LGBTQ+ community speaks out about classroom experiences during DVHS Student Voice Forum


Eva Shen

Students across campus wore rainbow tape to signify their participation in the Day of Silence, just two days after the Student Voice Forum.

Mahika Arya and Eva Shen

On Wed. April 20, DVHS held its first Student Voice Forum, led by Principal Evan Powell. According to Powell, the event was designed as a day to learn about “each other, [to learn] how to make Dougherty Valley better and to really listen to student voices.” Around 100 students sat in a circle on the gym floor and shared their experiences with how accepted and comfortable they felt on campus.

While there was no strict agenda or focal topic, most students zeroed in on one: the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community on campus.

On March 24, senior Rhea Braganza revealed that DVHS admin censored students from making jokes related to LGBTQ+ topics. Two MCs for Senior Wildcat, a talent show put on by the DVHS Leadership class, were barred from making a joke about how they were the “token diversity” because they were “not in leadership—and not straight.”

Upon hearing this, Braganza immediately inquired about the reasoning behind the decision. She was told that the joke was removed because it was not family friendly, emphasizing the audience’s reaction over the suppression of LGBTQ+ content in schools. When the joke was equated to sexual acts on stage, the appalled Braganza shared her experience on Instagram.

The message wasn’t these people are bad people, it’s more like, ‘this is what happened and it’s problematic,’” Braganza expressed. “What I realized is that no matter what, there’s gonna be a whole lot of hurt throughout the whole process. I was hurt, people were hurt who sympathized with me because they experienced the same thing, teachers were hurt because they felt that their own attempts to help make it a safe space were being invalidated.”

With thousands of likes, comments and reposts, Braganza’s post brought the issue of LGBTQ+ treatment to the forefront of the school. The overwhelming response—as students resonated with and shared personal stories in the comments—showed Braganza that students felt unheard at school.

Over the course of several meetings, Powell and Braganza brainstormed tangible ways administration and staff could make students feel heard. 

Thus, the Student Voice Forum was born as a way to share student stories as inspired by the conservations on social media.

“I was super excited because I think this is a great way to try to make amends for what happened, but also more importantly to show students that [administration was] willing to see what goes on actually in student life, to hear their concerns, and to say, ‘hey we’ve been kind of out of it, but we’re trying to listen,’” Braganza said.

Students throughout the forum discussed their experiences in the classroom, commenting that “in some classes, we see [our] humans rights on the line and they’re being debated in classroom settings.” One student shared that their friend didn’t want to attend a specific class for three weeks because they were repeatedly “discussing whether or not you should exist.” Many also explained that in discussions, “we talk as if the LGBTQ+ community is something separate from the people in our class.”

In order to have truly fruitful conversations, one student shared a comment they stated to their dad: “I would rather that you weren’t politically correct, that you said something you really felt rather than trying to hide it.”

“A lot of students were talking about how they wished teachers wouldn’t shy away from these discussions in hopes of not offending anyone,” said Braganza. “It’s okay to make mistakes when you’re talking about sensitive subjects or new subjects, as long as you acknowledge it and just move on from it. What’s not okay is to not address it at all and to shy away from these discussions in fear that we may get criticized or offend someone.”

Powell summed up his thoughts after hearing these comments by sharing that he simply wants students to “be nice” to one another and to stand up for their fellow classmates; he suggested that if students heard negative comments or slurs being thrown around, to tell the speakers that “we don’t do that here.” Powell hopes that after this discussion, the DVHS community will become a safer space for all students.

When asked about her hopes for the future of the forum, Braganza stated that she hopes “students will get more involved” and “it becomes a normalized thing.” She furthered that “students who have complained about how they didn’t feel safe should take this as an opportunity to voice what they want to voice, and see through it the changes they want to implement … now that admin is showing listening ears.”

Today, April 22, is the nationally-recognized Day of Silence, a day meant to honor the struggles and social silencing of the LGBTQ+ community. Dozens of students across campus participated in the event today, with rainbow tape on their masks and clothes, staying silent the entire day. With DVHS administrators and Principal Powell attending the silence-breaking event after school, Dougherty continues to prove that students and school officials alike can come together to improve the safety of the campus community.

“[This Student Voice Forum] was more like a test trial. I think if it continues it would be a great way to get student feedback,” Braganza said. “Criticism is inevitable, but I think we can control how we respond to that criticism and view it as objective feedback.”