Through the trials in students’ lives, many supportive adults try to provide comfort by using the phrase “I know what you’re going through, because I’ve been through all of it before.” For the a large percentage of the school’s LGBT+ populus, Champeau’s words ring especially true.
Champeau has worked at Bear Creek for four years, and teaches CP English as well as every offered theatre class. She also directs all after school theatre productions. Her wife, Nicole, choreographs the dance routines, including those performed in the most recent production of “Disney’s High School Musical.”
The LGBT community has, in the past, been shrouded in stigma and confusion. Because of this, Champeau’s initial feeling after she came out to her friend at age 13 was anything but liberating. Instead, she says she felt scared and alone, doubting herself as to whether or not she was actually gay or not. Champeau later discovered that she was bisexual, not gay.
“I didn’t know what the term ‘bisexual’ was,” Champeau said. “I had only been told that you could either be homosexual or heterosexual.”
Perhaps out of fear that she would be bombarded with hate speech and ignorance, Champeau kept her sexuality to herself.
“I hid my sexuality for a while, but certain people knew; my mom and a few close friends,” Champeau said. According to the Human Rights Campaign, around two-thirds of LGBT high school youth say that they are out to their classmates and peers, but not to their parents. Although coming out may seem easier in certain places, there are a multitude of reasons as to why students are still afraid to come out of the closet — reasons shared with Champeau years ago.
According to the Human Rights campaign, 9 out of 10 LGBT youth come out to their close friends and over 92 percent of LGBT youth say that they hear negative messages about being LGBT. Terms that may be thrown in their direction could include the phrase faggot, dyke, or simply using the word “gay” in a derogatory manner.
“[At this school] I haven’t received any derogatory comments and most people treat me and my wife with respect when I introduce them to her,” Champeau said.
Bear Creek prides itself on its diversity and, it seems that most people are understanding of their peers’ identities. However, this isn’t always true, and even some students at Bear Creek find it difficult to openly express who they are.
These negative comments may contribute to why it is seen as difficult to come out. Other factors may include close relatives having strict religious beliefs that prohibit homosexuality, or a fear of their peers not believing that it is truly who they are, labeling it as a “phase.” For some, family members and friends cannot fully grasp the change. In many families such as Champeau’s, mothers and fathers may even state that they have to “mourn the death of their heterosexual child” to make room for a new version of their child.
Treating people as if they are a completely different human being because of what they identify as is not a foreign experience for Champeau. For a long time she says her parents couldn’t see her the same way they had before she had come out.
“I urge [them] to find the strength for them to be who they are,” Champeau said. “I want them to wake up every day and tell themselves that just because they are gay, bi, asexual, transgender, whatever, that it doesn’t give others the right to put them down or treat them as lesser than.”
The number of Americans identifying as LGBT rises every year. In 2010, the number of US adults that identified as LGBT was around 8.3 million people. In 2016 it rose to around 10.1 million.
Champeau wants students on campus to know that they are not alone.
“As scary as it is, there are people on campus, including other students as well as faculty members, that are going or went through the same thing they are,” Champeau said. “I hope students can find the seed of strength inside them, that they find it in themselves, to be honest as well as true to themselves no matter what the circumstances are, for they will always have at least one person who will support them through everything that life throws at them.”
Because 85% of LGBTQ students are victims to verbal harassment on campus, and LGBTQ youth are four times as likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.