GSA seeks to support and educate Hayes students

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Amanda Stevens

Words to describe GSA, as brainstormed by members of the GSA club at Hayes.

Amanda Stevens, Staff Writer

After an abnormal year, Hayes’s Gender and Sexualities Alliance (GSA) is holding monthly meetings as it eases into the school year.
GSA, which may also be referred to as Gay Straight Alliance, depending on the school, is a club that works to organize activities and spread awareness for issues faced by LGBTQ+ students. It also can serve as a source of community and support for its members.
GSA members were provided the opportunity to share a coming out story in celebration of National Coming Out Day at the group’s most recent meeting.
National Coming Out Day is observed October 11 to support LGBTQ+ people in “coming out of the closet” and being able to live freely, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Because not all LGBTQ+ students come from supportive environments, GSA aims to provide a safe space for them to be their authentic selves.
“It’s a safe place for everyone. It’s a safe place where you can speak about your own identity and what you believe in without being judged or mocked by anyone,” GSA member Elias* said. “It’s a good place to escape to, just to be with others who understand you or you relate with.”
Both Hayes High School and Dempsey Middle School have GSA clubs, though they differ slightly.
“The middle school GSA tends to have guest speakers. I want very much for the middle school GSA to hear from different types of people, different perspectives,” said Samantha Hunter, a GSA adviser for both programs. “I want them to see adults who have been successful, who have had happy and healthy lives, and who happen to be LGBTQ+. The high school GSA meetings tend to be more student-driven. They tend to be more about what the students’ initiatives are.”
However, besides some slight differences in activities, the GSAs have the same goal.
“The core mission is to support LGBTQ+ students and make a more welcoming community and give them a place that’s safe and where they feel like they can be themselves and belong,” Hunter said.
Due to Covid-19, the high school GSA is currently meeting only once a month. According to Hunter, last year’s hybrid schedule caused GSA to have only a few virtual meetings, but they didn’t have high turnout. However, the first meeting this year had about 30 students in attendance.
Co-adviser Alyssa Petsche said that with the higher turnout, they hope to be able to meet in person more often.

“GSA really wasn’t a thing last year…so that’s why this year we were like, ‘We’re going to try to bring it back as best as we can and build it up and spread awareness and whatnot,’” Petsche said.
This is Petsche’s first year as an adviser and although she said she’s still learning about the community, she said she wants to be a supportive teacher and wants to hear students’ stories and experiences.
“I really wanted to help out with GSA because the school I used to work at didn’t have anything like this, and…there was a very limited group of teachers, including myself, that were supportive of [LGBTQ+ students]…” Petsche said. “So I think it’s important and I think it’s great for Hayes, especially with our student body size. I feel like we have a lot of students that fall into this community or they’re questioning. Maybe they don’t really know, but they’re curious, so we’re a group that can help try to answer some of those questions or point to those resources some of these students may be looking for.”
Besides providing LGBTQ+ students with resources and support, GSA also typically holds several events throughout the year, though the pandemic makes it difficult to do so.
“We try to do an Ally Week in September, unfortunately that type of thing is not really available this year. Typically we do, in April, a Day of Silence…[It] involves spreading awareness about LGBTQ issues, specifically the harassment that LGBTQ students face,” Hunter said. “At the end of that day there’s a big party to honor and celebrate being one’s authentic self…that party is typically outdoors so I think we can do that more safely than some of our other events.”
Like the Day of Silence, National Coming Out Day is also an opportunity to continually raise awareness of the problems that face the LGBTQ+ community.
LGBTQ+ students can often encounter harassment or bullying because of their identity. According to results from GLSEN’s 2019 National School Climate Survey, nearly 60% of surveyed LGBTQ+ students said they did not feel safe at school because of their sexual orientation.
According to Petsche, the occurrence of bullying emphasizes a necessity to provide accurate information and proper education about the LGBTQ+ community. She says she thinks a lot of teasing and bullying stems from misinformation.
“It’s just the lack of information or just the lack of what to [some students] is considered the ‘norm,’” Petsche said.
LGBTQ+ students can also encounter microaggressions, which are harmful but generally indirect comments or behaviors that express prejudice towards marginalized groups. Although microaggressions are not the same as bullying, they do need to be addressed.
“I think those microaggressions can really add up and really negatively impact LGBTQ students,” Hunter said. “If a person says a remark that is homophobic or transphobic, in the moment, let’s address it and say, ‘That kind of language is not appropriate,’ or ‘I think there’s a better way to phrase that.’”
While the acceptance of LGBTQ+ people can vary throughout the U.S., GSA member Taylor Smith said she feels fairly safe in the Delaware community.
“I honestly feel like they’re pretty supportive; the community center does a really good job of educating people, making everybody feel welcome, and helping people who are LGBTQ feel safe and feel supported with all the activities they have going on,” Smith said. “There’s so many people out there that do support, and there’s always going to be those few who don’t, but overall I feel safe in Delaware. I feel safe at my school.”
Throughout Hayes, there are many “This Classroom is Inclusive” signs, and there are also many ways for students and staff to help LGBTQ+ students feel included and accepted.
Hunter and Petsche both consider using a person’s preferred pronouns and preferred name as just one of many steps in the right direction that can help students and teachers be better allies to the LGBTQ+ community.
“If [a] student is comfortable sharing their pronouns with you, respect those pronouns. They’re telling you that for a reason; don’t disregard it just because it makes you uncomfortable…” Petsche said. “If a student says, ‘I know this is the name on PowerSchool, but I prefer this name,’ use that name. It’s the same as calling someone a nickname…Just show that you’re supportive even if you don’t have all the answers…just being willing to listen is a lot.”
Hunter and Petsche also encourage anybody, whether or not they’re LGBTQ+, to join GSA at any time.
“The more the merrier,” Hunter said. “We love to have students and staff alike.”

*Last name omitted for student confidentiality