Sarah Lindstrom, 18, made worldwide attention when her and her girlfriend, Desiree Shelton, were voted onto the royalty court of her high school in Champlin Park High School in Minneapolis’ northwest suburbs for Snow Days Pep Fest. They fought for the right to walk together, breaking the school’s tradition of boy/girl pairs. School officials tried to change procedure as a result of their election into royalty court by having court members walk individually or accompanied by a parent or favorite teacher. Their school district has received criticism for its policies toward homosexuality.
Two human rights organizations sued on Lindstrom and Shelton’s behalf, and during mediated talks, an agreement was reached and the school relented, allowing those elected to walk escorted by anyone meaningful to them.
We had the opportunity for a rare interview with Lindstrom regarding the change in her school district’s policy, LGBT issues including bullying, and her view on the mainstream attention:
Bambi Weavil: Do you feel that the issues you helped raise and fought against in the Anoka-Hennepin school district is reflective to other local and national issues in the school system?
Sarah Lindstrom: For sure. I think it will make other school districts think twice about these certain issues and hopefully making a step in the right direction to equality.
BW: Do you feel that the students from your high school were more progressive to LGBT issues?
SL: For the whole Snow Days alone, there were many supporters out there that made signs, wore purple armbands, did silent protests, and voiced their support for us. I couldn’t believe what percentage of the school were supporting us. I think the whole incident brought out the supporters that I didn’t know we had.
BW: There’s been an alarming amount of bullying and suicides in the district. Were those incidents ever discussed or addressed out in the open? Did students ever feel concerned? Did you personally know any of those students?
SL: I don’t think it was discussed much other than in the GSA at my school. Before this, I didn’t even know that some of the suicides were LGBT related. I think this should be talked about more out in the open because I don’t think it’s getting voiced enough to others. I didn’t actually know any of them personally but to hear about it alone just tears my heart apart. Nobody deserves to be bullied.
BW: Do you feel campaigns such as “It Gets Better” have any impact to teens?
SL: I think the “It Gets Better” campaign reaches out to many in the LGBT community because in some of the videos they were telling their personal story of being bullied and getting out of it and becoming a stronger person. It gives teens a spark of hope knowing that it will get better outside of high school.
BW: Do you feel that challenging the system so you could walk with your girlfriend as a member of the royalty court, is going to reinforce a positive change for other gay students and more inclusiveness and acceptance?
SL: Definitely a positive one. I’ve gotten countless amounts of personal messages on facebook from random people from all over the place telling me that we gave them confidence to come out and be themselves. It think there will be an increasingly larger number of out lgbt now after seeing my girlfriend and I walk confidently in front out high school and knowing that it really is okay.
BW: What is next for you in your academic career after high school?
SL: I’m not sure about college, but I do know I want to be a musician and get into modeling. I play guitar and sing so I’m hoping to get into a band sometime soon. As for modeling, at the moment I’m researching modeling agencies to get into so I’m hoping for that to work out too.
BW: What was your coming out experience like to your family and to your friends?
SL: My coming out was a little weird for me. My parents and some of my friends already knew I was gay before I came out. It was weird because I knew they knew, but I couldn’t get myself to say it. I pretty much eased into my coming out. I started out telling my friends one by one, and then my parents last. There are a few family members of mine that don’t agree with it, but that doesn’t stop me from being who I am. Overall it was an exciting experience and definitely a relief now that I’m completely out to everybody, including strangers.
BW: What has this experience and all this mainstream attention taught you about activism and awareness?
SL: Ever since this got mainstream, I’ve learned a lot about the controversy. It makes me feel like such a good person getting involved in all of this activism stuff knowing that I’m helping the community. I’m actually a really shy person so I didn’t think activism was for me, but I got over it and just stuck to the thought that I’m doing lots of good getting involved.
BW: What is the gay community like in Minneapolis?
SL: I’d say there are quite a few out and open gays. Minneapolis is very accepting compared to other places.
BW: Were you surprised at all the mainstream attention?
SL: I honestly didn’t think this would get out. I thought it was going to stay between Dez, me, teachers, and the principals and maybe a few friends. But this is high school, so rumors fly around like crazy, and people talk. That just makes the issue bigger, and more and more school faculty got involved, and then the media people heard about [it]. One thing leads to another, which then leads to another. But at the same time, I’m glad that this got so mainstream because I know it has had a positive impact on the LGBT community all over the world.
BW: At the end of the day, you’re a young adult and we shouldn’t lose sight of that. What are you looking forward to this summer? What’s on your radar as Sarah Lindstrom, everyday person who happens to be gay, as opposed to Sarah Lindstrom, news-maker?
SL: Well, I’m looking forward to graduating high school for sure. This summer I plan on spending as much time as possible with my friends before they leave to college and all of us go our separate ways. I also hope to start out my modeling and get some people together to make a band.
BW: If you had any advice for gay teens, what would you say to them if given the opportunity?
SL: Be yourself. It’s a tough world out there, but that shouldn’t stop you from being who you are and enjoying your life the way you want. There are going to be people that don’t agree with you, but you just have to keep your head up because there will always be somebody out there to support you.