth at his high school."
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Brian Carrell stood up against prejudice in his small, conservative hometown of Roscoe, IL by starting his high school's first Gay Straight Alliance. School administrators at Brian's high school sent the GSA proposal to the district's school board, where anti-gay groups packed the room at every board and subcommittee meeting. Brian's own mother spoke at the board meetings in opposition of the GSA. Despite these obstacles, he started an aggressive internet campaign to rally GSA supporters and volunteered to be a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the school if the school board voted against the proposed GSA. Thanks in large part to Brian's efforts, the school board ultimately voted 5-2 in favor of the GSA. The ACLU of Illinois is proud to support a student who stepped forward to guarantee fairness in his school, despite being at risk of being shunned by his community, friends and family.
Brian's Scholarship Essay
I believe that it is paramount to a free and open democracy that all voices are acknowledged, regardless of age, race, creed, sexual orientation, or social status; that is why, when I learned of student efforts to form a Gay Straight Alliance at my high school, I did not hesitate to get involved. Unfortunately, many members of my community hold discriminatory beliefs that have been passed down through generations, but it is the existence of these ingrained prejudices that created the vital need for a GSA.
Unity lends strength to any movement, idea, or organization, so, to rally support, I created online groups on the social networking websites Facebook and MySpace. Seeing how successful these were, I created an online petition for people to sign in favor of the creation of a Gay Straight Alliance, a petition that I later presented to the school board.
When Sarah Schriber explained to us that some students would have to step forward as potential plaintiffs if we felt that a lawsuit was necessary, I did hesitate, not because I didn’t wholeheartedly want to support this effort, but because I was afraid of the repercussions.
My parents are among those community members who disagree with a Gay Straight Alliance. They believe homosexuality to be a sinful, unhealthy perversion. They also believe in censoring views with which they do not agree. My mother voiced her disapproval of a Gay Straight Alliance at the same board meeting I presented the petition and reminded the school board of their moral obligation, legal obligation, and the human obligation to do what it best for the students. The many disagreements I have had with my parents over this issue have only strengthened my resolve to fight for equality.
I now proudly serve as the president of Hononegah High School’s first GSA. We meet once a week to discuss any incidences of discrimination and to brain storm ideas for improving the school atmosphere, community outreach, and positive social activities, like the movie night we are hosting this Friday, or the “Broken Resolutions” party we are planning for the week after New Year’s. We also walked down Main St. together in the Homecoming Parade, one of the most surreal moments of my life. Now that I have seen what a group of students working together can accomplish, I am encouraged to stay active in the democratic processes of my community, and my nation. I look forward to college, and all the opportunities that it will allow me to voice my opinions, exercise my rights, and stand up for my beliefs.