This is the personal story of the founders of the first high-school LGBTI-related club
We can admit that our biggest achievement in high school was establishing a club supporting people with different sexual orientations and gender identities. The idea wasn’t ours; the initial attempts were made even before we got to high school, when students established a club whose goal was to advocate tolerance and understanding towards people who feel different from everyone else. Due to their passion and persistence, the club was eventually established but because of the tense environment surrounding an explicit focus on LGBTI people, they expanded the scope of the club to focus on a number of social injustices - racism, homophobia, sexism, etc. Despite the compromise, the club served as a “safe space” for a large number of students.
Unfortunately, after the founders of the club graduated, the focus of the club slowly waned. This did not remain unnoticed among our classmates and the idea of an LGBTI-focused club remained necessary and alive in our minds.
This is when we enter into the picture - first one of us, Nikola, and then the other, Dany. Despite the more liberal climate 4-5 years after the initial club was established, it was not an easy task for us. We were put in situations where we constantly needed to explain and defend our idea to establish an LGBTI-focused club.
We have to admit, that we didn’t fully realize what we were getting into; we were simply pursuing our common dream. We had to prove that this was something which our classmates needed. Even if there were a lot of people who shared our dream, it was difficult to find someone who was ready to openly support us. Initially we had a hard time to even find students to join the club (8 were needed to establish one). Our classmates were still afraid; we were fully aware of it, but we were convinced that we can overcome that fear.
With patience, dialogue and persistence, we eventually achieved our goal. The club kept on growing every week, the interest was unwavering and our student voice was growing stronger and stronger. We managed to attract not only supporters, but also people who we might have called “homophobes” - people who wanted to understand why we were doing what we were doing and what our mission was. Seeing how people who would swear at us and call us names in the past, were looking at us with understanding and a newly-found respect, was the most amazing feeling for us! What we didn’t expect was the support we received from outside of the college, right after we established the club.
The news about the club traveled fast with both a positive and negative response. The organizations which promote LGBTI human rights and tolerance in the country, contacted us in one form or another (including the organization we are part of now, Single Step). Ivan and Niki were impressed by our taking the initiative and by the fact that we did everything on our own. We shared a common vision; as a non-profit, they wanted to offer support with information, increased visibility, and expertise to a student-run organization and our club was the first successful such organization. It was the right time and the right place - us establishing the club, Ivan returning to Bulgaria, and the budding of Single Step. The important thing for us is that even we’ve already graduated from high school and are studying abroad, we can still help other kids to feel safe in school, wherever in Bulgaria they may be, to be themselves and to find understanding through dialogue with their classmates.