GSA Clubs in WW-P
The GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) at WW-P North and Spectrum at WW-P South are clubs devoted to exploring social issues such as gender identity and sexual orientation and have been part of the WW-P community for around two decades. These clubs allow their members to discuss often taboo topics with security, and allow students to connect with the larger worldwide LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual) community.
Lucy Mixson, 16, a rising junior at South and president of Spectrum, joined the club her freshman year, just like North GSA co-president Jacqueline Li, 17.
Mixson initially joined Spectrum as she “was interested in social activism from a pretty young age. A lot of that interest has been centered on topics relating to the LGBTQIA+ struggle for equality.” Li joined North GSA because she hoped to “learn more about the LGBTQIA+ community and how to be a better ally.”
Like most members, they had different expectations of the club than reality. “Initially, I thought the GSA would be a far larger club, more well-known by the student body. I also believed that we would be tackling more personal issues than we ended up doing. Most of our meetings center around overall problems, not ones involving our school,” Mixson said.
While neither clubs are huge, both commit themselves to creating a safe space for discussion. “We mainly discuss current political events, such as new laws, comments from famous individuals, or petitions that are intended to affect the community. We also pose discussion questions, most often based around these events, or play games, like 'take one step back if this applies to you', or 'draw a timeline of your life,’” Mixson stated.
Along with their weekly meetings, both clubs also host events in order to catch the attention of the entire school community, including the Day of Silence, a national event led by GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network’s) where students take a vow of silence to bring awareness to the silencing effects of anti-LGBTQ name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools.
Li explains the events that GSA and Spectrum host. “We have 3 events that we host: Ally Week, GSA Week, and the Drag Show. Ally Week happens within the first two months of school and during that time, we have slips available for students to sign to say that they're an Ally. By the end of the week, we show their support by putting all of the signed slips on bulletin boards in the main hallway.”
“For GSA Week, which is hosted in late April, we have a series of events, of those including an Equality Wedding, the Day of Silence, and spirit days. And finally, for the Drag Show, which is a fairly new event that we've created, we have student and teacher volunteers dress up in drag and put on a performance for an audience! We usually charge $5 for entry for this event and use that money towards supplies for the next year and for a donation to a charity benefitting the LGBTQIA+ community, which we are looking forward to in the new school year,” Li concludes. At the end of last year, Spectrum also had a movie night as well and an end of the year tie-dying party.
Former Spectrum advisor Alexandra Lawrence commented on various events the clubs hosted in the past in order to spread their goal. “Through the years, the club has sponsored such events in the school as Gay Education Read-In (a collaboration with the Language Arts department, celebrating LGBTQIA+ writers, musicians, the arts), dances, bake sales, tables at the flea market and craft fair, car washes. We had speakers from GLSEN and HiTOPS (a health organization in Princeton) speak to the club members, the staff, and parents and the community,” Lawrence said.
“High School South has also hosted two statewide GSA Forums over the 16 years that I was the advisor, which is targeted toward educating youth on LGBTQIA+ issues, bringing in professional presenters/speakers, on the variety of topics that would interest this population, their parents, other GSA advisors from around the state, and allies. The club changes somewhat depending on it's student leadership, which has always been creative and with the best interests of their community in mind,” she added.
A few years ago, the WW-P South iteration of the club decided to change it’s name from GSA to Spectrum in order to better achieve their message of equality. “GSA is a firmly rigid title: the Gay-Straight Alliance. It puts all queer identities into the single concept of gay, erasing individual identities, and names heterosexuality, an identity not included under the umbrella, instead of naming any other part of the community. The name also gave the idea that the club's whole focus would be to create a link between straight and non-straight youths, rather than to tackle issues relating to queer teens first and foremost. Spectrum is an inclusive title that, instead of bringing to mind a single identity, brings to mind the colorful spectrum of identities under the umbrella. It also shifts the focus back to the queer kids the club is intended to aid,” Mixson explained.
While both Li and Mixson believe their clubs are truly helpful in inciting discussion, they often face misrepresented opinions from their peers. “Most students that I've talked to are wholly unaware that South even has a GSA-type club. When they hear about it, most seem disinterested, or very briefly interested in a flare that quickly dies down. As for the idea of GSA, I have witnessed both the negative and positive sides of public opinions, with some people using offensive language either thoughtlessly or maliciously, and others calling them out for it,” Mixson said.
However, as the years progressed, there has been greater acceptance of the clubs and their goals. “As times are changing, I do believe that North is becoming more accepting of the LGBTQIA+ community,” Li said. But, as she and Mixson point out, there is still room for more improvement.
While the student reaction may have been mixed at first, Lawrence, who retired four years ago after working in the district for 25 years, states that the administration’s support was unwavering. “I have found that the administration and the staff have been very supportive of the club, from the superintendent(s) to the building principal(s). It has been a learning experience for us all, and I believe that the district serves it's students in a much more effective way with the existence of these clubs,” Lawrence said.
“LGBTQ students can be marginalized and not accepted by their peers, their parents, and the community. The administrators, mainly the principal(s) and staff in the building, throughout the years have been welcoming, approaching this population with a clear demonstration of respect and inclusiveness in the learning environment,” she continued.
Lawrence also adds her perspective on the changing attitude of students. “The existence of this club for the amount of time that it has continued to run, as well as with the current climate and the more overt existence of transgender youth, in my opinion, has been a positive impact on all the student population and the community. Much of the positive acceptance and tolerance comes from the top down: with administration being welcoming and accepting, the staff and students are as well. As well, young people in these generations, in this geographic area, seem to be much more accepting and welcoming than older people. But much of it comes from the (club) leadership. They have always welcomed updated information regarding legal ramifications, current policy, and the national climate on LGBTQIA+ matters,” she concludes.
Since joining the club, the two leaders and their peers have learned a great deal about the issues that surround them. “I've learned so many things from becoming a part of GSA; not only about the many different sexualities and genders, the community, and how to be a helpful ally, but also how to create a safe space and help others,” Li said.
“The club has helped me keep updated on current events related to the LGBTQIA+ community. The student members have also helped to give me a mental image of the public school queer existence, a reality of which I was previously uninformed,” Mixson added.
Current advisor of Spectrum and Student Assistance Counselor at South, Chelsea Allen, discusses the importance of the club in the overall school environment. “I believe that the presence of (this club) sends a message to the whole school that there are conversations taking place and support for anyone who identifies as LGBTQ and their allies. We are a confidential club – what is shared in the club stays in the club, as well as attendance – who meets after school every other Tuesday to discuss current events, related topics or do activities,” Allen said.
“The club is a safe place for all who wish to attend, and is a place where anyone can come to meet new friends, learn about topics and have interesting, respectful conversations,” she continued.
The leaders and members of both clubs want to expand their organizations, as many other students agree with their views, even if they may not voice them. “I believe that others should join GSA because it is informational, it is welcoming, and it is accepting of all who take interest in it. The officers try to make every meeting as factual and as fun as we can. Also, this club does not require a large commitment, therefore, if there is someone who is interested but also is a part of a sport or a club with a very high commitment, they can still come to GSA meetings whenever they’re available,” Li said.
“No matter how you identify, the club is a safe space, full of friendly individuals, and no one will turn anyone away. It is intended to be a place where people can interact kindly and educate themselves, and I believe this opportunity to learn and make friends should be afforded to all who wish to take it,” Mixson added.
However, even if some may not join their club, Li and Mixson want their school communities to understand what their club truly does. “I think people should know that GSA is full of wonderful, thoughtful people that genuinely care about what's going on in other people’s lives,” Li said.
“When I joined Spectrum, I found a small, but surprisingly close-knit community that I was welcomed into. Every question asked was answered as best the officers could. The teacher instructor, Ms. Allen, is a truly sweet and understanding presence, always ready to receive feedback or lend an ear if you need to talk to someone. While some discussions can be depressing, it is always worthwhile to hear about the pressing issues at hand, and to hear what your peers have to say about them,” Mixson adde.
For the future, both leaders hope that their clubs continue to grow and spread the message of equality. “I hope that the club will become more of a staple in the WWP community, and more non-members will know who we are and what we do. I hope that we can incorporate more of our events into the proceedings of school, and help more and more arriving LGBTQIA+ freshman to find both comfort and themselves as they begin their lives in high school,” Mixson said.
“In the future, I hope the club creates more events and brings more interaction between the club members and the rest of the school, therefore allowing more attention to be paid towards problems affecting our community,” Li added.
Overall, both Li and Mixson are grateful for the clubs, and hope that these organizations continue to foster strong conversations in the coming years. “I think the experience of joining and involving myself in Spectrum is one that I will always cherish. I believe it has made me a more educated person, widened my worldview more than a little, and provided me with something I truly look forward to every two weeks,” Mixson said.
“GSA is one of the best clubs I have joined at North and I am so glad I made the decision as a freshman to join,” Li concluded.
The officers for South Spectrum are Lucy Mixson `19 (President), Rishika Roy `19 (Vice President), William Koepp `19 (Cabinet), and Chloe Jung `19 (Cabinet), and the advisor is Chelsea Allen. The officers for North GSA are Jacqueline Li `18 and Ranjan Mahanth `18 (Co-Presidents), Simran Korpal `18 (Vice President), Aamir Horton (Treasurer) `19, and Max Taub `18 (Secretary) and the club does not have an advisor, however the adult supervisor is North Vice Principal Melissa Levine.
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