Gay Straight Alliance welcomes all students, reaches out to faculty

%28Left+to+right%29+Physics+teacher+and+head+of+GSA+Seth+Berkeley+leads+sophomore+Faith+Evans-Haywood%2C+senior+Derek+Shifflett%2C+freshmen+Jordyn+McHone+and+Genesis+Marshall+and+junior+Heather+Whetzel+in+a+discussion+about+pizza+to+shake+out+any+nerves.+
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Gay Straight Alliance welcomes all students, reaches out to faculty

(Left to right) Physics teacher and head of GSA Seth Berkeley leads sophomore Faith Evans-Haywood, senior Derek Shifflett, freshmen Jordyn McHone and Genesis Marshall and junior Heather Whetzel in a discussion about pizza to shake out any nerves.

(Left to right) Physics teacher and head of GSA Seth Berkeley leads sophomore Faith Evans-Haywood, senior Derek Shifflett, freshmen Jordyn McHone and Genesis Marshall and junior Heather Whetzel in a discussion about pizza to shake out any nerves.

Hannah Miller

(Left to right) Physics teacher and head of GSA Seth Berkeley leads sophomore Faith Evans-Haywood, senior Derek Shifflett, freshmen Jordyn McHone and Genesis Marshall and junior Heather Whetzel in a discussion about pizza to shake out any nerves.

Hannah Miller

Hannah Miller

(Left to right) Physics teacher and head of GSA Seth Berkeley leads sophomore Faith Evans-Haywood, senior Derek Shifflett, freshmen Jordyn McHone and Genesis Marshall and junior Heather Whetzel in a discussion about pizza to shake out any nerves.

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“You could be someone’s saving grace.” These are freshman Jordyn McHone’s words to faculty and students that attended an LGBTQ+ panel held last Friday, March 2. The LGBTQ+ community refers to people identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or supportive allies. The panel provided a Q&A with students in GSA, the Gay-Straight Alliance, run by physics teacher Seth Berkeley.

“I think GSA is super important because it gives people a place to feel like they have a group that they belong to. It can be kind of bothering to belong to the LGBTQ+ community, and so giving them a space to [belong] is really awesome,” Berkeley said.

GSA is open to any students who are interested; all students have to do to join is show up, with no permission slips or other forms required. Junior Heather Whetzel knew she wanted to join as soon as she found out about it.

“I needed some place to really voice my questions, my opinions, everything. I wanted a place where I could feel like I would be safe and no one would judge me… I knew that it was right for me to figure out things and to have people around me that have gone through similar struggles,” Whetzel said.

The environment created by individuals undergoing the same hardships allowed Whetzel to feel like she belonged. According to her, their differences also add to the accepting atmosphere.

“My experience has been nothing less than unique, extraordinary and amazing. The people there are amazing; they are wonderful. We all have so much in common, but our stories are all so different. We all share similar emotions, so it’s a wonderful area to be in, a wonderful group to work with, and it’s great to have any teachers around that we know support us because then it makes us feel like we’re not so alone,” Whetzel said.

After a few ice breaker questions about iPhones and pizza, Berkeley proceeded to ask representatives of GSA questions about where they feel safe, what our school can do to help and other inquiries from the audience.

“I know that a lot of students don’t understand. If somebody is to go by a different pronoun, and they may not exactly appear to be said pronoun, [other people] won’t call them that, and it bothers me,” McHone said. “I worry that if our youth doesn’t understand it, maybe our adults also don’t. They could be accidentally hurting someone’s feeling not knowing that they’re doing so, so I feel like attention should be brought to it.”

Many departments had teachers present to ask questions and gain insight from the students. McHone believes teachers should set standards at the beginning of the class that will express what will be tolerated and what won’t.

“I just feel like teachers setting boundaries for their classrooms in general is really important, especially when it comes to all kinds of discrimination. Whether it’s race, sexuality, gender, anything. It should always have very strong boundaries, because if you make someone feel unwelcome they aren’t going to be willing to open up, and that can lead to other issues,” McHone said. “No one should ever feel like they aren’t welcome somewhere, or they aren’t wanted somewhere when it’s very, very important [for them to know] that someone’s always there for you, you just have to find them. If teachers can reach out to students and let them know that they are there [for them], you could be someone’s saving grace.”

One assumption members of the LGBTQ+ community commonly encounter is that it’s a choice, rather than the way they are born. Whetzel considers it important for people to be educated and encourages questions, but she also understands that she can’t influence everyone.

“No matter what we do, there are going to be some of those that have religious beliefs where they’re just going to be against it, and I’m okay with that because we have all others who are very supportive,” Whetzel said. “I know that one teacher supporting us in a classroom could lead to all those kids supporting us in the future. That’s enough of an effect that I’m okay with [some people not supporting us]… because I know we can’t change the whole world, but we can start step by step, and I think GSA is a great step that we’ve taken.”

Another member of GSA, sophomore Faith Evans-Haywood, urges teachers to take action now. It’s never too late to start showing support or set boundaries.“It doesn’t have to be the beginning of the year, the beginning of the class, to make changes. It’s okay a couple weeks in, end of the semester even, to have your class sit down and talk to them about what’s okay and what’s not okay,” Evans-Haywood said.

For any students looking to join GSA, or even drop in to have a few questions answered, go to room 116 on activity days. They also meet every third Wednesday in the library for ELT.

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