Nash Grier once said, “I accept you, and you get the same respect from me whether you are black, white, gay, straight, Asian, bisexual, Australian, tall, fat, whatever it is. We are all people, and I look at the people of the world the same way, as my brothers and sisters.”
This is a strong theme found in Gay-Straight Alliance clubs around the country.
Thankfully, the Woodland Park RE-2 School District has decided to take a stand and care for those who need support. This year WPHS Senior Mary Paris embarked on a major effort to create a safe place for students to openly talk and connect with one another about their sexuality and gender preferences. Nicole Strain and Stacia Ray are the teacher sponsors who also offer an adult perspective and backing for the group. This club is for individuals of all preferences, including, but not limited to, gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, gender fluid, queer and questioning.
Every Tuesday the group meets in the library during the academic period and discusses the importance of gender inclusive bathrooms, changing rooms, pronouns, acceptance within the community and many other ideas. Since this is the first year of the program, the group leaders, advisors, and members are beginning to have a solid feel on what they want to accomplish and how they will be going about it in the future. The main objective this year is to become established and to gain more recognition, In a recent interview, Paris said, “I’ve gotten a lot of support from teachers and administrators, and there are so many students that are really keen to help. But of course there are also an equal amount of people that are pretty close-minded and are not fond of it. One of the purposes of the club is to help educate those people and make them more open-minded.”
The first meeting was attended by more than 20 students. These meetings have attracted more interest throughout the semester. Woodland Park has not been considered a particularly accepting community for those of the LGTBQ-plus (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) community, and this is a major step for the school and town to become more inclusive.
The club voted in officers to help everything run smoothly. These officers include Mary Paris as president, Cora Spalding as treasurer, Emma Bolen as secretary and Lauren Mitchell as the club publisher. These individuals not only attend every meeting, but they also offer extra assistance, and news and partnership with the members. The club was originally formed as an alliance, meaning that a percentage of the members do consider themselves straight, and attend to show support and understanding for those who are not.
Paris expressed her excitement for the overwhelming happiness and positivity that comes from the club. Students finally have a safe place, and knowledge of who they can be open with about their struggles and differences. In the coming years it is expected that the organization will expand and reach out to even more students and staff members.
The Gay-Straight Alliance is a nationally recognized organization that can be checked out online at the gsanetwork.org. They state that the, “Gay-Straight Alliance Network (GSA Network) is a next-generation LGBTQ racial and gender justice organization that empowers and trains queer, trans and allied youth leaders to advocate, organize, and mobilize an intersectional movement for safer schools and healthier communities.”
In Woodland Park, the organization is currently focused on creating a foundation of comfort and support, and will continue to reach out to the community.