An Interview with Write Your Principal’s Jacqui Shine

If you’ve been reading my blog recently, you know that I’ve been talking about how we can prevent LGBT bulling in schools. I’ve focused on what parents and schools can do to build a more accepting and affirming culture—emphasizing that it will take many, many parents, and many, many schools to produce the necessary cultural shift in our country. And I now want to share with you a brilliant way for all of us—whether we are parents or not—to help combat bullying in schools and, ultimately, to change America’s culture of disparaging and undermining those who are different.

Jacqui Shine launched the Write Your Principal project to channel the despair that so many people have felt after the suicides of several LGBT teens in September. She encourages us all to write letters to our high schools, asking what they are doing to stop bullying and support LGBT students and their allies. I love this project, and am writing my own letter. I interviewed Jackie to introduce you to her work and encourage you to write to your principal, too.

Sarah Hoffman: What is Write Your Principal?

Jacquie Shine: I’ve started a campaign to encourage everyone, both LGBTQ people and allies, to write a letter to the principal of the middle or high school you attended—even if you graduated 30 years ago!—expressing your support for LGBTQ youth and asking the principal to tell you what she or he is doing to protect the dignity of every human being in their school. I collect and publish both the letters and the responses on my website, where you’ll also find a variety of resources including sample letters, statistics, and frequently asked questions.

SH: Who are you?

JS: The big secret is this: I’m not an activist. At least, I wouldn’t normally call myself one. I’m a full-time graduate student (in a completely unrelated field) and a part-time Office Lady (in another completely unrelated field). I don’t work in K-12 education or in LGBTQ organizing or social services. I just . . . started this website. I live in the SF Bay Area with my wife, our dog, a lesbian-riffic number of cats, 3 bicycles, and a million books. I have been trying to control my inner monologue since 1983.

SH: Why did you start this project?

JS: I’ve been feeling pretty heartbroken in the wake of this rash of teen suicides. I think about those boys and their parents a lot. And like a lot of queer adults, I started to really confront my own experiences in middle and high school. I went to a Catholic girls’ school, and when you’re a lil’ Jewish lesbian . . . well, let’s just say that’s probably not going to end well. But I wasn’t satisfied with sending the message that things get better later—I wanted a practical, concrete way to step forward and speak up on behalf of queer kids and, in a way, on behalf of the queer kid I once was.

The idea to write a letter to my principal came from a college mentor, Jennifer Walters, who’s an out Episcopal priest and an all-around rad lady. She suggested it . . . on Facebook, of all places. So I did it, and it was so scary and so powerful for me that I wanted to bring the idea to more people. And Write Your Principal was born!

SH: Why do you think it’s important? What impact can this have?

JS: I think the power of this project comes from a couple places—one is storytelling and the other is the authority of a collective voice. When we tell our stories, we find healing and resolution for ourselves, something I think the It Gets Better Project demonstrates very clearly. But we can also make the problem of violence and school bullying much more real to the administrators and teachers we write to. We make clear that this is an old, old problem that hasn’t been resolved—that what’s happening now is not an aberration, but a deep systemic crisis.

And we also make clear that we are paying attention and that we are holding schools accountable—that we care about what is happening in schools, that we insist on change, and that we are watching for signs of improvement. It really elevates education and school safety issues into communal issues, not only issues for children and their families.

SH: What’s the response been like so far?

JS: Many of the letters are posted on the site—and I know there are many more I don’t even know about! Some are from allies, some are from parents, and some are very eloquent and very powerful testimonies from alumni who were bullied or harassed. (You can see some excerpts in our YouTube video here.)

What’s been loveliest is that a number of people have gotten very, very quick responses from school administrators who have invited them to have extended conversations, by phone or in person, about how to address school climates for LGBTQ kids. And I am just astonished at how far this project’s reach has been and how vulnerable people have made themselves and how much healing has come to the project’s participants. I am so humbled and surprised to find that this project is, in its way, a part of the work I’m meant to do.

It’s as simple as writing a letter, isn’t it?

Follow the Write Your Principal project on Twitter @WYPrincipal, and become their fan on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/WriteYourPrincipal. Send your correspondence to writeyourprincipal@gmail.com, and visit Jacqui at http://www.writeyourprincipal.com/.

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