GARDINER — When Savannah Green came out to a friend a few years ago, the friend’s mother told her Green was just going through a phase. Green hopes that her continued advocacy will help teach adults and children that saying things like that is not OK.

Green, a 16-year-old junior at Gardiner Area High School, has been recognized for her advocacy by a national LGBT rights organization. The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which focuses on LGBT issues in kindergarten-through-grade 12 education, named Green to its Student Advocate of the Year Honor Roll.

“I got a lot of people to nominate me to say why I was a good student advocate,” Green said in an interview at the Gardiner Public Library.

Green’s advocacy work at the school and in Maine focuses on health education, and she’s working to make the state’s curriculum more inclusive. Green has met with her principal, Chad Kempton, and the School Administrative District 11 superintendent and curriculum coordinator to see how health and sexual education can be improved.

“She presented herself very well,” Kempton said. “We’ve adjusted our curriculum to make it more applicable to a variety of situations.” Kempton said that Green will participate and assist health teacher Doug Driscoll during the sexuality unit.

Being recognized by a national organization is a great honor, said Gia Drew, program director for EqualityMaine.

“For a national organization to recognize the achievements and efforts of a student in a small town in Maine is pretty wonderful,” Drew said. “It shows that one person can have a say in the world.”

Drew worked with Green this summer when Green participated in EqualityMaine’s New Leaders project, which attempts to give students skills to bring back to their community.

From the beginning of the six-week program, Drew said, Green was really eager to learn about all the ways she can make a difference in her community, and she really paid attention to all the speakers and guests.

One of things Green wants is to help educate not only students but also teachers and other adults. Green said she had a friend from another school that was called a derogatory name in front of a teacher, who the friend said did nothing.

“I’m hoping to change that,” Green said. “There are staff trainings that need to be done so that teachers know what to do in that situation.”

Green’s mother, Bonny Saxon, said that you cannot expect people to change without education, because when there’s no knowledge or information, everything is just a big question mark.

“When you base something on fear or not understanding, you either have to avoid it or hate it,” Saxon said. “You can only accept the things you understand.”

At her school, Green is resurrecting the Rainbow Club, which saw a drop in activity the last few years. The first meeting is Oct. 24 and Green hopes the club is a safe place for people to express who they are.

Gardiner’s principal said the effort Green and other students on campus are putting forth to help make the school a more positive place is commendable.

“You always want to support kids in making positive changes to the school,” Kempton said. “It’s fantastic, because too often society focuses on the negative, but there’s a lot of positive things going on in this building.”

This year’s main focus for GLSEN, which was founded in 1990 and has in the past honored Justin Timberlake, Julia Roberts and Zachary Quinto, was bullying in school, Green said. She herself didn’t experience it much, but she knows a lot of people who are afraid to come out.

“I know of many people who are afraid to come out,” she said. “They’re afraid because they think they’d lose their social status or that people are going to make fun of them.”

While she didn’t experience much in the way of bullying, Green was afraid of being shunned by her family and community because she was raised “somewhat with Christian values,” but she soon realized it was an irrational fear.

Earlier this week, the 28th National Coming Out Day celebrated coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or as an ally. But some people because of their situation are unable to come out, and that is what Green wants to change.

“One of my friends told me I didn’t have to come out to them as gay because they didn’t come out to me as straight,” Green said. “I want people to know it’s okay if their friend is gay.”

The GLSEN Respect Awards gala is Oct. 21 in Beverly Hills, Calif. Green would have liked to attend the event, but the cost of airfare to Los Angeles and accommodations at the five-star Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire was too high.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ


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