Just out. (Portland, OR) 1983-2013, September 05, 2003, Page 24, Image 24

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    5.2003
24
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As students return to classrooms,
will sexual minority issues
make the grade—or be expelled?
by Timothy Krause
n The Dalles, dozens of anti-gay residents quote Scrip-
ture to protest the school hoard’s recent approval of a
Building alliances
Gay Straight Alliance. In Eugene, a queer student body
president suggests that the seemingly liberal environ­
hat began with a few closeted students
seeking support from a sympathetic
ment at University of Oregon belies conservative under­ counselor
has led The Dalles High Schcx>l from
currents. And in Portland, a new elementary charter school a Day of Silence to a summer of dissonance.
Earlier this year, counselors conducted a
writes diversity into its core mission, creating a place where gay survey
to better identify what students
wanted out of their high school experience.
and lesbian families are welcome and accepted.
Two pupils suggested addressing acceptance
From kindergarten to college, these three schools highlight of homosexuality. After talking with one
both the significant progress and frustrating challenges facing who included her name on the survey,
school counselor Ayme Allison created a
sexual minorities in the classroom.
support group for students struggling with
I
Queer students and allies alike bravely stood their ground when 35 local clergy sought to suspend the new Gay Straight Alliance at The Dalles
High School. Pictured here are (from left) Mandy Brock, counselor Ayme Allison, Paul Wagenblast, Samantha Shoecraft and Jason Nicholas.
their sexual identity. Because the kids had
not yet come out to their parents, the meet­
ings were initially identified as a “grief and
loss” group.
The name wasn’t a lie, says Allison.
“There was a loss of identity and being who
one really is as well as the grief these students
faced daily.”
Allison began working with the local
chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of
Lesbians and Gays. She and three students
attended a conference presented by the Ore­
gon Safe Schixds and Communities Coali­
tion, and the group— now out of the closet
and representing a dozen or so members—
started to lay plans for the formation of a Gay
Straight Alliance.
One of the co-founders, Mandy Bnx:k,
says the process, though scary, has been
worthwhile.
“I had had a lot of bad experiences at the
high schcxil and I thought something should
be done to at least try to get people to open
their eyes,” says Brock, who identifies as hi.
“Maybe this will help somebody avoid what 1
went through."
Students say verbal abuse has become a
daily occurrence and some have witnessed
physical confrontations, too.
Fellow GSA member Paul Wagenblast, who
identifies as gay, sees the club as a way to help
others better understand sexual minorities. He
says, “It’s time people recognized how normal
and human it is to have a different sexual iden­
tity than straight or ‘the norm.’ "
Straight ally Sam antha ShiK'craft hopes
the G SA at least will foster a comfort zone
free of judgm ent— som ething queer stu­
dent Jason Nicholas already has noticed,
especially with the unusual support of his
Episcopalian church.
“For a large portion of my life, I’ve had
to hold back something that I am,” he says.
“As s(x>n as 1 was in the group, I could
totally he me."
While the kids waited for the club to be
officially recognized by the school, they