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Determined to make positive change

Scott Beaver knows the difficulty first-hand of being an openly gay teen, but the deaths of three friends is what spurred him to action.

Two committed suicide; a third succumbed to AIDS, the Newport Harbor High School senior said.

"That has been the biggest influence on my entire life," Beaver, a 17-year-old Costa Mesa resident, said in an interview Tuesday. "It was terrible, and it's like, I can't let that happen again, especially at Newport Harbor. I mean, it's my school."

Scott, president of Harbor's Gay-Straight Alliance, took it upon himself to stop the homophobic language he says can be heard on campus. In a session he presented to the school's administration, teachers and staff, he emphasized how hurtful language and bullying can contribute to teen suicide.

"I really wanted to focus on ignorance," he said. "Don't let kids say, 'That's so gay.' ... When I was in seventh grade I said 'that's so gay' all the time because I had no idea what it meant."

The presentation was aimed at teachers who sometimes allow derogatory language in the classroom.

"It's as simple as if a kid says, 'That's so gay,' you go up and say, 'What does that mean?' And they go, 'That's so stupid.' So you go, 'Well, then say that's so stupid.' It's a simple as that," he said. "It's so easy, but they let it slide. It happens all the time."

He also urges students not to use a common pejorative often applied to gay men that is also widely used by straight teens to rib each other.

Newport-Mesa Unified recognized Scott with the Starfish Award in January. Teacher James Sigafoos nominated him for "helping to create a safe place for at-risk youth," according to the nomination letter.

"I have taught for 10 years, and I have never encountered someone this driven to protect and educate others about his community," Sigafoos wrote.

The award didn't come as a surprise to Scott's mother, Mariko Beaver, who said her son is always earning some award or another.

"We're very supportive and really proud of what he's done on his own to bring light to the situation," she said. "He realized that the more light he can bring to the subject, the better it will be for everyone, including him."

Scott is one of a handful of students who is openly gay at the high school.

He said he's developed a thick skin and learned how to handle himself when he hears insults as he walks across campus or in the classroom.

Some have even shouted anti-gay slurs in his face.

He chalks up that language to ignorance, but is concerned about what it can do to closeted teens who are already self-conscious and feeling bad about themselves.

Scott said it can make them feel worse about themselves until they consider suicide.

"All I want to do is make sure it's safe for these kids," he said. "It's not fair that these kids are being put through this."

Beaver said even in first or second grade, her son would be upset about kids being bullied.

"He feels that everyone should be treated fairly," she said.

Although Scott has learned to stay calm and walk away, it wasn't always so easy for him.

He first realized he might be gay during a family vacation in Hawaii in seventh grade, but he wasn't sure until freshman year. As a sophomore he came out to one close friend.

She spread his secret.

The mental anguish made 10th grade a blur and took a toll on his physical health.

"It was a big emotional struggle for him to come out to us, but he wasn't being the person he was supposed to be," Beaver said.

His mother said he dropped about 30 pounds, which is how they knew something was wrong. They finally asked him if he was gay; he had planned on telling them soon.

"That period of time was so difficult for him," said Beaver.

His confession wasn't a surprise.

"We've always known as parents — we just knew," she said. "We just always suspected at some point he would come out and say, 'Hey, I'm gay.'"

Scott is still getting feedback and comments from teachers and staff about his presentation. He has heard about positive changes in some teachers' classrooms, and other teachers have gotten more involved.

Scott believes that the world is becoming more accepting of homosexuality and that soon a majority of people will be comfortable with it.

Looking around at the racism and sexism that still exist, he doesn't believe homophobia will ever fully disappear, but he's determined to make a positive change.

"My realistic goal is we get to the point where kids aren't getting kicked out. Kids are committing suicide every 22 hours," he said. "That's what I want to minimize, because, honestly, views are hard to change."

britney.barnes@latimes.com

Twitter: @britneyjbarnes

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