Sophomore Year

Chapter Fourteen

By Grant Bentley

If any nice person, nasty person, place, event, happening, thing, or sport, seems familiar, it is purely coincidental.

It was a Friday evening, a couple of weeks after our HIV/AIDS presentation. Joel and Chris were at Joel's. Craig and I were just cuddling and relaxing in my room, watching my favourite movie Shelter for about the tenth time. Dad was watching the news, which probably meant the news was on and Dad was asleep in his recliner. About halfway through the movie, the doorbell rang. After the second ring, as I was on my way to answer it, I heard Dad open the door.

“Yes?” Dad questioned whoever it was.

What I heard next totally floored me.

“Good evening sir. We're here to seek your support in removing a blatant Satanic influence from our high school,” a woman's high pitched voice announced. “Our high school administration has seen fit to allow a group of sexual deviants to form a club, a club whose sole purpose is to recruit our young people into the homosexual lifestyle. The club calls itself the Gay Straight Alliance. For the wellbeing of our young people, it must not be allowed to continue. We, as God-fearing members of the Christian community must see to it that this club is dissolved as quickly as possible and the formation of any similar clubs be disallowed in our schools. To that effect, all we are asking is for you to sign our petition. Once we have five thousand signatures, the school board will be forced to take action.”

About halfway through her spiel, Craig's arms slipped around my waist. “I don't fuckin’ believe this,” he said. “This is all we need.”

“They actually think the GSA is set up to recruit kids?” I asked.

However, as upset as we were, Dad’s response couldn’t help but crack us up. “I’m sorry ladies, but I don’t think my son or his boyfriend would appreciate me signing such an ill-conceived, hate-mongering piece of rubbish. Now don’t trip over each other on your way out. I hate having to pick trash up off my lawn.”

As soon as Dad turned around, he saw us standing there laughing at his response and gave us a grin. Unfortunately, the seriousness of the situation became very evident to us again, very quickly.

“What are we going to do?” I asked.

“Well first, don’t get into a panic about it,” Dad replied. “A well thought out counterattack is what you need.”

“Yeah I guess,” I replied, “but how do we counter a petition? What if they get enough signatures and the school board shuts us down?”

“The school board is under no obligation to shut you down no matter how many signatures they get,” Dad replied. “The public school board is not under any religious banner. It is a government run organization and as far as I know, in this country, the church and state are separate entities.”

“Yeah, but we all know that they may very well bow down to what they see as public pressure,” Craig responded. “After all, they’re going to want to get re-elected.”

“Not only that, but just the fact that they are bad-mouthing us all over town is going to turn people against us,” I said. “I can think of five guys who will see it as public support and permission to start harassing gay kids or worse.”

“They may see it as public support, but they’re still typical bullies. I don’t think they have the balls to take on more than half the guys on the football and basketball teams,” Craig stated. “They know they’ll get their asses kicked, petition or no petition.”

As we were discussing what this all meant and what to do, the phone rang. It was Adam and he wasn’t happy. I guess someone had been to his place with the petition too. Within an hour, we had received twenty calls. Within another half-hour, we had twenty-six people sitting all over our basement floor. Apparently we were having an emergency meeting and it was pretty obvious that, if we were going down, we were going down fighting. After half an hour of throwing ideas around, it struck me. Dad said 'well thought out counterattack'. If they could start a petition, so could we. We decided that first thing Monday morning, we would talk to Mr. Jameson and get him to help us set up a petition that would be written in favour of the GSA and in favour of tolerance, understanding, and diversity.

That is exactly what we did. Mr. Jameson helped us with the wording so it wasn’t too long. I guess if the wording of the petition is too long, it may get thrown out. Once we got the wording right, we ran off five hundred copies. Five hundred pages at thirty signatures per page would be fifteen thousand signatures. I know that sounds a little ambitious but hey, we’re teenagers, we can do anything. Mr. Jameson announced on the intercom that there would be an emergency meeting of the GSA in the east gym after school and asked all members to attend. When we walked into the gym after our last class, we nearly fell over. We fully expected to see a hundred and seven GSA members. What we did not expect to see was the gym full of kids. There were at least three hundred kids milling around waiting for Craig and Mr. Jameson. When I looked over at Craig, he had tears in his eyes.

“I can’t believe this many people showed up to support us,” he exclaimed. “This is just too cool.”

“I know, it’s awesome,” I said. “Those bigoted bastards don't know who they're taking on.”

Craig and Mr. Jameson thanked everyone for showing up, especially the non-members who were there to support us. They explained in detail how to look after their petition. They warned everyone that every signature must be legitimate. One phoney signature would negate the whole petition. We were also warned that we had ten days before the board meeting at which the anti-GSA petition would be presented. If we wanted to rain on their parade, we would need to be there at the same meeting to present our petition. Mr. Jameson had printed up a large map of the city, which he had placed on a table near the door. He asked each person or group of people to mark off the section of the city they would canvas. He warned everyone that with the number of people we had, not to be greedy and block off too much. If we did, the last guys to leave the gym would have nowhere to go. It went beyond our greatest expectations and I don’t know how we did it, but we did it. It took us exactly one week to get ten thousand, two hundred and sixty one signatures. Obviously, everyone went all out. I don't think a single doorbell in the city had gone unrung.

I don’t think the school board or the pastor of the Evangelical Church of Our Living God and his group will ever forget that meeting. The school board was well aware of the petition competition that was going on. With all the interest in the petitions, they were also well aware of the fact that their meeting room wouldn’t even come close to seating everyone if we all decided to show up. It was announced on several radio stations and the evening news on several TV channels that the meeting would be held in the west gymnasium of the high school. Forty minutes before the meeting was to start, all three hundred and fifty chairs that were set out were full and at least a hundred students and parents were standing in the back and along the sides of the gym. When the pastor and his group of twenty-two arrived, they were just able to fit themselves into a small space near the front entrance. They stood there looking somewhat bewildered, staring at the massive crowd…the crowd they knew was there to oppose them.

The members of the board could have run the meeting as they normally would have. That is, dealing with all matters before them for an hour and a half, and then asking if there was any business from the gallery. But, bless their hearts, they decided to start the meeting with business from the gallery. When it was time for the pastor to present their petition he immediately started to give us a sermon on the evils of homosexuals and their agenda to destroy the family as God intended it to be. He didn’t get very far before the board chairman shut him down and asked him to get to the point. He then had no choice but to simply read the petition and present it. He announced with some flair and a relatively smug look in our direction that, God willing, they had three thousand and four signatures.

Then Craig approached the board, read our petition, smiled at the pastor and announced that we had ten thousand, two hundred and sixty one signatures. The gym exploded with applause, whistles, shouts, and cheers. It was absolutely deafening and we had to plug our ears. When things finally settled down, the board chairman thanked everyone for their interest and our presentations of the petitions and everyone began to leave the gym. We spent the next hour waiting as countless reporters interviewed Craig, Mr. Jameson, and some of the kids and parents that were there. Needless to say the GSA was headline news in the paper, on the radio, and on TV that night and the next day. Our petition was, of course, challenged by the pastor and his church, but in the end every signature we had was validated and our petition stood. The GSA was alive and well and, I might add, had a hundred and fifty seven new members bringing us up to two hundred and sixty four members. I don’t think that was quite what the good pastor and his little congregation had in mind.

By the middle of May, the excitement had settled down and life was back to normal again. Well, sort of. For a few weeks, Craig was the newest local celebrity and wherever we went, someone would come up to us and congratulate us, tell us how proud they were of us, or just say hi and wish us well. Only two people made a point of telling us we were going to burn in hell. We just smiled and told them we would look them up when we got there.

May was absolutely gorgeous. The weather was more like July weather than May weather. Craig and I made a point of getting out onto the golf course as often as we could. Usually we were with Jeff and Carol or Chad and Jake. A few times, Brett and Carmen joined us. Joel and Chris also came along a couple of times. Joel had regained the weight he lost and had come to terms with the emotional baggage left over from his ordeal. He worked out two hours a day with Chris, so he was in awesome physical shape as well. Also, during the last couple of months of the semester, he spent more and more time at home and less and less time with us. By the end of the semester he felt he was ready to be on his own and moved back into his house full time. Of course, he wasn’t alone most of the time. Chris saw to that. We had a ‘going away’ party for him the last weekend before school got out for the summer. By his choice, we kept it small, just our closest friends were there. That still meant close to thirty people. All in all it was a very special night for everyone and everyone had a great time…especially Joel.

The day Joel moved the last of his stuff to his place, we shed a few tears and shared a few hugs. The next day, Dad came home from work and hit the remote to open the garage door. Thankfully he was paying attention and didn’t just drive in, because parked in the garage was a 2011 Volkswagen Eos White Knight…the hardtop-convertible kind. When Dad got over the shock of seeing it there, he got out to look at it. On the windshield was a note from Joel. It read, ‘I know you love Volkswagens…Enjoy…And thanks for everything.’ Of course, Dad phoned Joel and told him it was too much. We enjoyed having him live with us as much as he enjoyed living with us. But, in the end, Dad just had to say ‘thank you’ as there was no way Joel was taking it back. The offshoot of which…insert happy dance here…was that I got a 2004 Volkswagen Passat, for which I was very grateful, both to my Dad, and Joel.

It's now summer break, finally, and my sophomore year is history. Don’t ask me how I did it, but I ended the year with a 3.8 GPA, and for the first time in my life I'm on the honour roll. I grew up a lot during the last ten months as well. I was one of the key players in creating one of the largest GSAs in the province. I found unconditional love and acceptance, but I also saw homophobia at its worst and went through the trauma of nearly losing friends to it. I learned compassion and gained a new appreciation for others, their viewpoints and actions. I also learned to stand up and fight for what I thought was right.

I made tons of new friends. Of course, I still have Jeff, my best friend and brother by choice, who is always there for me no matter what and I for him. And let's not forget Craig, who I am madly in love with and who is madly in love with me. When not with friends, on the golf course, or cuddled up in his room or mine, we spend much of our time walking along the creek and through the hills that border the golf course. Out there, it doesn't feel like we are actually in the city where we're two in a million. It's so wide open and beautiful that we really feel like we are alone…in the country…just the two of us…together…in a world created just for us.

I'm not even going to think about what lies ahead in our junior and senior years, because right now, everything is right with the world…and I like it this way.