For many years people have been fighting for the LGBTQ+ community to have equality. Students at Garnet Valley High School have found a welcoming space in GSA, the Gay Straight Alliance club. The club is a welcoming environment and safe space for everyone who advocates for or is a part of the LGBTQ+ community. The club meets every Thursday in Mrs. Kamann’s room.
Q. When did you first learn about GSA and when did you first get involved?
It was my first year at Garnet Valley and I had been the advisor for GSA at a middle school in Massachusetts for five years. During my time at the middle school, I had helped out with the guidance counselor to help advise and work with the kids. When I got to Garnet Valley I expressed my interest that these are the clubs that I love and want to be a part of and assist in any way. I asked them if they had a GSA, and they said they did but needed an advisor. Even though it was my first year I said I will take on the responsibility to be the advisor of the GSA club here.
Q. When did you first become aware of LGBTQ+ issues?
That’s a great question! Growing up I came from a very ¨normal¨ family with a typical mom and a dad and stepfather at the time. So I didn’t really know anything about the LGBTQ+ community when I was younger. I didn’t really think of it until I was maybe in high school. I started to realize that people were different from me. Some of my friends would say like ¨oh I’m bi¨ or ¨I’m gay¨ but it was very quiet and no one was really out and proud. I remember being curious but I wasn’t doing research into it. I was a sophomore in high school and my aunt took me to New York City to see Rent. Rent is a broadway musical about the AIDS epidemic and its impact on the LGBTQ+ community. I remember that musical changed my whole life. I remember leaving the theater that day and being like “oh my gosh there’s this whole group of people that I know nothing about and that are going through these struggles.” I think it was then that I became more of an advocate and tried to understand more. My senior research paper was on the impact that AIDS had on the LGBTQ+ community and in literature. You could say that Rent made me aware of this movement.
Q. When did you become the advisor for GSA?
I became the advisor my first year here so about three years ago.
Q. Why did you want to become the GSA advisor?
I heard about it in Massachusetts and was like how can I get involved? It would be great if you had one here. Working with the kids at the middle school level in Massachusetts I knew what an important club it was. I was really glad that Garnet Valley had its own and I’m grateful that I got to be the advisor.
Q. How do you get students involved and aware of the club?
This year I have two freshman classes, last year I had three. I teach tenth grade as well. It’s really great because every year I introduce myself and my interests. I’m very clear with everyone what clubs I advise. I advise the anime club. I help out with the drama stage crew and then I also do the GSA club here. I give background on all three clubs. To my ninth graders, especially, I emphasize that this is their first year of high school and they should get involved. I say these are some really great clubs and explain why. When it comes to GSA I always try to make a joke because I think its very much a stereotype that if you´re in GSA you’re gay or part of the LGBTQ+ community and I try to make it clear that you don´t have to be. The club is about being an ally. We have fun and have a good time. It’s really a very low-key type of club. In my ninth-grade class, I stress that. I’ll say there are a lot of clubs that you are going to be a part of that may be more demanding but GSA is a really fun group to be a part of. I would say that the other thing that helps is being a teacher and making those connections with my students. I find that a lot of the time the kids that I get close to start getting interested in the clubs I do as well. I think recruitment can be from other members of the club.
Q. What does a normal meeting look like?
There’s no real standard of our meeting. A lot of the time we just make sure to do attendance. We send out the attendance link because we have people who sign up for our learn but we have a lot of people who just come to be a part of the club. It’s nice to track these numbers. Sometimes we do presentations. Sometimes we play games or do crafts. It could be anything from a structured “did you know” type lesson to let’s just hang out and talk.
Q. What has been the most rewarding part of being involved in the club?
I think the most rewarding part is getting to know so many students that I would not have had the chance to meet. As a teacher, I only have my ninth and tenth-grade classes. Another rewarding part is just seeing how different kids from different groups treat each other and how supportive they are. A club member said that one thing that would surprise them is who comes to GSA and that it made them feel really good. I agree that there are kids that come that I never thought would and it’s just so beautiful to see that.
Q. Has anything crazy ever happened in a meeting?
Billy Eichner is a gay man who has a show on Netflix called Billy on the Street. He comes up to people to yell at them and he’s really funny. A week before winter break our vice president Matt put on a Billy on the Street type presentation. He called people up and would give them a category. He would do a game-type show and so that was really funny and really crazy. Everyone had a really good time and lots of laughs. We are a group that just likes to get together and have a good time. It’s a safe space for kids. It’s just a place to feel supported as well as have fun. That’s kind of the whole premise behind our GSA.
Q. How do you think this club has changed the school and how has it impacted your life?
The first year that I was an advisor we were a very small club. I would probably say that an average of six people would come. This year we are about thirty-five to forty kids at each meeting. I think that the GSA has come such a long way. It has started to make more of an impact this year than it has in my limited years. I think it has made more of an impact because more people are showing their allyship. More kids are not afraid to say that they support GSA.
Q. What are you hoping to accomplish with GSA?
I think right now it’s all about building a safe place in the community. I think in upcoming years I would like them to expand to become more of an advocacy group. Right now it’s more about finding that safe and comfortable spot here in our school. A lot of schools go about with their club in different ways and I would like my students to one day be advocates. I would like them to learn more about gay history. I want them to know more about the Stonewall riots and who came before them. I would like them to advocate for kids and people who may not have that support elsewhere. I think that will come once our club members are comfortable with who they are.
Q. What’s one little way GSA has changed the school?
Earlier this year we had a push to make rainbow ribbons. We handed out those pride ribbons back in October for coming out day. If you walk through the hall you could see that there were many kids who had the ribbons on their book bags. I think that meant a lot to our LGBTQ+ students here at Garnet Valley. Kids who don’t even come to GSA but wear those ribbons in support. I think that that shows the impact that GSA is having on the student body.